Shopping for and Using Cooking Thermometers

Blackberry jam reaching boiling point
Sharon Vos-Arnold/Moment Open

When cooking certain types of foods, measuring the temperature of the foods is essential. Checking the internal temperature of meat helps ensure that it's cooked enough to prevent foodborne illness, candy making requires heating and cooling chocolate, caramel and other mixtures to a precise temperature, and fried foods turn out crisp and greaseless if the oil is the right temperature. Having the right food thermometers on hand can ensure the best, and safest, cooking results.

Types of Thermometers:

  • Instant-Read Thermometer: These thermometers have a probe that's inserted into the middle of a piece of food or a liquid, and a digital display or a dial display shows the internal temperature. Typically instant-read thermometers are shaped like a pen, and might even come in a sheath that can clip onto an apron or a pocket, but others might have the probe on a cord that connects to the display, so the probe can stay inside a piece of food that's in the oven or a grill.
  • Candy/Deep Fry Thermometer: Designed to be immersed into very hot liquid like molten sugar or hot oil, these thermometers have a very long probe and a large display, typically a dial or a bar. Many have a clip so that they can be attached to the side of a pot, and have a range of 100 to 400F.
  • Oven Thermometer: If you've noticed that your cakes are burning or cookies are taking longer than you'd expect to bake, your oven thermostat might be off. An oven thermometer can help you adjust the temperature at which you set your oven to make sure it's the right temperature for your recipes. Mounted on a base that can sit on or hang from an oven rack, these thermometers have large dial faces and can measure your oven temperature to ensure accurate cooking and baking temperature. They typically can measure temperatures as high as 600F and are made of materials durable enough for them to remain constantly in the oven.​

Thermometer Buying and Usage Tips:

  • Many people prefer the easy-to-read convenience and precision of digital thermometers but bear in mind that these are battery powered, so the batteries will need to be replaced eventually. Digital thermometers also convert the reading from Fahrenheit to Celsius readings with the touch of a button, and have a wider range of measurement – some will measure from -40F all the way up to 450F.
  • Dial thermometers sometimes have markings to show both Fahrenheit and Celsius measurements. They're more durable than their digital counterparts; some are even ovenproof so they can remain in the roast as it's cooking (although this isn't a good idea since the metal probe can conduct heat and cause it to cook unevenly in the area around the thermometer). They typically can measure temperatures up to 190F to 220F.
  • Unless you have the safe temperatures for cooked meat committed to memory, look for a thermometer that includes the temperature ranges either right on the dial or on the sheath for easy reference. Frying and candy thermometers also typically include markings for the candy-making stages or the optimal frying temperature ranges.
  • When measuring meat temperature, get the most accurate reading by inserting the probe into the thickest part of the meat, making sure it is not touching bone or fat, or coming out the other side. Typically a reading will take 10 seconds or so to register. Be sure to take into account that the internal temperature of a large cut of meat, such as a roast, will increase as much as 5F to 10F, so you should take the meat out of the oven when it's still a few degrees cooler than the desired finished temperature.
  • For deep frying, clip the thermometer to the side of the pot or deep fryer before you begin to heat the oil, making sure that the display will be easily visible. It's a good idea to use a deep-fry thermometer even if you are using a deep fryer appliance to make sure that the appliance's internal thermostat is accurate - often they aren't.
  • You can test your thermometer's accuracy by putting it in boiling water, which will be 212F at sea level. Check your thermometer's instructions (or contact the manufacturer) to recalibrate if necessary.
  • Wash thermometers with soap and warm water, being careful not to submerge them in water as many of them aren't completely waterproof.