Your Guide to Buying a Food Thermometer

What are the different types of food thermometer, and do you even need one? Learn why a good thermometer is so important.
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For the last eight years, I’ve lived in a serviced apartment. This meant someone else changed my sheets, took out my garbage, swept the floors, and cleaned the windows. It was, in a word, glorious. Recently I’ve moved away from this charming lifestyle to one that is drastically different. My naivety to the options on the market —for any number of things, including but not limited to garbage bag choices and window cleaner options— was incalculable. Perhaps most surprisingly was the market for a food thermometer.

Why do I need a food thermometer?

In my serviced apartment, I ordered lots of take-out. As takeout moved from a delightful luxury to a risky endeavor (and now back to luxury), I started preparing more and more of my food in my kitchen. There are several rules of thumb that one can follow to identify when different dishes are finished, but if you don’t want to risk a case of listeria or E. Coli, then a thermometer is the safest, fastest option on the market.

Picking a kitchen thermometer

The former owners of the house that I live in left me with one piece of advice about the oven: sometimes the temperature gauge is a few degrees off. In some cases, this can be the difference between undercooked and over, so it was important I figured out my options to fix this problem.

1. The instant-read food thermometer

Take the guesswork out of “is it done?” Instead, head straight to the source and check the meat. An instant-read thermometer is the most commonly found food thermometer on the market. Standard in design (though varying in quality and price), an instant-read thermometer has two necessary components. A digital screen to tell you the temperature and a long prong that the user inserts into the meat’s deepest piece. Once inserted, a high-quality instant-read thermometer should give the internal cook temperature within two or three seconds.

2. The oven thermometer

Built-in oven thermometers wear out over time. That’s why oven thermometers are a useful tool for guiding your cooking and baking. Arguably more important in baking than cooking, the wrong baking temperature can wreak havoc on delights as simple as cookies and delicacies like souffle in terms of presentation and outcomes. By accurately measuring the oven’s internal temperature, you can monitor if your dish needs more time or less, based on how hot or cold it is inside. Low-temperature ovens mean undercooked and unfinished brownies, and high-temperature ones can lead to burnt bread or dried out cakes.

3. Meat probes

Similar to the instant-read thermometer, these probes are useful, especially for deep frying. The meat probe typically looks like a combination of a pointy stake (used to gauge the temperature) and a small dial that reads the internal temperature. Probes usually take about 15 seconds to accurately measure the temperature. Particularly great for deep frying, the probe thermometer can also be used to measure the oil’s temperature to make sure that you’ve achieved the ideal temperature.

4. Remote/wireless probe

If you’ve used a landline lately, you’ll know why cutting the cord has become so popular. Remote/wireless probes allow you to stick the gauge in the meat and escape the heat. Place the thermometer probe in the meat, set a notification for your desired temperature (accessed via app), and walk away (not too far, please). There is a saying that a watched pot never boils. I think the same can apply to meat. Set it and forget it, so to speak.

5. Infrared food thermometer

While tempting to purchase, infrared thermometers have a greater potential for misrepresenting the accurate temperature than other options. Typically infrared thermometers are only able to read the surface temperature of something. You can use them in tandem with other thermometers but utilize caution.

6. Refrigerator/freezer thermometer

While not precisely in the same realm, this is an excellent time to throw in a mention of refrigerator and freezer thermometers as well. New devices come equipped with temperature readings on the door, but like an oven, they can wear out over time. A fridge/freezer thermometer can take the guesswork out of “is it too cold?” Believe it or not, there are ideal temperatures for different types of products. If you want to avoid freezer burn, a freezer thermometer can be one last line of defense to make sure you aren’t wasting any items in the back.

Final Thoughts

While it can be a lot to process, there are myriad reasons to purchase a thermometer. There are lots of options on the market. The first consideration for me is usually budget, but from there, it’s helpful to think about how much time each option takes to get an accurate reading and how versatile it is with regards to different food options.

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