Kitchen Thermometers: Essential for Safe, Moist, Delicious Food

Photo: James Stefiuk

A kitchen thermometer is vital for ensuring food is not only safe to eat, but also cooked to the optimal temperature for the best quality: keeping meats, casseroles and other foods moist and delicious.

Also called food or cooking thermometers, kitchen thermometers are available in analog and digital varieties for meat, candy and a variety of other foods. Newer Wi-Fi enabled “smart” versions, which send a notification via phone when food is ready, can cost $200 or more. For a less expensive option, get a simple analog meat thermometer for about $10 or an all-purpose “instant read” digital thermometer for $30 to $100.

When selecting a kitchen thermometer, consider the foods you cook most often. A “dial” meat thermometer does not require batteries and has markings to indicate safe internal cooking temperatures for beef, poultry and pork. Most meat thermometers can be placed into raw food and left until done cooking. Meat thermometers also can be used for re-heating soups, stews and casseroles to ensure they have reached a safe temperature.

To use a meat thermometer, place the probe in the thickest portion of the food and stay away from bones, fat and gristle. For irregular-shaped foods such as egg dishes and casseroles, check the temperature in several locations to ensure consistent overall heating.

Candy thermometers, which do not have a metal probe, are a necessity for candy makers and for home cooks who do a lot of deep-frying. Clip a candy thermometer to the side of a pot or pan before heating food. This is especially important with a glass thermometer, as extreme temperature shock may cause it to break. Make sure the bulb does not come in contact with the bottom of the pan, which will result in a false temperature reading.

If you want only one thermometer, an “all-purpose” digital instant read or thermocouple thermometer is the best choice. Look for three key features: length (the longer the better), grip (choose one that feels secure in your hands) and visibility (opt for a large display with a screen on the side, rather than on the top, for better readability from different angles).

Deluxe thermocouple thermometers with a fast read time of 2 to 5 seconds sell for about $70 to $100, while less expensive yet highly rated versions with read times of fewer than 10 seconds sell for about $30. A disadvantage of thermocouple thermometers is that they cannot be left in food while cooking.

No matter the type, kitchen thermometers should be calibrated regularly using ice water or boiling water to ensure accuracy. To clean a kitchen thermometer, wash it with hot, soapy water after each use and store it in a case so no one gets poked when rummaging through the kitchen drawer.

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EA Stewart
EA Stewart, MBA, RD, is a registered dietitian and nutritionist specializing in wellness nutrition, weight management, celiac disease and gluten-free, FODMAPs diet therapy, and LEAP food sensitivity testing. Read her blog, The Spicy RD, and follow her on Twitter.