Good cooks carefully measure ingredients with measuring cups, measuring spoons, scales, and other precision devices. One thing that I frequently find missing in most kitchens are excellent thermometers. When it comes to cooking meat, it is the ideal tool to determine doneness. But thermometers have roles throughout the kitchen. There are many different kinds, and each does a specific type of job. All are important to have on hand.
This is my workhorse. I use this at least four times a week, often that many times in a day. This type is very confusing to shop for, because some sell for around $15 and others $100+. Unfortunately for the pocketbook, once again you get what you pay for, and its comes down the keyword: instant.
For a thermometer to accurately measure within 2-3 seconds of insertion, the probe has to be made of more expensive and exotic materials. Cheap models take 10+ seconds, and are usually inaccurate. I use mine to check meat on the grill, in the oven, sometimes on the cooktop, but the common thing here is heat. Do you want to keep your hand in a hot oven or over a very hot grill for 10 seconds or two? I have this CDN model and it has been indispensable. I refuse to guess the doneness of most things by looking at them. This thermometer is the one I reach for the most.
This type of thermometer is the runner up for kitchen MVP. If I am cooking meat for any length of time in my oven, I put the probe in the middle of the meatiest part, close the oven door, set the alarm for what temperature I want to the meat to be before I pull it out, and then go do other things. When the target temp is reached, the alarm sounds.
This type is one of the few instances where a cheaper model will work fine. I have the pictured Taylor model, and have used it often. My only complaint about these is they don’t tend to last more than a couple of years, at least in my experience. The second model is oh so very fancy. The damned thing has Bluetooth, no lie. You download the timer’s app to your phone (natch), and when you set the temperature, it will alert your phone when the meat is ready. This is very handy when you are cooking on the grill and while preparing other things in the kitchen. It’s very accurate, and carries a solid warranty. It had better. It costs three times as much as the Taylor.
Whichever model you choose, you will use it often.
Rule number one: never trust your oven’s built in thermometer. They are almost always inaccurate and often severely so. Fortunately, there’s a very inexpensive way to address this problem. You hang this model on a grate in the oven. When you preheat, check that the oven actually reached the temperature you need. There is no need for fancy models here. This Taylor will do just fine.
When frying, the key to having crisp but not greasy food is to maintain oil temperature, When you add food to the oil, the temperature will drop. You need to allow it to return to the ideal temp before adding more. Candy making is even more precise. Depending on temperature, melted sugar does many different things. At 234-241° the sugar is at the soft ball (think fudge) stage. At 244-248° its reached firm ball stage for things like soft caramels. 250-266° is hardball stage. This continues up to hard crack (toffee), to brown liquid (liquid caramel) to pitch black carbon that you can’t get off without an industrial metal grinder.
You need a reliable, accurate, and fairly fast thermometer that stays in the pot through the entire cooking process. A standard model is inexpensive and invaluable. You can go up to more expensive digital types if you want, just make sure it has a clip that will attach it firmly to the side of the pot.
Non-essential But Useful
There are a few things to be noted here. This type of thermometer is really mean to be left in the meat as it cooks. Don’t be fooled by words like “instant-read” here. This does not have the many uses of the proper instant-ready thermometer, but fortunately, its cheap. I have this on hand if I am cooking a large piece of meat on the grill, and it is too hot to use my probe thermometer without melting it. This is, in my opinion, an optional type to have.
A refrigerator/freezer thermometer can be very useful for fine-tuning your refrigerator or deep freezer settings.
This is listed under non-essentials, but I love this type. I use it to check the surface temperatures of my grill or a preheating-pan or my contact griddle. I use it to check the temperature of chocolate, which is even more precise than candy when trying to temper it. This is another type where more expensive models tend to be much better, because they are more accurate. Optional? Yes. Crazy useful? Definitely.
From the crazy high-tech to the most rudimentary oven thermometers, these devices cover the gamut. With so many types and even more uses, thermometers are as important as your measuring cups. They are essential to successful cooking.