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Last night I cooked 3 pounds of chicken breast tenders using my preferred "set it and forget it" method:

  • Preheat the oven to ~350°F
  • Lay out tenders in an oiled baking dish & season as desired
  • Insert meat thermometer probe into side of thickest piece
  • Stick in the oven and set the meat thermometer to beep when internal temperature hits 165°F (15 minutes or so, depending on the size of the pieces)

I like this method, especially when I'm cooking for leftover purposes and not a meal, because it saves me the trouble of the "timer beeps > check temp > reset timer" song and dance. But last night I got to thinking: Does keeping the probe in the meat throughout the cooking process affect the cooking time of that piece? I imagine the probe would conduct more heat into the center of the meat, cooking that piece faster than the others around it.

If it does, the effect is negligible at short cooking times and relatively low temperatures like this. All of my chicken pieces come out perfectly done through this method. But I would imagine the effect could be much more pronounced at a longer cooking time, or with smaller cuts of meat.

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    I know that people mention this kind of thing for bones, for example in answers on this question about chicken thighs, so I assume a metal thermometer probe will do something too! – Cascabel Dec 20 '14 at 18:50
  • In principle, yes, but I wouldn't worry about it. The probe shouldn't touch bone, not because of heat transfer but because it may result in an incorrect (too low) reading. Since the probe is (should be!) nearly completely embedded in the meat, I think the effect neglible. – The Dag Jan 10 '15 at 15:00
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    @TheDag Bones can conduct heat and give falsely high readings. If bone can do that, surely metal (a much better heat conductor) can too. (That's the point I was making in my previous comment, not anything about thermometer touching bone in this question's context.) Completely embedding it in the meat means it'll be all the more effective. – Cascabel Jan 14 '15 at 5:51
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    @Jefromi You may well be right, and I am of course aware that metal is an excellent heat conductor. But to conduct/transport heat, you have to pick it up somewhere. Completely embedding it increases thermal contact between the meat and the probe, but decreases the same between probe and surrounding air (which is much hotter). That ought to lead to a smaller deviation between the temperature of the probe and the meat, not a larger one, and to the probe "picking up" less heat from the air. – The Dag Jan 15 '15 at 8:29
  • @TheDag Some of the probe does stick out, but more to the point, all you have to do is conduct heat from the outside of the meat to the inside. The outer layers can easily be near boiling while the inside is still cold. I agree that it's probably not that significant, but it's not for the reasons you gave in your first comment, and not entirely for the ones in the second comment. – Cascabel Jan 15 '15 at 17:51
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There are "potato nails" marketed for speeding up cooking of baked potatoes by conducting heat into the center of the potato. This testing showed about a 10% reduction in cooking time. Cooks's Illustrated also tested potato nails, and showed a 7-minute reduction over a 75-minute control. They also tested a potato with five potato nails, which reduced cooking time by 11 minutes.

Obviously potatoes aren't meat, but it doesn't seem unreasonable to extrapolate.

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