Years ago, when I had a sweet tooth, I decided to make a batch of English toffee. This was the first attempt, so I wasn’t sure how it would turn out. I looked over the recipe and saw that I had to let the butter and sugar mixture reach a certain temperature on the stove before removing it from the heat.
I was supposed to use a thermometer, but according to the directions, even if I couldn’t measure the temperature, I needed to pay attention to the consistency of the toffee. Once it became stringy when stirred with a fork, it would be done.
Unfortunately, when I finally transferred it to a pan to cool, it never completely hardened. I really wish I had had a candy thermometer back then. It might have saved my project. The toffee still tasted great, but the consistency was more like taffy than toffee.
If you’re thinking about adding a “food temperature gauge” to your repertoire of cooking utensils, here’s what you need to know about food thermometers.
Why Invest in a Food Thermometer?
Using a thermometer allows you to determine whether any meat you are cooking has reached the internal temperature necessary to kill harmful bacteria that could make you sick. Thermometers go a long way toward promoting food safety.
Thermometers are also good to have on hand when you are making candy. Sugary mixtures must reach a certain heat level before the ingredients can achieve the desired consistency.
What Are the Various Types of Food Thermometers?
Thermistor (Digital Instant Read)
This digital thermometer is often used in restaurants because it provides fast, accurate readings. Additionally, you can use it to check the temperature of thick food and thin food. These devices aren’t always calibrated, and you can’t use them while food is cooking.
Thermometer Fork Combination
This type can issue reading in 2-10 seconds. These are a staple in many restaurant kitchens because chefs can use them with most foods. Since they’re fashioned like forks, they’re a go-to when checking food on the grill. But they can’t be used until cooking is nearly complete.
Oven Probe Cord Thermometers
The probe thermometer is versatile enough to work well with most foods. It is designed specifically to be used in a covered pot or inside an oven while cooking is underway. But you can use them outside the oven too. One drawback: They’re not calibrated.
When you need a rapid temperature-reading, the thermocouple doesn’t disappoint. Thermocouple probes give you a reading in 2-5 seconds. It’s a must-have in the kitchen, as it can be calibrated and does its job well whether it’s placed in thick or thin foods. For best results, you should use the thermocouple reader when the food is almost fully-cooked. Using it earlier in the cooking process will yield inaccurate readings.
Disposable Temperature Indicators
Intended for single-use readings, these yield results in 5-10 seconds. They provide accurate measurements and are great for testing soups and other liquid foods. One plus with these is that you can use them while food is cooking. Disposable thermometers are programmed to detect a specific temperature. When that temperature is reached, the device changes color.
These are made to pick up when the food has reached a certain temperature. hen, they let you know that this has happened. These timers take two forms:
You may have seen one of these the last time you roasted a turkey. As the gadget’s name implies, it pops up when the poultry reaches a certain temp. To get accurate reliable results, it’s a good idea to use a pop-up timer alongside another appropriate food thermometer.
Instead of popping up, cooking alarms flash and beep to let you know your food has reached the desired temperature.
Dial Oven Safe Bimetallic Thermometers
This bimetal thermometer takes 1-2 minutes to give you a temperature reading, much slower than most other food thermometers. One major advantage of a restaurant=grade dial thermometer is that you can use it while cooking is in progress. For maximum accuracy, you will need to place the thermometer 2 inches down into the food.
This waterproof thermometer is especially suitable for foods like roasts, soups, and casseroles. But because they need to be placed so deeply, these thermometers are not the way to go when testing thin foods.
Digital Instant Read Bimetallic Thermometer
If you want fast, accurate readings, the digital bimetal thermometer may be just what you’re looking for. While it can be used for thick and thin foods alike, it cannot be put to work while the food is still cooking. Also, not every digital food thermometer of this type is calibrated, so you might want to check on that before making a purchase.
These preceded the appearance of digital thermometers. They take more than a minute to detect the internal temperature of your food. Here are the different types of traditional thermometers.
Liquid Filled Thermometer
This is the oldest kitchen thermometer around. As their name implies, they’re filled with a colored liquid that’s contained in a calibrated glass tube. To do its job effectively, this thermometer has to be placed in the food before cooking gets underway. As the food cooks, you can check the temperature through the glass.
Oven Safe Bimetal Thermometers
Like the liquid-filled variety, this type of thermometer needs to be inserted into the food before cooking begins. The device features two metal strips that have different thermal expansion rates. As the food warms, the temperature registers on a dial. Since it’s a bimetal device, it has thick probes, so they can’t be placed in thin foods. These thermometers produce temperature readings in 1-2 minutes.
What sets these apart from most other types of thermometers is that they do not have to come into contact with the food to give an accurate temperature reading. Just point the device in the direction of the food’s surface, pull the trigger, and you’ll get the reading.
Instant Read Thermometer
You can get an Instant read thermometer as a digital thermometer or an analog thermometer. People who prefer a more “modern” take can opt for the digital instant read thermometer. Because they provide results immediately, they’re great for busy cooks who need to quickly check the doneness of meat and poultry while they cook.
However, these devices are not intended to be left in foods while they cook. Just insert the temperature probe, observe the reading, and take the probe out of the food. These are versatile enough to check hot food on a warming table, or chilled vegetables in a salad bar. The thermometers are especially helpful when used this way because they let you know how quickly the food is cooling.
When it’s o a buffet table or salad bar, food must be kept at a certain temperature. Detecting any changes lets you know if it falls within the “temperature danger zone,” at which point it can become breeding grounds for harmful bacteria.
Food-Specific and Location-Specific Thermometers
Some thermometers have a “specialty” and are best used in certain locations or with certain types of foods.
Thermometers for Candy and Deep-Frying
These are made of glass and designed to measure high levels of heat. While cooking temperatures for poultry and meat range from 130°F to 175°F, candy ingredients may be cooked at temperatures reaching 300°F. Deep-frying occurs at each higher heat, as much as 375F or more.
Most thermometers meant for these purposes are candy and deep-fryer combos. You can, however, find separate thermometers for these cooking projects. They’re usually equipped with a clip so you can secure them to the lip of the pot. A guide shows you the temperature levels for each food.
You can use an oven thermometer to see how well the heat level of your oven actually matches the temperature you set it to. Place oven thermometers on the oven shelf or hang them from one of the racks.
A refrigerator that isn’t properly calibrated can create a host of problems. If it’s not cool enough, it could become a home for food-borne pathogens that cause illness. For optimal food safety, a refrigerator should be cooling at a temperature range between 33 and 40 degrees.
To make sure it’s doing its job, you can use a refrigerator thermometer the same way you use an oven thermometer. Place it right inside and look at the reading. You can also get a freezer thermometer to ensure that it is operating at the recommended 0°F.
These are a lot like instant-read thermometers. Analog meat thermometers have a larger dial than their instant-read counterparts, so they are easier to read. Another difference between meat thermometers and instant reads is the way they’re placed in food.
Meat thermometers have to be inserted into a whole chicken or turkey, or the joint of the meat. It remains there during cooking. When you want to see the meat temperature, just check the dial.
As you might expect, the digital versions of these are more advanced. You can program them to beep when they detect the desired temperature. If you want to continue monitoring the final temperature of the meat once it’s done cooking, all you have to do is leave the probe in the food.
How Important Is It to Use a Timer When Deep-Frying or Making Candy?
You might be wondering, as I did all those years ago when made English toffee, from scratch, if you really need a candy thermometer for confections. When cooking with sugar, it has to reach just the right temperature, or your candy won’t come out the way you intended.
Likewise, if you’re deep-frying and the oil gets too hot, it could ignite. If it’s too cool, cooking will take longer and your meat may not even reach a food-safe temperature.
Why do you need an oven thermometer?
Oven dials aren’t as accurate as you might think. In fact, they could be as much as 25-50 hotter or cooler than the desired setting. Additionally, some ovens have spots that are hotter or cooler than other parts. When the inside of your oven doesn’t heat consistently, it may prolong cooking times.
To test how well your appliance is actually working, you can place one of these thermometers inside the oven door to find out. There may be some variations in the readings, but eventually, a pattern should emerge.
If there is a significant, consistency discrepancy between what your thermometer is telling you and the oven setting you selected, you will know that it’s not heating evenly.
What’s the best way to clean a meat thermometer?
Since uncooked or under-cooked food is likely to contain bacteria, it’s imperative that you sanitize the thermometer regularly. It’s important to do this before and after you use it, to prevent transferring pathogens from the thermometer to the meat and vice versa. Thorough washing with warm, soapy water should be enough. If you’re outdoors and don’t have ready access to warm water, wipe the device down with a rubbing alcohol swab.
How do I know I’m using my meat thermometer correctly?
For the most accurate readings, follow these tips:
- Place the thermometer in the thickest part of the meat, away from bones and fat.
- Check the temperature early and often. For thicker pieces, like a chicken breast, start checking 30 minutes before it’s supposed to be done. For thinner pieces, test every 5-10 minutes.
- Calibrate your thermometer. T o test its accuracy, dip the device into a bowl of ice water. It should be 3°F. If it’s off, consults your owner’s manual to see how to remedy the problem. Another method of calibration involves preparing a pot of boiling water (use distilled water) and test it. It should read 212²F.