Monday, November 1, 2010


There are many kinds of kitchen thermometers available to the home cook.  With everything from single use pop-up timers to infrared kitchen thermometers lining the walls of kitchen supply stores, choosing the thermometer that is right for you can be a daunting task.

I believe every home cook should have at least three kitchen thermometers:  an oven thermometer, a refrigerator/freezer thermometer, and a food thermometer.

Refrigerator/freezer thermometers are the best way to make sure you are storing cold and frozen foods at the correct temperatures.  Refrigerators should be kept between 33° and 40° Fahrenheit.  Freezers should be below 0° Fahrenheit.  Some new fridges and freezers come with a digital display that tells you the internal temperature.  Even if you have this feature, I would still recommend a separate refrigerator/freezer thermometer.  The built-in thermometer only measures the temperature in one spot.  In reality, there are often “hot” and “cold” spots in refrigerators and freezers.  I always keep my thermometer inside and move it around often to be sure all areas are within safe temperature range.

An oven thermometer is not as necessary as a refrigerator/freezer thermometer but still highly recommended.  Just as there are “hot” and “cold” spots in a refrigerator, so there are “hot” and “cold” spots in ovens.  Also, the oven’s built-in thermometer will only measure the temperature in one spot.  If you have an older oven like I do (mine’s 30 years old), the calibration is likely to be off.  Because I have an oven thermometer, I know that my oven runs about 25-50° hotter than the dial says.  By having a stand-alone thermometer in my oven, I can adjust the temperature to what I need (especially important when baking).

The thermometer that is the most confusing to purchase is a food thermometer—there are just so many options.  I will discuss just a few.

Single-use pop-up timers:  These are often sold in turkeys but are also available at kitchen supply stores.  They are surprisingly accurate for how simple they are, but I do not recommend them at all.  Because they are single-use, they only measure the temperature in one spot.  Just because the turkey breast is done, does not mean the thigh is done.

Dial thermometers:  Any thermometer with a dial is going to take more time to register actual temperature than a digital thermometer.  Even “instant read” dial thermometers take 15-20 seconds to show an accurate temperature.  One advantage that dial thermometers have over many digital thermometers is that they can be calibrated.  Some are oven-safe and can remain in the food while it cooks.

Digital stick thermometers:  These read faster than dial thermometers but cannot be used in the oven.  Some can be calibrated.

Digital probe thermometers:  These are by far the most versatile food thermometers and the ones I recommend.  They can be used in the oven with the display out of the oven.  Our dad even uses his in his grill (he wraps the cord in foil to prevent it from charring).  They have a wide temperature range so they can even be used for candy-making and frying.  Because the probe can stay in the food while it is cooking and the alarm will let you know when it is done, you also avoid overcooking.

Infrared kitchen thermometers:  While these new thermometers are extremely accurate, they can only tell you surface temperature.  Most of the time you are interested in internal temperature.  Infrared thermometers are mostly useful for checking the temperature of your skillet or oil.

What we have:

Food thermometer:  I have a TruTemp instant read probe thermometer.  It is now sold under the Taylor name and is available here.  I absolutely love it!  It displays the current temperature as well as the target temperature and has an optional alarm to alert you when your food reaches the desired temperature.  It also has a built-in timer and a temperature chart on the back that tells me the minimum temperature required for different types of meat.

Refrigerator/freezer thermometer:  I have a TruTemp 3503 refrigerator/freezer thermometer.  The 3509 is very similar and is available here.  It works great and can be sat on the shelf or suctioned to the wall.  It also has color-coding so you know what the ideal temperatures are.

Oven thermometer:  My oven thermometer is so old that it is not available any more.  I think I took it from my parents’ kitchen when I went to college or got married.  Anyway, it is made by Cooper.  A similar one can be found here.  A nice feature is that you can set it on an oven rack or hang it from the rack so it’s out of the way.

Food thermometer: I have two food thermometers.  When we got married, I got a dial thermometer.  It's a Pyrex Candy Thermometer, but can be used for almost anything I make, because the range is from 100 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.  They don't make it anymore, but it's similar to the one pictured in the dial thermometer section above.  Last Christmas, my husband got me an Oneida Digital Probe Thermometer.  It does take a little while for it to register the correct temperature, but I like the fact that it has a temperature alert so that it will notify me when the correct temperature has been reached and I don't have to keep checking it.  It also has a timer and can be used in either Fahrenheit or Celsius. 

Refrigerator/Freezer thermometer: I have a Temprite thermometer, but I can't find it anywhere, so I'm guessing they don't make it anymore.  However, it is similar to this one.  As with Sumiko's it has suction cups and also has color coding so you'll know whether you're in a food safe range at a glance.

Oven thermometer: I never really thought about the necessity of an oven thermometer until someone gave one to me when I got married.  It was one of those gifts I didn't register for, but I'm sure glad I got it!  I have the Oxo Good Grips Oven Thermometer and it has been helpful as we've moved and had new ovens to figure out.  It can also sit on the rack or hang below it, which is a nice feature. 

What we use it (food thermometer) for:


Bapa said...

The probe thermometer is one of my two most bestest, favoritest BBQ/Grilling accoutrements, the other being an old blow dryer.

Sumiko said...

Bapa, what kind do you have and what features does it have?

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