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Testing if oil is hot enough

Jfood is canning some marinara and the food channel in the background. The chef on Viva Daisy (whatever) was making something and jfood glanced over as she stated, "a good way to test if the oil is hot enough to fry is to stick the end of a wooden spoon in the oil." And then she placed the non-stirring end in the oil and it did show the bubbles come up the handle a little.

Has anyone tried this?

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  1. Yes-it does work! Much better then the drop of water. And you can tell with how fast bubbles that is is close or really hot & ready. So simple-but really is my way of choice now.

    1. Wok-with-Yan does it with a chopstick.

      1. Yes, this is exactly what my mother has always done, too!

        1. It's really quite amazing how well it works. I think I first read about it in Fuschia Dunlop's "Land of Plenty." After just the first few tries (I use a wooden chopstick as well), you get a sense of what the bubbles should look like and how quickly they're rising to the surface. I would still use a thermometer if the temperature was critical, but for everyday sauteeing or stir frying it's easy and foolproof.

          1 Reply
          1. re: JoanN

            I think that is where I learned it too - or maybe in one of the Vietnamese cookbooks that we did. It's a great method. I've also found that I've learned, over time, to tell by the shimmer of the oil.

          2. This is a very common trick used by Chinese cooks but as other posters have stated a chopstick is used instead.

            1. Another method (from Cook's Illustrated):

              To tell when oil is hot enough for deep frying, drop an unpopped popcorn kernel into the oil as it heats up. The kernel will pop when the oil is between 350 and 365 degrees, which is perfect for deep frying.

              And you can eat the popcorn... unlike the chopstick.

              4 Replies
              1. re: Channa

                could the popcorn spray hot oil on you when it pops?

                  1. re: KTinNYC

                    This is what I do, and no, it doesn't spray hot oil when it pops. After all, the operative word is "pop," not "explode": the only way you would get hot oil onto you is if you had your hand far too close to the surface of the hot oil anyway.

                1. re: Channa

                  My fiancee does the popcorn thing all of the time.. especially helpful when frying chicken.

                2. Yup, do it all the time.

                  1. Never heard the popcorn trick, but use the wooden spoon all the time.

                    1. Wooden spoons are all well and good, but here's my favorite tool for checking the oil temp:


                      6 Replies
                      1. re: alanbarnes

                        Eh, I prefer to be a Luddite when it comes to cooking.

                        My caveman brothers would look at me funny if I pulled out one of those suckers as I was about to deep fry a Brontosaurus neck bone ...

                        1. re: ipsedixit

                          do you avoid shoes, planes and medicine too?

                        2. re: alanbarnes

                          Yours is similar and what I have used for years for checking all kinds of things.
                          I get my coffee exactly the temp I want with it! It is also great for finding a dead cylinder on a car or a drafty window.

                          1. re: alanbarnes

                            gee... and it ships in only 1 -2 months

                            1. re: alanbarnes

                              Yeah, I love my infrared thermometer. Normal sauteeing at about 350, searing meat at more like 400 or 450, sweating onions at 300 or so. And you get to see how evenly (or, in my case, unevenly), your pan is heated. It's great.

                              1. re: alanbarnes

                                The IR thermometer is what I use. Great tool

                              2. I used to use a wooden spoon, but have tried and now love the chopstick method. I never thought about using a kernel of popcorn- the idea seems both cute and simple.

                                1. yep, learned the chopstick method many years ago watching Martin Yan, and then saw someone else during the early FN years (maybe Sara Moulton?) do it with the wooden spoon.

                                  1. BTW, doesn't quite work so well with plastic choppers....

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: porker

                                      I wish this post had appeared a long time ago. My index finger has been repeatedly hurting for years.

                                    2. Hey J! I too saw that segment with Daisy yesterday morning and smiled. This was the way my Hungarian grandmother, born in 1902, would test the oil. Of course, I usually use a deep fry/cand thermometer, but in a pinch would know how to do this.

                                      Share your marinara sauce? Looking to make spaghetti with meatballs for dinner tonight. Thanks!

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: Diane in Bexley

                                        Jfood Marinara Sauce

                                        1/4 cup olive oil
                                        2 oz fatback diced
                                        3-4 T diced onions
                                        2 cloves garlic minced
                                        t 28 oz cans of san marzanos with the hard stem removed and squeezed carefully between your fingers to bing to medium consistency
                                        oregano; basil; thyme; salt; pepper; pepper flakes

                                        1 - heat the oil and add fatback and render for 7 minutes over low flame, remove the rendered fat with slotted spoon and discard
                                        2 - add the onions and bring just to the barest of edge browned
                                        3 - add the garlic and stir for about 30 seconds
                                        4 - CAREFULLY add the tomatoes, and the dried spices (sorry no measurements on this, jfood sort of eyes it)
                                        5 - reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour
                                        6 - Use an immersion blender and liquify all the tomatoes; taste and season
                                        7 - Simmer for another 30-60 minutes

                                        Newest Pasta recipe has 5 XL eggs; 1 cup semolina and 2.5 cups regular flour. Jfood took the ration of flour and eggs from Batali and modified with the semolina because he likes it waaaaay better than just flour.

                                        Enjoy and stay warm. Aren't the Ravens really the Browns from your state? :-))

                                        1. re: jfood

                                          J, didn't see this recipe until just now, will make tomorrow as no work and nothing to do here (it's SO COLD!).

                                          Re: Ravs & Browns - believe you are right. Came about after some argument Art Modell (Browns' owner) had with NFL. DH is huge Chicago Bears fan (he grew up there) and gave up 25+ year season tickets with 4 guys & their Dads to move here to Ohio. He is big supporter of OSU Buckeyes as we in CMH like to think of as the "pro team" around here, even though they are college. Lately more hype than results, but that would get me killed around here! LOL!

                                      2. The wooden spoon trick is fool-proof. Occasionally if the spoons go missing, I will take a long green herb (i.e. cilantro or parsley) and quickly dip it just past the surface of the oil. If the oil bubbles, it is hot enough for frying.

                                        4 Replies
                                        1. re: JungMann

                                          An old Cajun trick is to drop a wooden match into the oil. When it ignites, the oil is ready.

                                            1. re: ricepad

                                              You can drop a match into a bucket of gasoline and nothing will happen - point is, just because you have flame and flammables in close proximity doesn't necessarily mean it's dangerous. The match trick is rather handy... and I promise that it won't burn ricepad's pad down.

                                              1. re: HaagenDazs

                                                would you not get some sulfur flavor in your oil?

                                        2. I used to be a professional cook and when I was in my first restaurant, I was taught a couple of things:
                                          First, don't put the oil in a cold pan. You don't want to wait until the oil is smoking to know it's too late. Get the pan nice and hot, have your oil and first ingredients ready, throw your oil in and a second later your ingredients and saute immediately.
                                          2nd, if you have more sensitive items: get your pan relatively hot, put your oil in and when it "runs like mercury" you're good to go.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: khuebbe

                                            somehow i get the impression they are talking more about deep frying than sauteing.

                                          2. How deep does the oil need to be before the spoon or chopstick method can be used? I generally use less than 1/4 inch.

                                            1. Yes, it does work. My husband even uses the wooden spoon trick when he cooks his asian meals for out family.

                                              1. Yes, the wooden spoon touching the hot oil is much safer than using water. My husband Jon used to burn himself all the time until I showed him the proper way to test the oil.

                                                1. My brother-in-law was opening a fast food Chinese take out (like Panda Express) and he hired these old time Chinese cooks and they'd spit in the wok to see if was hot enough. He told them not to do it anymore and use water instead.