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Culinary Toolbox: If Only I Had Checked That Chickens Temperature Before Serving It


Nowhere near done, even if the touch is firm.


Today I am going to let you in on a secret. I think that a thermometer is one of your most valuable tools, right up there with your knives.

Some cocky cooks and chefs avoid the thermometer because they think it reflects on their ability to grill food to the right temperature.

I was that cook. I used to think I could tell a steak’s doneness by touching it.

I had something to prove – every shift.

I was second in command of a busy restaurant, but I wasn’t the strongest line guy around. What I had going for me was the ability to identify a standard, then ensure the cooks were following that standard. The standard included the use of a thermometer to check every protein cooked on the grill.

The other part of my job was to ensure that labor was in line by “cutting” line cooks. The expectation was I would run the line by myself.

I served raw chicken to a guest!

I had cut the staff after a busy Friday lunch. I was juggling cooking sauté dishes (like a pad Thai), a pizza, chicken wings, and a chicken club sandwich. Orders came in at a steady pace, and it seemed like I was never going to catch up.

I saw the General Manager (through the frenzy of pans, fryer baskets, and sauce ladles) arrive on the line holding a plate. You could clearly see-in the debris of the sandwich he held-the chicken for the club was pink.

Six seconds cost the restaurant FIFTY dollars.

Most instant-read thermometers take six seconds to register. You insert your thermometer, set it aside for the few seconds it takes to get your reading, and complete another short task while waiting.

The busy line overwhelmed me. I saved six seconds by failing to test the chicken, but cost the restaurant the entire amount of the table (over 50 dollars.)

Easily avoid this by always taking the temperature of all your proteins.

I would take the temperature of a roast, but not a steak. I was afraid of overcooking the roast. In my experience overcooked steaks (and undercooked chicken) represent a bigger loss in revenue than roasts. The answer is easy. Take six seconds to take the temperature of your meat.

Now I’m sure my proteins are the right temperature.

I thought that thermometers were for people who didn’t know how to cook. Today I’ll openly challenge anyone to an accuracy check with their method verses my calibrated thermometer. I guarantee I will win every time.

If you want a medium steak – I will make sure it’s medium by checking to see if it’s 135°F (allowing 5°F for carryover cooking.)

A few dollars spent on a thermometer will save thousands in revenue and food cost.

The few dollars you spend to buy a thermometer will save your restaurant thousands in revenue. Every protein that you overcook, food cost doubles. (You have to prepare two proteins for the cost of one.) If one of your top overused items in food cost is a protein, then a thermometer will solve that problem.

For example, an overcooked steak not only impacts food cost, but drives up other promotional items given to the guest. (Think desserts, drinks, or-in extreme cases-promoting the entire meal.)

Here are the top 6 Thermometers I have used:

I have used several thermometers in my career. Choose one of my favorites (for the serious culinarian) from this list:

List Price: $14.99 USD
New From: $10.49 USD In Stock
Used from: Out of Stock

List Price: $9.99 USD
New From: $3.00 USD In Stock
Used from: Out of Stock

List Price: $16.00 USD
New From: $12.18 USD In Stock
Used from: Out of Stock

New From: $9.72 USD In Stock
Used from: Out of Stock

New From: $6.99 USD In Stock
Used from: Out of Stock

New From: $2.00 USD In Stock
Used from: Out of Stock

Your turn:

Question: Have you ever served underdone (or overdone) meat? Let me know in the comments.

Other Culinary Toolbox Posts:

Eat Smart Precision Pro Digital Scale

{ 3 comments… add one }

  • John Paré August 11, 2013, 3:28 pm

    I used to have that mentality as well, that a real BBQ guy should not have to use a thermometer. Since you have turned me onto this, it has taken the guess work out of the BBQ experience.

  • Jason Sandeman August 12, 2013, 10:30 am

    True on that. I served up a pork tenderloin last week that was like butter. A perfect 135°F out of the oven, 5° carryover. Perfection!

  • cooker213 March 21, 2014, 11:57 pm

    I literally just accidentally served some pink chicken breasts to clients at an oil camp. I temped 2 breasts on the tray and they read 189 degrees Farenheit. I think I may lose my job tomorrow… :S I have always temped my food and never served chicken raw before!!!

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