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Different Types of Thermometers

No kitchen is complete without one essential little piece of equipment: a thermometer. You need a thermometer to test temperatures when you are making candy, baking bread, grilling meat, or even just storing food in your refrigerator. But are all thermometers the same? And how can you choose the best one for your kitchen? Here are some of the answers for you.

Food Safety Temperatures

Danger Zone
Every year in the United States thousands of people get sick and are hospitalized because of food-borne illnesses. Many of those cases come from incorrect handling of food, including not cooking meats and other animal products to the correct temperature. Making sure that food is cooked correctly and held at the right temperature is paramount in any kitchen, but especially in busy commercial kitchens that feed hundreds of people every day.

Many people depend on cutting meat open and looking at the color of the food to determine if it is done, but relying on color, food changes, or timing can be misleading and is not the best way to make sure that food is cooked thoroughly. Because food temperatures are so important, having a reliable thermometer on hand is a necessity. See our food safety temperatures article for more information on the danger zone and food safety temperatures.

Compare Applications

There are many different types of thermometers out there for you to choose from: frothing thermometers, frying thermometers, digital thermometers, dial thermometers, infrared, thermocouple instruments. How can you distinguish between so many options?

Refrigeration
The first step is deciding what you will be using the thermometer for. Determine if you need a thermometer for meat, grilling, refrigeration, etc. Thermometers are often classified by what they are used for because that is such an important factor in choosing the right one. For candy-making or frying you want a thermometer with a high temperature range, while for meat you don’t need that high temperature range but might want a remote oven probe. Likewise, you don’t want to use an oven thermometer in the freezer. An infrared thermometer will only give you a read on surface temperature. Thermocouples can be an all-in-one choice because they use interchangeable probes for different applications.

Compare Styles and Characteristics

Warewashing
After you have determined what you need a thermometer for, use that information to search for a style of thermometer that will meet your needs. For example, if you are using the thermometer only for meat you may choose to buy a simple dial thermometer. If you are frothing milk for hot beverages, on the other hand, you’ll need a specialty frothing thermometer. For taking quick spot checks on your buffet line, an infrared thermometer will give an instant read. In a busy kitchen, you may find a thermocouple instrument to be invaluable as it can be used to measure both internal food temperatures as well as ambient air temperature when paired with the applicable probe.

The first characteristic to note is that there are two general types of read-outs that you may choose from: digital and analog. Digital read-outs are very popular because they are quick and easy to read, while analog (or dial) read-outs are often safe to use in extreme environments like freezers or grills.

Secondly, take note of the variety of tasks a thermometer can accomplish. Digital instant read thermometers, which are very popular, may be used for meat, baking, frying, candy-making, and nearly anything else if the temperature range is high enough. Dial instant reads can be just as versatile, and sometimes even more so. Some thermometers though, like disposable temperature indicators which merely change color at the specified temperature, have fairly limited uses. For making quick temperature spot checks on your buffet line, an infrared thermometer will give an instant read. Thermocouples are the most versatile choice because their wide temperature range allows them to be used on frozen foods and extremely hot foods.

Style

Characteristics

Example of Use

  • 10 second read time
  • Digital read out
  • Single long probe
  • Good accuracy
  • Some models may be calibrated
  • Baking
  • Frying
  • Food Holding
  • Candy-Making
  • Meat
  • 15 – 20 second read time
  • Dial read out
  • Single long probe
  • Average accuracy
  • Some models may be calibrated
  • Frothing
  • Frying
  • Food Holding
  • Candy-Making
  • Meat
  • 5 – 10 second read time
  • Disposable
  • Changes color at the specified temperature
  • Low accuracy
  • Meat
  • Probe stays in meat
  • Remote digital read out with cord
  • Average accuracy
  • Meat
  • 1 second read time
  • Digital read out
  • Uses infrared light
  • Average accuracy
  • Remote – no cross contamination
  • Large temperature range
  • Hot and Cold Food Holding
  • Receiving
  • High temperature range
  • Heat resistant components
  • Come in remote sensor styles
  • Ovens
  • Grills
  • Low temperature range
  • Come in remote sensor styles
  • Cold / damp resistant components
  • Refrigerators
  • Freezers
  • Cold Holding
  • Test for sanitizing temperatures in dish machines
  • Disposable, single use
  • Changes color at the specified temperature
  • Dishwasher
  • Fast response time
  • High accuracy
  • Digital display
  • Wide temperature range
  • Can be paired with interchangeable probes
  • Probes are available for multiple applications
  • Ovens
  • Refrigerators
  • Freezers
  • Meat
  • Liquids
  • Hot and Cold Food Holding
  • Receiving
  • High temperature range
  • Dial or digital
  • High accuracy
  • Long probe
  • Some include pan clips
  • Candy-Making
  • Frying
  • Dial read out
  • Floats in liquids
  • No pan clips needed
  • Short probe
  • Soups, Stocks, or Sauces
  • Dial read out
  • Clips to frothing pitchers
  • No pan clips needed
  • Long probe
  • Milk
  • Hot Beverages
  • Wall mounted
  • Indoor / Outdoor
  • Some are rustproof
  • Measures ambient air temperature
  • Dining Rooms
  • Kitchens
  • Food Trucks

Special Considerations

Sometimes thermometers are made with special characteristics that can come in handy for different reasons. You may wish to keep some of these points in mind when you have decided on a type of thermometer to buy.

  • Water Proof: Kitchens are busy places where it is entirely possible to drop your thermometer in a sink or let it slip into a pot of soup. Water proof thermometers can tolerate contact with water and other liquids so they last longer. Another positive aspect to water proof thermometers is that they can be cleaned more thoroughly to remove all bacteria and food particles—some waterproof thermometers can even go in the dishwasher!
  • Color Coded Systems: Some thermometers come in color coded systems to prevent cross contamination between the different types of food that are tested. In many instances, the food the thermometer is intended for is noted on the dial to make it quick and easy to remember which thermometer is for which food. These color coded thermometers are especially useful when you need to take extra care in working with potential allergens.
  • Calibration: Many thermometers need to be calibrated to be considered accurate, but some do not require calibration or simply cannot be calibrated. Calibration ensures that a thermometer is accurate when you use it to test food, holding, or cooking temperatures. Most of the time, calibration to within +/- 2 degrees Fahrenheit is considered acceptable. Make sure to note whether the thermometer you choose will need to be calibrated at regular intervals to make it more accurate. Be sure to check out our short video to learn how to quickly and easily calibrate one of the most common types of thermometers.

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