Let's say I'm cooking a piece of meat and the whose outside temperature is higher than its inside temperature. If I stick a meat thermometer through the piece of meat so that part of the needle is at the center and part of it is at the surface, what reading will the thermometer report?

  • the temperature in the center (minimum temperature)
  • the temperature at the surface (maximum temperature)
  • some average temperature

Also, would the reading be skewed if most of the needle is not touching anything? Should I stick the needle through a second piece of meat so that the whole needle is covered?

(Background: I'm thinking of food safety)

  • If food safety is your concern, take the temperature in a few different places and at varying depths and use the lowest reading.
    – Dan C
    Commented Feb 16, 2015 at 21:58

2 Answers 2


The sensor in your thermometer is located at the tip of the needle, so you're measuring wherever the tip of the needle ended up.

If the tip of the needle it not touching anything (or is touching the pan or cooking surface) your readings will be skewed.


Usually only a portion of the needle of a typical meat thermometer reads the temperature. On some models this is indicated with an indentation on the needle. It is usually near the end, though not always exactly at the end. The thermometer reads the temperature the location of this part of the thermometer. You want to know the temperature at the center of your piece of meat to ensure food safety. So you should place the thermometer into the thickest part and avoid hitting bone.

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