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A candy thermometer, also known as a sugar or jelly thermometer, is a must-have kitchen tool for those who experiment with anything that has a temperature that needs to be closely monitored, like caramels or fudge, for example. And though you might wonder if you can use your meat thermometer for the task, the two gauges do have inherent differences, namely that candy thermometers have higher temperature thresholds, usually 400 degrees or more. There are plenty of different types of models—from analog to digital—so which one you settle on is largely a matter of personal preference. (Not sure how accurate the thermometer you’re working with is? Find out how to test your candy thermometer.)
Here, a variety of highly accurate models you can rely on when making candy at home.
Reliable temperature ranges
Sugar stages printed on thermometer
Numbers can wear off over time
Glass thermometer can break if dropped
From the same company that makes professional-level thermometers for grilling and cooking comes this best-selling candy and jelly deep-fry thermometer. It's made with sturdy, food-grade stainless steel and a comfortable nylon handle and features helpful, easy-to-read candy temperatures on its surface so you know the precise temperature for everything from "thread" to "hard crack." The 12-inch thermometer easily clips onto a pan. It measures from 100 to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, allowing you to use it for everything from fudge and doughnuts to French fries and fried chicken.
Reliable temperature range
Sugar stages printed on thermometer
Numbers can wear off over time
Glass thermometer can break if dropped
This highly rated candy thermometer is an easy top pick, thanks to three important attributes: It’s easy to read, it clips onto the pot for convenience, and you can’t beat the price. Despite the budget price tag, the thermometer is highly accurate, measuring temperatures from 90 to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (it also measures in Celsius). And so you don’t have to keep referring to a guide, cookbook, or computer for reference, the gadget also has six temperature zones—deep fry, thread, softball, hardball, soft crack, and hard crack—printed on the display in large, easy-to-read text.
You won’t worry about burning yourself with this unit, either. It has an insulated handle that stays cool to the touch for maximum safety while handling such hot ingredients. The icing on the cake? It’s dishwasher safe to help make cleanup a breeze.
Protective storage sleeve
Temperature guides included
Insulated glass thermometer
Adjustable hands-free clip
Can fog if liquid gets inside tube
Smaller thermometer sometimes harder to read
If you don’t need any extra bells and whistles—just something to monitor the temperature of whatever it is you’re cooking—consider this incredibly affordable thermometer. The analog unit itself is no-frills, just a glass thermometer with a clip that measures between 100 and 400 degrees Fahrenheit or 25 and 200 degrees Celsius. The protective storage sleeve does come with a bonus, though: a helpful guide for both candy making and deep-frying. Here, you’ll find details about what temperatures yield different results when cooking with sugar, plus the right oil temps for deep frying various food items.
Sleek look with color options
Impressively wide temperature range
Mostly water resistant
Probe folds up for storage
Somewhat more expensive than other models
Difficult to change from Fahrenheit to Celsius
For bakers who want to get incredibly precise with their temperature readings, a digital thermometer is a better bet, since there’s no question about the reading, right down to the decimal. This model is a very popular option because it has a very large, easy-to-read, splash-proof display that really takes the guesswork out of whatever it is you’re doing. It’s also highly versatile—use it as a candy, jelly, or deep-fry thermometer, or opt to use it for meat and poultry. The temperature range is vast enough for either, as it can safely and accurately read between -40 to 482 degrees Fahrenheit (or -40 to 250 degrees Celsius).
Though the probe is admittedly on the shorter side and there is no clip, there are some other great features that help justify these small sacrifices. The thermometer reads quickly (between 1 and 3 seconds), plus folds in on itself for easy and convenient storage (great for small spaces). As an added bonus, it comes in eight colors, from your standard black to fun shades like pink.
Impressively high temperature range
Easy to read backlit display
Great price for features
Probe folds up for storage
Shorter probe length
Display may fog if liquid seeps in
This ThermoPro thermometer is a great digital option that’s much like our top choice for the best digital overall. It has a large, easy-to-read display with a backlight for even better visibility, plus a very admirable temperature range. In just 3-5 seconds, the high-precision sensor on the stainless steel probe can read temps ranging from -58 to 572 degrees Fahrenheit (-50 to 300 degrees Celsius). One of its most convenient features, though, is the fact that it folds in on itself for compact storage and then can be stored on a refrigerator or a knife plate, thanks to its magnetic properties.
Long probe with sleeve
Pre-programmed temperature settings
Easy-to-read digital display
Small operating learning curve
High heat or condensation may affect display
When you’re deep-frying, two things are especially handy: a long probe and a secure clip. Both of these things ensure you can constantly monitor the temperature of the oil (a must!) without risking scalding your hands. This thermometer also has a few bonus features that make getting accurate readings more convenient. For starters, it has a large, easy-to-read digital display that lets you really zero in on the exact temperature of the oil.
Another really nice feature to have? The thermometer includes seven preprogrammed candy stages and one all-purpose temperature setting. Just set it and wait for it to notify you when the liquid reaches within three degrees of both the high and low ends of your set temperature range. This way you’re sure to get it just right.
Very long probe
Great temperature range
Does not come with a clip
Slower read time (4 to 6 seconds)
This incredibly sleek thermometer has more than just a pretty appearance. It’s a highly functional tool to have in your kitchen, as it displays the temperature (from -8 to 572 degrees Fahrenheit) of anything you’re cooking—from candy to meat—on a large, clear screen in just 4-6 seconds.
It also has an extremely long probe—7 inches!—something that will make the novice cook feel especially comfortable when working with such hot ingredients as sugar and cooking oil. Another nice bonus is the auto shut-off feature, which kicks in after 10 minutes of inactivity. Overall, this is one of the best values out there.
Clear cooking temperatures guide
Easy to calibrate
Slightly more expensive than similar models
Glass thermometer may break if dropped
OXO is one of the biggest names in kitchen tools and utensils, so it’s no surprise that the company’s candy and deep fry thermometer doesn’t disappoint either. The glass thermometer not only includes measurement markings to indicate temperature within 2 degrees in both Fahrenheit and Celsius, but it also has slightly offset large, easy-to-read graphics that include temperature ranges for different candy types. You’ll love the extra-long and convenient clip, too. It attaches, removes, and adjusts with ease, so you don’t have to fiddle with the instrument while cooking at extremely high temperatures.
If there’s any downside, it’s that this thermometer is hand wash only, though that’s a sacrifice you have to make for the vast majority of candy thermometers.
Good temperature range
Bluetooth for remote monitoring
14 temperature settings programmed
Smaller display than other models
These days, there’s no need to stand in the kitchen hovering over whatever it is you’re cooking. With this Bluetooth candy thermometer, you can get oil ready to fry and address something else without fear of missing your desired temperature range. Simply set your ideal temperature for 14 different types of candy or deep-fried foods, then use the convenient metal clip to attach the thermometer to the pan. (The thermometer accurately measures from -40 to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.) Once the desired temperature is reached, the device beeps, but you can also monitor it from a compatible smartphone (iPhone, iPad, or Android).
The Taylor Precision Products Taylor Candy And Jelly Deep Fry Thermometer is a hands-free staple in professional and home kitchens everywhere. It’s easy to read and use for liquid applications, reliable, and easily replaceable without a considerable investment (view at Amazon). For more precise temperatures in a clean digital format, the ThermoPro Digital Instant Read Thermometer will serve you well for almost all of your high-temperature cooking projects, from meats to maple candy (view at Amazon).
What to Look for When Buying a Candy, Jelly, and Deep Fry Thermometer
Being able to quickly and accurately gauge the temperature of what you’re cooking is why you’re using a thermometer in the first place, so you should absolutely choose a thermometer that is easy for you to read.
Digital displays: Probe thermometers typically come with one of two different types of temperature displays. The first is a digital readout, which at its most basic gives you the instant temperature of your food in Fahrenheit and/or Celcius. Most digital displays also include an on/off button for the thermometer if it isn’t a model that turns on automatically.
More advanced digital thermometers include additional settings that allow you to set the target temperature (which will usually set off a digital alarm to let you know when the max temp has been reached), as well as a minimum and maximum temperature reading. There are also “hold” buttons that allow you to pause the thermometer at the current temperature and remove it from the food to get a good look at the temp without changing the reading.
Even more advanced thermometers can be equipped with timers, multiple displays, backlights, and pre-programmed cooking temperature recommendations. Ultimately, you want the digital display to be large enough to read easily, and clearly assess all of the settings available.
Dial displays: Dial displays are also commonly found on probe-style thermometers, often for meat and refrigerator readings, but also for candy and deep-fry thermometers. Dial displays don’t give as lightning-fast of a reading as digital thermometers do, but they will give you an accurate reading within a few seconds. Smaller, handheld thermometers typically have smaller dials, sometimes with only either a Fahrenheit or a Celsius reading. Larger dial displays often include both units of measurement and occasionally safe temperature ranges for different meats or desired levels of doneness.
Analog displays: Candy and deep-fry thermometers with glass temperature gauges have a printed temperature scale either on the stainless steel panel they’re mounted on or inside the tube they’re suspended in. This style of thermometer is intended to be clipped on to the side of the pot in which you’re cooking a liquid for a consistent temperature reading over the course of cooking. Very often, the scale includes the recommended stages of sugar temperatures for candy making, including soft ball, firm ball, hard ball, soft crack, and hard crack markers.
For candy making, jam making, and frying, you’re going to need a thermometer that can read especially high temperatures—hotter than a household thermometer range, and even hotter than a typical meat thermometer range. Glass candy thermometers have a range from 100 to 400 degrees, which is an absolute must.
Digital thermometers often have a much wider range of temperature measurements, usually extending lower than 100 degrees, and sometimes even down to subzero temperatures. Many also read hotter ingredients up to and over 500 degrees. Having a thermometer that can comfortably read temperatures below 100 degrees is helpful for many candy-making applications that require dropping the temperature of your sugar or chocolate for crystallization, or when warming liquid to use with yeast.
Infrared thermometers, while not used as often in the home kitchen, provide an even more extreme range of temperatures than digital probe thermometers: typically from 0 to 600 degrees Fahrenheit. Some models can measure temperatures over 1000 degrees, which is most often used for high-temperature baking.
Handheld vs. Clip-On
Nearly all glass thermometer models are clip-on style thermometers, making it easy to watch the temperature of your liquid rise over time, without holding the thermometer over a pot for an hour. The clip should be sturdy and balanced to keep your thermometer attached securely to the side of the pot. The thermometer itself should be adjustable when the clip is in use to make sure the glass bulb at the base is completely submerged in the liquid you’re cooking.
Many probe thermometers with digital and dial displays also come equipped with clips to make monitoring your recipe hands-free. Just make sure the clip is actually designed to hold on to a pot—and not, in fact, a pocket clip for your chef’s coat.
Many digital thermometers—both probe and infrared—are handheld, which is useful for taking a quick temperature, then removing from the pot for ease of stirring and cooking without any obstructions. For recipes that require a gradual increase in temperature, you may find yourself holding the thermometer uncomfortably over a hot pot for an extended period of time.
Probe Length and Sensitivity
Since most of the cooking projects these specialized thermometers tackle are heat-intensive, it’s understandable that you might not want to get too close while taking the temperature of your ingredients. With that in mind, you should consider the length of the thermometer probe you’re working with. A typical probe length is about 3 to 5 inches long, with extra length given by the handle. This may not seem like much but is generous enough for most projects, from bubbling jams to checking the temperature of a steak.
If you’re working on a recipe that requires reaching deeper into a pot to get an accurate reading—or if you’d simply like to put a little more distance between your hands and that pot of 400-degree cooking oil—consider a thermometer with a longer probe, such as the CDN DTC450 Digital Candy/Deep Fry/Pre-Programmed & Programmable Thermometer.
Another option is a digital thermometer that basically functions as a probe with an extension cord. The probe itself rests in the pot, with the extension cord running a foot or so out of the pot to the digital thermometer hub and display. Both hands-free and precise, the extra length will save you from dreaded caramel-splatter burns and let you monitor the gradual temperature increase of your project from a safe distance.
Thermometers are typically one of the smaller kitchen tools you’ll invest in, regardless of what style you ultimately choose. Easy to stash in just about any drawer, or in a canister with other countertop utensils, thermometers will take up very little space.
Even so, some thermometers are designed to take up a minimal amount of space, featuring probes that fold up into the handle for safekeeping. Some thermometers come equipped with a magnet to store on the side of your refrigerator or cool magnetic surface. While glass thermometers mounted on stainless steel frames are often the largest thermometers, they are typically flat and take up very little drawer space.
Most important, the size of your thermometer should be comfortable to hold. If it’s a smaller tool, make sure you can hold it comfortably without cramping your hand or it slipping out of your control. If it’s a larger thermometer, make sure you can hold it steady with a handle or clip.
You don’t have to invest a major amount of money to get a high-quality thermometer. When it comes to this particular kitchen tool, the more expensive models typically reflect the vanity designs of the thermometer or are more advanced for intensive cooking and grilling—which all have their place if you so desire.
But if your main goal is to get an accurate, quick, and consistent temperature from a thermometer that will last you a while, there are plenty of economical and mid-range models to meet your needs. Glass thermometers typically start in the ballpark of $10 and don’t often cost much more than that. Reliable digital thermometers without all the bells and whistles start at around $13 and increase to about $30 with additional functions. Higher-end models can run up to $60 or more with additional features like wireless remote controls and Bluetooth functions.
Some thermometers come with limited warranties that cover manufacturing defects directly out of the box. Since these thermometers are used in more extreme cooking environments, normal wear and tear, water damage, and any damage that results from accidents or negligence are usually not covered. If you’re concerned about buying a faulty thermometer, it’s best to check the return policy of the vendor you plan on purchasing it from. Higher-end producers have you register your product online and keep track of your model number for any possible future claims.
Types of Thermometers
Popular with home and professional cooks alike, probe thermometers have a long narrow metal wand, usually attached to a handle, that is inserted into whatever you’re cooking—from roast chicken to strawberry jam. The temperature is quickly and accurately displayed on the attached dial or digital readout.
Most probe thermometers have a tapered tip that indicates how deep the thermometer needs to be inserted into the ingredients to get an accurate temperature reading. Since the temperature is taken from the end of the probe, it isn’t necessary to insert the full length of the thermometer for an accurate reading. If the probe doesn’t have a tapered end, it should have an etched marking or dimple to let you know how deep to use it for a correct reading.
Probe thermometers are made at every price point, and are incredibly versatile cooking tools that are appropriate for a wealth of pastry and savory applications.
Glass thermometers are based on the original thermometer designed hundreds of years ago that is often attributed to Galileo (which is wholly unverified, but a fun idea). In short, the liquid inside the glass tube expands when it’s heated and contracts when it cools. The thermometer casing is then marked to indicate the exact temperatures the liquid reaches along its expansion.
Mercury was once used as the liquid core of glass thermometers, although that is no longer the case. Most thermometers are filled with an alcohol as the liquid core, indicated by its red color. For an accurate reading, the bulb at the bottom of a glass thermometer must be completely submerged into what it is attempting to measure. Contemporary glass candy thermometers are very reliable indicators and sturdy tools, although they are predominately used for liquid applications.
Less popular with home cooks due to their once higher price point and limited availability commercially, infrared thermometers are becoming increasingly accessible to a wider audience. In a nutshell, the infrared radiation emitted by the moving molecules in your recipe creates heat. The infrared light produced by this process is a wavelength mostly undetectable to the human eye, but can be measured by reflecting the infrared light onto a lens that can then be detected by a thermopile—which then gets displayed to you.
With all of that said, an infrared thermometer looks like a cool handheld laser gun that you shoot at your food to quickly get its temperature, which is fun, even if you don’t know entirely how it works. But there are two important things you need to know before choosing this style of thermometer.
The first is that an infrared thermometer reads the surface temperature of what you aim it at, not a depth temperature. For example, if you’re cooking something on the stove, you’ll still need to be able to stir it to get an accurate overall temperature. This is fine for jams, chocolates, and even fry oil, but will not give you an accurate representation of the doneness of meats.
The second thing you need to know is that you’ll need to be within a certain distance of what you’re taking the temperature to get an accurate reading. This is known as the distance-to-spot ratio, and the user manual of your thermometer should tell you exactly what ratio your thermometer registers at. It sounds more complicated than it actually is, but it’s best to be aware of it before you get started.
Great for a wide variety of baking and pastry applications, an infrared thermometer is a fun tool to have for those interested in incredibly accurate temperatures and high-tech gadgets. While some infrared thermometers can still cost hundreds of dollars, there are plenty more on the market now that run from $20 to $40 for a reliable model.
Taylor is one of the most trusted brands of thermometers in professional kitchens. The company produces an impressive 59 different styles of thermometers that read everything from freezer temperatures to high-heat ovens, as well as every type of food you might need to measure the temperature of while cooking. Well-known for reliable products at reasonable prices, Taylor also produces scales and timers that can easily be used in both home and professional kitchens.
Polder makes attractive, streamlined, and contemporary kitchen and household goods with prices to suit economy and mid-range budgets. With 21 different thermometer models available, Polder undoubtedly has a product to suit whatever kind of cooking you enjoy. You can complete your precision-cooking collection with one of its scales and timers that are also designed for simple home use.
A popular brand found in many grocery stores, GoodCook makes kitchen gadgets, tools, cookware, and bakeware for no-fuss cooking at a reasonable price. GoodCook equipment is dependable and will stand up to light and average use. Almost all of the products it offers are designed for ease of use and ergonomic handling, so you won’t have to struggle when you’re already working hard to get food on the table.
Lavatools exclusively makes thermometers and has garnered a lot of attention doing it. The sleek designs, bright colors, crystal-clear readouts, and high-quality engineering make for thermometers that professionals and home cooks alike can’t resist. All of that comes at a premium though, with the most popular model starting at $27.
Heavy-duty digital thermometers are the bread and butter of ThermoPro’s product line, but it doesn’t stop at kitchen thermometers. ThermoPro also offers a wide range of indoor/outdoor, weather, and medical thermometers, all available to the public. ThermoPro is especially enthusiastic about cooking and temping the perfect meats, offering thermometers at both economical and luxury prices.
CDN may not be a household name, but its foodservice-quality line of thermometers, timers, and scales are regularly found in professional kitchens. These heavy-duty tools will last years, needing little more than battery changes with responsible use. CDN thermometers and tools are reasonably priced for most home cooks who want a reliable and easy-to-use thermometer.
An incredibly popular household name, and with good reason: OXO kitchen tools are ergonomic, hard-working, and good-looking, with options available for every budget. The brand's Good Grips hand tools can be found in kitchens and home goods stores everywhere, as well as some grocery and convenience stores. With a line of nine thermometers in different styles and at different price points, you’re absolutely sure to find a dependable thermometer that meets your cooking needs.
A brand known for its blend of luxury, technology, and cooking, Williams Sonoma curates and designs kitchen and household goods for the enthusiast kitchen. Designer tools and top-tier quality make for a selection of products that will instantly elevate your kitchen, and perhaps even your cooking. While some items may also carry luxury price tags, you can rest assured that it has been rigorously vetted to fit Williams Sonoma’s strong brand reputation.
When it comes to taking care of your thermometer, a few low-maintenance tips will go a long way. Almost all thermometers should be gently hand-washed or simply wiped with a damp cloth. Digital thermometers should never be submerged in water, even if they’re water-resistant. Water trapped behind a digital display may cloud the read-out while you’re cooking, making it impossible to accurately measure your food and eventually shorting the electronics inside the casing. While some glass thermometers can be cleaned in the dishwasher, the high heat and abrasive detergent may begin to wash away the printed measurements on your thermometer.
Some dial-display thermometers may need to be recalibrated directly out of the box or periodically during use to maintain a dependable reading. This is typically done by dipping the probe into either boiling or iced water and setting the boiling or freezing point on your thermometer.
Occasionally, a glass thermometer’s liquid contents may get separated by air bubbles. It isn’t broken and can be fixed. Much like calibrating a dial-display thermometer, you can chill the glass thermometer bulb in icy water until all of the colored liquid combines back in the bulb. You can also heat the thermometer base in oil until all of the colored liquid combines at the top of the thermometer, but this requires heating to temperatures over 400 degrees and may not be the safest option for most households.
When it comes to thermometers, there are very few accessories. But some thermometers come with sheaths for the probe end to protect it in storage or while carrying it in your pocket (some probe ends are sharp enough to poke through denim!). Infrared thermometers and digital thermometers with extended probes may also come with a small carrying case or pouch for additional protection.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
This roundup was written by Brigitt Earley, who has written and edited hundreds of articles in the food space for various publications over the course of the last 10 years. Brigitt also attended the French Culinary Institute in NYC. She has two candy thermometers in her kitchen—one by OXO and one by Taylor.
Jenny Kellerhals is a professional pastry chef and food writer, currently living in Queens, New York City. With over a decade of experience in professional pastry kitchens and bakeries, Jenny has a wide range of experience with professional and home tools. Jamming and canning season is one of her favorite times of year and makes for a tastier year ahead.