Digital thermometers are essential kitchen tools -- right up there with sharp knives and accurate food scales. We love giving them away as gifts, too, because we know that they can be a total game-changer for home cooks.
Why are thermometers so important? When you know the temperature of meat and other food, you also know you're serving safely prepared foods that are cooked to perfection. Also, thermometers make cooking fun and stress-free. You no longer have to wonder if that Roast Chicken is really ready, or if the Blueberry Muffins need five more minutes in the oven or if they should come out now. You can check for doneness without wrecking their appearance: No more poking the Carrot Cake with a fork to see if it comes out clean, no more slicing into that lovely holiday roast to see if the juices run clear. With a trusty temperature-gauging gadget, you can feel great knowing you've cooked dinner to perfection -- no guesswork or messy eyeballing required.
At ChefSteps, there are two types of thermometers we use all the time: a thermocouple reader with thermocouple probes and an infrared-style thermometer. With the first device, you use wired probes to remotely measure two temperatures at the same time. It's a handy tool when you're smoking meat, for instance, and want to monitor both the core temperature and the surface temperature as it cooks. The infrared device is equally handy, because it can read the temperature of your food without even touching it.
Once you start working with either of these devices, you'll wonder how you ever cooked without it! The problem is they can be a little expensive. So if you're not quite ready to make the investment, start with a less expensive digital thermometer. We've tested many models at many prices, and found over and over that our favorites come from a company called Thermoworks. Below are the models that we use in our own kitchen, and buy for our friends and family, too. Whichever you choose, we think you'll love how thermometers help you work cleaner, more safely, and with way better results. Happy cooking!
Instant-Read Pocket Thermometer
Reliable, easy to read, and small enough that you can stick it in your apron pocket, a good pocket thermometer should have an accuracy better than 1 °F / 0.5 °C, and a response time of fewer than 10 seconds. Our favorite model in this category is the Thermoworks Super-Fast Thermapen -- Instant Read Thermometer. Less expensive, and also very good, is the Thermoworks RT600C Super-fast Water-resistant Digital Pocket Thermometer.
Thermocouple Reader and Probes
Themocouple readers offer the flexibility of measuring multiple temperatures in different locations using probes. There are two options from Thermoworks that we recommend. The Therma Differential Thermocouple Meter is our favorite because of its robust design, and the ThermaQ is a great alternative for the professional.
We recommend picking up a pair of needle-type insertions to go with the reader such as the Stainless Steel K-Type Thermocouple Insertion Probe.
Unlike a traditional thermometer, an infrared device can read temperatures without making contact with the food. (This is why these thermometers are sometimes called noncontact thermometers.) Just point that thing at the surface of your meal, and pull the trigger to read the temperature.
They're a bit expensive, but it's pretty cool to be able to get a temperature read without even touching that beautiful dish! Our favorite? The Thermoworks Point and Shoot Infrared Thermometer.
Whichever model you choose, we hope you find as much success using a digital thermometer as much as we have. Martha's got some great recipes where a thermometer would come in really handy. A few to practice your thermometer skills on: Golden Caramels, Pistachio-Cranberry Torrone, and Seared Lamb Loin Chops.