Thermometer's - how many do you need?
As I bake/cook more often, I'm realizing that I really need a thermometer. The question I have though, is, how many do you need? Do you need separate ones for meats and non-meats? The main things I'd be doing are:
-Tempering chocolate - do I need a specialized chocolate thermometer?
-checking meat for doneness
-checking general non-meat things like the temperature of dough
-maybe measuring oil/candy - but it's not really my priority
The thermometer I'm thinking of buying is the thermapen.
I have two thermometers. One is an instant-read, the other is a probe thermometer. The instant-read is used for checking the temperature of oil, candy, and general non-meat things. Make sure you get one that has a temperature range wide enough to take care of what you want to do, which is going to be over 350 degrees if you want to check the temperatures of oil and candy. The best one out there is the Thermapen, which is pricey ($85) but very worth it; it has an extremely fast response time and a temperature range that can't be beat.
To check meat for doneness, the probe thermometer is the way to go. You can set the target temperature, stick the probe into the chunk of animal flesh you're cooking, put it in the oven, and then the unit beeps once it has hit that temperature. Taylor makes a decent one, and you can get it at Target for about 20 or 25 bucks.
You're right, I'd use the probe for oil and *most* candy work. The time I wouldn't use the probe is for doing caramel work (where the sugar solution goes over 330 degrees). The temperature rises very quickly indeed, and I doubt a probe thermometer would keep up, at least not the one I have at home. The laser/infrared thermometers are much fun, but only check the surface temperature of things, and therefore aren't much use for checking, say, the doneness of a steak.
I have a drawerful of thermometers but the ones I use all the time are (1) the instant read and (2) a probe thermometer. The probe thermometer is my second, a Taylor. The first, a Polder was a complete lemon and never worked but so far the Taylor seems to be doing a good job. I've been told that probe thermometers don't have reliably long lives so I'm prepared to replace it regularly.
I use a candy thermometer when I make preserves mostly because it has a handy clip which fixes it to the pot. I think the probe unit would do as good a job. I used to use my meat thermometer a lot but the probe has replaced it.
I use the instant read thermometer for checking temperatures of custards or foods being reheated in the oven or microwave.
I've been thinking about the thermopen for its speed and accuracy, but for checking on food in the oven, you still need to open the door and insert the tip. I think I would prefer the probe to save me this step.
Two other thermometers to consider which aren't directly related to cooking are an oven thermometer and a fridge/freezer thermometer. I have both and use them all the time.
I think the Polder was just a bad unit from the day I got it. It would read up to 20 degrees too hot or too cold when I used it in the oven, the room temperature was always wrong, and it was so obviously a piece of junk that we threw it out. Other people have Polders and love them, so I don't think all of them are bad.
I got a Taylor for about $20 2 months ago and so far it's working perfectly. But if you go to Amazon and read the reviews on probe thermometers, you'll see many which say their units only lasted a few months to a year or so. Again, this seems to be up to the kitchen gods because I know people who have had their Taylors for 10+ years and are perfectly happy.
As stated by the previous post, you will need two thermometers. You can spend as much as $100 for the two or as little as $25.00. I've used: 1) a Taylor instant read meat thermometer...stick it into the meat/dough, etc. and get a reading in a few seconds which cost less than $10.00 and 2). a Taylor Candy, Oil and Canning thermometer (has a reading from 100 to 400degree F) that costs about $15.00. They are low tech but have used them for years and have not need anything that costs more.
I would put in my vote for the thermopen even though it costs and little more and the Taylor instant read. I haven't had great luck with the probes, probably more operator error than the instrument, but I've used an instant read for years and love it for everything except oil and candy. I will admit, from time to time I have used it for that too. My instant read themometers have had reasonably long lifes too.
I have a digital that I used most of the time.
I have a drawer full of Taylor probes that I have received as complimentary gifts from cooking stores and other business as freebies, and I use them at work and when I cook at free meal programs.
I like the Themapen thermo's, but I don't see that they are really worth the $80+ price.
The remote probes are nice but I have gotten to the point when I can accurately guess the temps within 3-5 degrees.
If you feel that you will be doing a lot of candy and frying you may want to get a high temp thermo. They are relatively inexpensive and the large size is easy to read.
I have used the infrared gun thermometers and if I did a lot of BBQ or other cooking they might be necessary but its just a geeky toy for me.
IMVHO, A instant- read probe will be all most home cooks really need. The King Arthur baking catalog or www.cooking.com has a great selection of thermometers.
Hi everyone, thanks for all the great input!! In the end, I think I will get the thermapen, so many people have had great things to say about it, and will get a probe thermometer at a later time.
Also, to someone who asked about the oven thermometer. I didn't list it, as that's the one I already have - and I didn't quite consider it a cooking thermometer, more of a necessity, as ovens are so irregular. =)