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How to Calibrate a Digital Meat Thermometer

Digital meat thermometers take the guesswork out of knowing when your food has reached a temperature where it’s safe to eat — and when it’s most delicious.

Digital meat thermometers are easier to use than other temperature monitoring methods. They do need a bit of upkeep though to ensure they’re giving you an accurate temperature reading.

By taking the time to properly clean and calibrate your thermometer, you can keep it working correctly and trust that it’s showing you an accurate temperature. After all, it only takes a few degrees to take a piece of meat from dangerous to safe to eat. Those few degrees can also be the difference between meat cooked to perfection or it being dry and overcooked.

It’s not uncommon for digital meat thermometers to de-calibrate over time. If you’ve never calibrated your thermometer before, now is the time to learn how!

What Are Digital Meat Thermometers?

Digital meat thermometers are devices that can instantly read the temperature of a piece of meat or food. You insert a stainless-steel probe into the center of the thickest part of the meat. The temperature of your meat is shown on a digital display that rests on the handle of the thermometer.

To learn more about digital meat thermometers, read my guide: Ultimate Instant Read Meat Thermometer FAQ

What Does It Mean to Calibrate a Thermometer?

Calibrating a thermometer is the process of fine-tuning it so you know it’s providing you with an accurate temperature measurement. It is adjusting your thermometer for a precise temperature readout.

Why Do You Need to Check the Calibration of Your Digital Meat Thermometer?

Digital meat thermometers can become less accurate over time due to various factors. It’s important to calibrate them, so they don’t misread the probe’s measurement and show you an incorrect temperature.

If a digital meat thermometer isn’t showing an accurate temperature, you could pull your food off the grill too soon. This comes with the risk of serving your guests a foodborne illness.

How to Calibrate a Digital Meat Thermometer

Calibrating Using the Ice Water Test | Calibrating Using the Boiling Water Test

You can use two tried-and-true methods when it’s time to calibrate your digital meat thermometer. In the first method, you use ice water to verify the correct temperature. The second method uses boiling water. I’ll give you the directions for both methods in the next section below.

Calibrating a Digital Meat Thermometer Using the Ice Water Test

Calibrating a digital meat thermometer with ice water is as easy as it gets. Fill a glass with crushed ice, then cover the ice entirely with water. Stir it up and let it chill for a few minutes. Insert the probe and stir in the ice water.

Below is a step-by-step guide you can follow.

  1. Fill a Glass With Ice – Your goal here is to make an ice bath with the perfect water-to-ice ratio. Fill a glass to the top with Ice. Crushed ice works best because it leaves fewer gaps between the ice. Cubed ice can work as well.
  2. Add Water to the Glass – Slowly add water until it completely covers the ice. Stir it up and let it chill for a few minutes so the temperature of the water settles. If any of the ice starts to float off the bottom of the glass, add more ice and reduce some of the water.
  3. Insert the Probe into the Water – Now that the ice/water mixture has settled for a couple of minutes, insert the metal probe and stir it in the middle of the ice water. You want to continue gently stirring so the probe sensor does not rest against the ice cubes. Stirring will help keep the temperature level throughout the entire glass. Make sure the probe does not touch the side walls or bottom of the glass. This will cause false temperature readings.
  4. Verify Your Calibration – If you followed the directions, your thermometer should read 32°F (0°C) while in the ice water. Congratulations! Your thermometer passed the ice water calibration test.

It’s always a good idea to keep track of the readings after calibration tests. Thermometer drops and misuse can cause a thermometer to become un-calibrated. By keeping a record, you can manually adjust the temps in your head when checking your food if your thermometer is off by a few degrees. For instance, if I know my thermometer is reading 35°F instead of 32°F after verifying the temp in an ice bath, I know I should take my meat off at 3°F higher than normal.

Here is a handy video sowing you how to perform the ice water calibration test.

Calibrating a Digital Meat Thermometer Using the Boiling Water Test

Another method of calibrating your digital meat thermometer is the boiling water test. As the name implies, this starts with boiling a pot of water. Once the water boils, keep the pot on the heat and insert your thermometer’s probe into the middle of the boiling water, about two inches below the surface.

Keep the thermometer there for 30 seconds (be careful not to burn yourself – use a towel or potholder to protect your hands!) while gently stirring the water. Your thermometer should read 212 ℉, or slightly lower if you live at a high altitude. I have included a “Boiling Point of Water at Altitudes” table below for reference.

If your thermometer does not read 212 ℉, try pressing your thermometer’s reset or calibrate button, if it has one, until it does.

Boiling Point of Water at Altitudes

Altitude / Degrees
Altitude in Feet
0
Altitude in Meters
0
Degrees °F
212°F
Degrees °C
100°C
Altitude / Degrees
Altitude in Feet
500
Altitude in Meters
152
Degrees °F
211°F
Degrees °C
99.4°C
Altitude / Degrees
Altitude in Feet
1000
Altitude in Meters
305
Degrees °F
210°F
Degrees °C
98.9°C
Altitude / Degrees
Altitude in Feet
2000
Altitude in Meters
610
Degrees °F
208.2°F
Degrees °C
97.9°C
Altitude / Degrees
Altitude in Feet
3000
Altitude in Meters
914
Degrees °F
206.2°F
Degrees °C
96.8°C
Altitude / Degrees
Altitude in Feet
4000
Altitude in Meters
1219
Degrees °F
204.4°F
Degrees °C
95.8°C
Altitude / Degrees
Altitude in Feet
5000
Altitude in Meters
1524
Degrees °F
202.6°F
Degrees °C
94.8°C
Altitude / Degrees
Altitude in Feet
6000
Altitude in Meters
1829
Degrees °F
200.7°F
Degrees °C
93.7°C
Altitude / Degrees
Altitude in Feet
7000
Altitude in Meters
2134
Degrees °F
198.7°F
Degrees °C
92.6°C
Altitude / Degrees
Altitude in Feet
8000
Altitude in Meters
2438
Degrees °F
196.9°F
Degrees °C
91.6°C
Altitude / Degrees
Altitude in Feet
10,000
Altitude in Meters
3048
Degrees °F
194°F
Degrees °C
90°C
Altitude / Degrees
Altitude in Feet
12,500
Altitude in Meters
3810
Degrees °F
189.8°F
Degrees °C
87.7°C
Altitude / Degrees
Altitude in Feet
14,000
Altitude in Meters
4267
Degrees °F
187.3°F
Degrees °C
86.3°C

How to Reset the Calibration of a Digital Meat Thermometer

Many digital thermometers have a reset or calibration button. Most of the time you will find it inside the battery compartment. Read your thermometer’s instructions or reach out to the manufacturer if you can not find it. You need to hold down the button during the ice water test once you reach 32℉ so it resets to the proper temperature.

If your digital thermometer does not come with a calibration button, you have a couple of options available to you.

  1. Some manufacturers like ThermoWorks will let you ship the thermometer back and they will calibrate it for free.
  2. You can pay to have your thermometer calibrated by a professional service for a nominal fee. The costs in some cases may be more than the thermometer is worth.
  3. You can live with it. Think about it, you just need to add or subtract the inaccuracy to your desired cooking temperature. You will have to check the thermometer regularly in case the difference does not get worse.

One thing to note is that I always recommend changing out the batteries on the thermometer before sending it out for calibration. Low batteries can cause false readings also.

How Often Should You Check Your Thermometer for Accuracy?

You should check your thermometer for accuracy once a week or at least once a month, depending on the frequency of use. Many chefs check them every day. You should always check the calibration on a new thermometer. You should also check the accuracy if your thermometer has been dropped or if you’re using it for a significantly wide range of temperatures.

It’s actually not that uncommon for digital thermometers to become inaccurate over time.

Testing Your Meats Temperature

When your thermometer is calibrated and ready for use, you can get the most accurate reading by inserting it into the thickest part of the meat. This will help gauge the meat’s temperature and doneness since the thickest part will typically be the last to reach the target temperature. Just make sure to avoid touching any bones as that will lead to a false reading.

Cleaning & Sterilizing Your Thermometer

Now that your thermometer has been successfully calibrated, it’s time to clean and sterilize it.

Keeping your thermometer clean is essential to avoiding cross-contamination from food that isn’t fully cooked yet. To sterilize it, wash the probe with warm soapy water or wipe it down with rubbing alcohol or vinegar. If you have any tough stains or smoke buildup, a bar of soap or cooking spray can help break them down. Once your thermometer is clean, let it dry completely before the next use.

Final Thoughts on Our How to Calibrate a Digital Meat Thermometer Guide

With your digital meat thermometer properly calibrated, you’re ready to cook with confidence. You’ll have confidence knowing the food you’re serving is at its safest and most delicious!

Remember to re-calibrate your thermometer regularly. Most pros recommend doing it at least once a week. A lot of restaurant chefs recalibrate their thermometers before every shift to ensure their accuracy. You’ll also want to recalibrate your thermometer if it’s been out of use for a long time or if you drop it, as the shock from the fall could throw it out of whack.

You should clean and sterilize your thermometer well after every use. This will help prevent any bacteria from uncooked food from transferring to another piece of meat as you cook.

Once cleaned and calibrated, your thermometer will be all set for use. We hope this thermometer calibration guide has helped get you ready for some safe (and tasty!) grilling.

Next Steps:

The Benefits of Instant Read Meat Thermometers

Benefits of Instant Read Meat Thermometers

The Ultimate Instant Read Meat Thermometer FAQ

Ultimate Instant Read Meat Thermometer FAQ

10 Best Instant Read Thermometer Ratings

10 Best Instant Read Thermometer Ratings

Now It’s Your Turn

I want to hear from you:

Have you ever purchased an instant read thermometer before?

Do you have any tips on buying instant read meat thermometers or have any feedback on a particular brand to share?

What features do you typically like to see in a food thermomoter?

Are you going to be purchasing a new grill in the future? Do you plan on looking at a Pellet Grill, Smoker, Built-In Gas Grill, or Charcoal Model?

Let me know by leaving a quick comment below.

If you still have questions, please feel free to send me a message.

Cheers,

Pat G.

Disclosure – At The Grilling Life, I am committed to researching and writing thoughtful, informative and editorially independent reviews of the best products for your outdoor cooking needs.  If you like what I do, you can support me through my chosen links, which earn me a commission.  This allows me to continue sharing with you my love for all things barbecue.  Your support is truly appreciated.

Patrick Ginise

A backyard warrior, certified carnivore, lover of good whiskey, grill master and I’m Living The Grilling Life!

I have a passion for cooking with live fire and smoke, no matter the weather. I’m a real person just like you, who loves outdoor cooking and BBQ. Food, fun, and time spent with family and friends are what it’s all about! It is my mission to take my passion and knowledge for outdoor cooking and all things BBQ and share this expertise in techniques and grilling equipment with you. In other words, Living The Grilling Life!

I have personally tested over 150+ Grills and Smokers and hundreds of grilling thermometers, temperature controllers, grill brushes, grilling tools, fire starters, and other BBQ products.