Using a meat thermometer is the best way to make sure that you get your meat cooked to the perfect temperature and level of doneness. Over cooking can make a smoked meat tough and dry. Under cooking can leave it stringy and sometimes unsafe to eat. Basing the cook on time alone doesn't always work since every piece of meat is different and factors like the outside temperature, humidity, and the internal composition of the meat can all play a factor.
There are many types of meat thermometers you can use, and most are very affordable. The two main types to consider for smoking are digital instant read thermometers, and corded or wireless temperature probes.
Digital Instant Read Thermometer
These are the lower price option. You will need to cook for a specified period of time until you think the food is nearly cooked and them take a reading. To do this stick the thermometer into the thickest part of the meat and wait 30 seconds for the temperature to register.
These are a little more expensive, but make cooking almost foolproof. A probe is inserted into the thickest section of the meat before cooking and left in the entire time. A wire runs back to the control unit and gives constant temperature reading. Higher end models work wirelessly. A digital readout can be programmed with the type of meat to take all the guess work out of knowing when your food is ready.
Type of Meat
Temperature (degree Fahrenheit)
After your meat has reached the desired temperature take it off the heat. For larger pieces of meat and whole birds make sure to rest them before eating. Place the whole thing into a dry cooler or loosely wrap in aluminum foil for 30 minutes. This allows cooking to stop and for juices to reabsorb into the meat.
For smaller pieces of meat with a lot of bones like ribs or chicken wings a thermometer will not be able to get an accurate reading. To check these for doneness you will need an alternate method. Chicken will have clear running juices when it is cooked. Simply pierce the skin and take a look. For ribs you can use the bend test, which I covered in my rib recipe.
Using a digital thermometer is the best way to make sure you prepare delicious and safe smoked meats for your friends and family. follow these tips and you will be a hit at your next cook out.