Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Kitchen Thermometers

Hey Folks,

For everyone who has sought after a medium-rare steak, perfect fish, or moist pork, nothing is more important than a good kitchen thermometer. Unfortunately, most of us don't know what constitutes a "good" thermometer! Because of this, I wanted to dedicate a post to going through some commonly used instruments, and the havoc they can wreak on your dinner.

First, let's look at the old fashioned dial thermometer. This has a metal coil inside that is supposed to expand at a specific rate as the temperature increases. This in turn moves the temperature dial and gives you a reading. Unfortunately, these are so inaccurate that you're probably better off without them, and if you do use them and wait for the dial to stop moving, your delicious dry-aged NY strip will be well done by the time you were waiting for a medium rare reading!

The second option in kitchen thermometers looks much like this dial one, but there is a digital readout on the end instead. This too is not a very accurate device, as the temperature reading node is actually located some distance away from the tip of the spike, not actually at the spike. This means if you want to take the temperature reading in the center of a steak, you actually have to push the tip up to a quarter of an inch past the center just to get the sensitive area at the desired spot. Not a big deal, right? Well, these can take up to 20 or 30 seconds to get an accurate reading, to which anyone who has ever taken a temperature reading and seen the digital numbers slowly climb upward can attest. On top of that, they're also not very accurate. Why even buy one?

The last thermometer is what everyone should use, if they don't mind spending the money. It's a thermometer that uses a thermocouple, which is two wires wired down to the very end of the tip, and the temperature is read through a voltage created between the two wires.

My Thermapen- Bright red so that I can easily find it again 
once I set it down. 
I am a fan of the Thermapen by ThermoWorks. It is splash proof, individually inspected and calibrated to 0.1 of a degree at both 32 degrees and 212 degrees Fahrenheit, and will take readings in under 2 or 3 seconds (this is the manufacturers claim, but I've watched mine read in real time over and over). The probe safely tucks away into the handle, and when swung out the device automatically turns on. With my Thermapen, I've inserted it into the middle of a steak, and actually watched the readout decrease by tenths of a degree until I reached the exact center of the steak, then increase again as I pushed past the center. With that information, I can backtrack the probe back to the center, and take the steak off at preciously the right temperature that will give me a medium rare center after 4-5 minutes of resting under an aluminum foil tent. Yum. I'll take my steak with a red wine reduction please :)

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