What is a Cooking Thermometer?

Cassie L. Damewood

A cooking thermometer is a kitchen tool that measures the temperature of different types of food. The need to know the temperature of food is normally based on safety concerns, palate preferences or guidelines that dictate temperature levels that must be attained for the recipe to be successful or the food to be properly cooked. In some instances, they are used throughout the cooking process. Other recipes require their use only to determine when a food item has reached the desired final temperature and is ready for consumption.

Cooking thermometers determine if meat and poultry are thoroughly cooked.
Cooking thermometers determine if meat and poultry are thoroughly cooked.

Most cooking thermometers are used on meat and poultry. This frequency of use on these food items is generally attributed to the fact that it is not usually possible to tell if these items are properly cooked by simple visual perception. Since repeatedly slicing or poking the flesh of these items to determine doneness may detract from the visual presentation, thermometers are commonly used to simplify the process.

One food item that requires accurate and often constant temperature monitoring is jam.
One food item that requires accurate and often constant temperature monitoring is jam.

Other food items that require accurate and often constant temperature monitoring include jams, jellies and candies. For homemade jams and jellies to properly set up and not resemble syrup, they must be kept at a stable temperature level for a set period of time during cooking. When making candies at home, the confections must reach a specified temperature level dependent upon the desired final consistency. A candy cooking thermometer measures the boiling liquid in ball stages indicated on the readout as soft, medium and hard.

There are many types and styles of cooking thermometers. Most are moderately priced although some instant-read models may seem expensive for occasional use by non-professional cooks. Although these thermometers can be used on vegetable or pasta dishes, they are most commonly used for meat, fish and poultry.

A popular and reliable cooking thermometer is a simple dial type with a single probe that is inserted into the thickest part of the flesh. It is commonly placed in the dish at the beginning of the cooking process and monitored until it reaches the desired temperature. The updated version of this cooking thermometer provides an instant temperature reading and is inserted near the end of the cooking procedure. A fork thermometer is identical to the latter version except it has two probes instead of one. The pricier thermocouple version provides an instant reading and has one probe.

Pop-up thermometers were originally introduced in commercially marketed turkeys. They are designed to pop out of the flesh when the poultry is done. They can also be purchased for home use. Wireless thermometers are popular for cooking dishes in which the oven door is not to be opened during the cooking process. The probe is placed into the dish as it goes into the oven and a wireless exterior control sounds an alarm when the item has reached the desired temperature. Disposable cooking thermometers provide instant readings and should be discarded after one use.

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