How to Properly Probe Product in a Smokehouse

Accurate temperature readings in your smokehouse are essential for improving yields, consistency, and food safety.

Unfortunately, a lot of smokehouse operators don’t know how to properly use a temperature probe. This means that temperatures are not being measured precisely — which gives way to varying degrees of product yields and consistency on the same truck and can result in a costly recall.

Proper probing is a relatively simple task, but it needs to be done consistently every single time.

Understanding the importance of proper probing

Part of the problem lies in operators not understanding the importance of properly using a temperature probe. The fact is, most smokehouse operators did not go to school for meat science and/or weren’t trained on how to accurately use a temperature probe. But understanding why proper probing is crucial and learning how to correctly go about it is the only way to ensure that operators avoid consistency issues.

Simply put, the temperature probe should always be placed in the centermost portion of the product. This allows for an accurate temperature reading to know that the required temperature, or kill temp, has been achieved.

This may sound easy, but every product has a different composition with a different core or nucleus. This can pose possible challenges when it comes to obtaining accurate temperature readings. Below are a few important tips on how to correctly probe your product.

Tips on how to correctly probe meat

Properly using a temperature probe in your smokehouse requires the following three main rules:

Ensure the Probe Hits the Product Coresmokehouse meat probe

When recording the temperature of your meat, especially for HACCP regulations, you want to ensure you are reading the temperature at the core of your product.

Here’s why: the smokehouse breakpoint airflow is what cooks your product — wicking away moisture and increasing the temperature. The outside of your meat will cook faster than the core. Meaning that if your probe isn’t all the way into the core of your product, you will be getting false readings and not actually hitting the kill step.

See the picture to the right for accurate probing.

Probe Placement on the Truck

Where you place the probes on the truck matter as well.

Product at the bottom of the truck will cook faster than product in the top middle of the truck. Meaning that if you only probe product at the bottom of the truck, your smokehouse will show that your meat hit the kill step long before the product in the top middle is done cooking — a HACCP nightmare.

Rule of thumb: place product probes

  • At the bottom of the truck
  • At the top middle of the truck

This will ensure a more balanced reading of the product in your smokehouse.

Use the Right Probe in the Right Place

Most smokehouse controllers have probes labeled for use on a specific part of the truck.

If yours does, make sure the right probe is used in the right place.

Taking a probe that is set to read at the top of the truck and using it on the bottom will result in inaccurate readings in your smokehouse controller.

Common probing mistakes to avoid

When it comes to probing techniques, there are a few common issues to watch out for.

smokehouse meat probeProbe Pokes through the Meat

First, the tip of the probe should not pierce through and out of the product. Operators should take care to insert the tip straight through the center. The reading is taken through the tip of the probe and therefore should be placed directly in the center to be most accurate.

Probe isn’t Centered Properlysmokehouse meat probe

Another issue is when the probe tip may be placed inside the product, but is not correctly positioned in the center. When it’s placed along the side (as shown in the picture), inaccurate readings occur. As the outside cooks quicker than the center, the reading will only indicate the temp of the outside edges. Again, the key here is to place the probe tip in the centermost region of the product.

Probe Entered at an Angle

One other problem to avoid is obtaining a reading with the probe inserted into the product only partially or at an angle. When this is done, the probe is likely not inserted deeply enough to correctly obtain the core’s temperature. Taking the time to place the probe straight through to the product core will go a long way in avoiding consistency issues.

Achieve product consistency through proper probing measures

To avoid issues regarding temperature readings, product consistency, and food safety, it’s crucial to train smokehouse operators on how to properly probe products. If probing is not done correctly, your readings, reports, and yields will all be inaccurate. In the long run, this can be quite costly and even cause recalls. Many processors face these problems because their employees are not being adequately instructed on how to perform this simple, yet a highly variable task.