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What kind of food thermometer do you need? Don’t be ashamed if you don’t know. The world of food thermometers is made up of complex algorithms and technical jargon.
In this easily understandable buyer’s guide, we’re going to cover the seven factors that you need to consider when choosing a food thermometer.
In short, reproducibility refers to a thermometer’s ability to produce the exact same results every time you use it. It’s important because it has to do with a thermometer’s accuracy.
For instance, if your thermometer reads a 32-degree ice bath as 32 degrees on one occasion, and it reads the same ice bath as 35 degrees the next time you use it, your thermometer is unreliable.
When a thermometer can’t reproduce accurate results with each use, it’s usually due to small changes in the thermometer’s probe. Those unnoticeable changes make the thermometer read temperatures differently than it did before the changes took place.
Correcting a thermometer that suffers from these issues is possible, but it doesn’t tend to last for long. It typically requires returning the meat thermometer to its normal state by resting it longer between uses. If you buy a mechanical thermometer, the process can be much more difficult. It’ll probably have to be fully re-calibrated.
If your thermometer isn’t accurate, there’s no point in having it. A lot of different foods require exact cooking temperatures to come out properly, and an inaccurate thermometer can cause you to cook foods several degrees hotter or colder than they need to be.
To help ensure that thermometer is accurate, the National Institute of Standards and Technology has created their own way to trace the accuracy of any given thermometer to meet their standards. This allows manufacturers to make high-quality products.
They trace accuracy with the following method:
- They make a detailed comparison chart with reproducible constants.
- They calculate the different variables to determine an acceptable range for error.
- Tests are ran by third-party laboratories, and every result is documented to show that the thermometer stays within the acceptable range for error.
- Testers are required to provide the necessary documentation and evidence that proves they are qualified to test the accuracy of thermometers according to NIST.
The standards for accuracy are extremely high due to our reliance on thermometer accuracy in nearly every major industry.
There are also established standards for what is known as drift. Drift is simply the way that a thermometer slowly loses accuracy over time due to its sensors or probes being exposed to different ambient temperatures.
Typically, the NIST recommends resetting a thermometer once a year to counteract the effects of drift.
An easier way to understand resolution is to think of it as a thermometer’s precision, or how many fractions of a degree that it can measure.
Most thermometers read to either a tenth of a degree or a hundredth of a degree, and the latter is the more precise variant. A thermometer with one digit after the decimal point on its display measures to one tenth of a degree. If there are two digits after the decimal, the display is showing a measurement as precise as one hundredth of a degree.
However, you can’t tell simply by looking at the display in some cases. It is possible for manufacturers to use more complex displays for less precise thermometers, and some limited displays may show less information than what a thermometer actually provides. It has a lot to do with the display used to make a thermometer.
To check the rating on a thermometer, look for small symbol that resembles a plus sign standing on top of a minus sign. The number after that is its resolution rating.
Range isn’t as important as the previous factors we talked about, but it is something to consider before you pick one up, and it determines whether or not you can measure the temperature of foods that are cooked to more extreme temperatures.
For instance, frozen foods can drop below the standard minimum range of a thermometer, and some smoked meats can exceed the standard maximum range.
If you find yourself needing a thermometer that can read well outside of the average range, there are a lot of thermometers designed to take accurate measurements of more extreme ranges. You just have to look at any specifications information provided by the manufacturer.
You don’t want to sit around waiting on a thermometer while you’re trying to cook. In fact, when you’re dealing with very sensitive foods, a slow thermometer can actually ruin your dish. That’s where your thermometer’s speed comes in.
There are a lot of different things that can affect a thermometer’s speed, but electronic thermometers are typically the fastest.
The different variables that affect electronic thermometers are:
- Probe thickness
- Quality of circuitry
- Distance from probe to circuitry
- Position inside of food
A good instant-read thermometer typically has a very thin probe, high-quality circuitry, and very little distance between its probe and its circuitry. The distance is important because it determines how much wire the probe’s signal has to travel along before it’s calculated into a proper reading. If there’s a lot of wire, the thermometer can’t display its results as quickly.
Figuring out how fast a thermometer is can be difficult for consumers. Marketing tactics are often used to misrepresent the way laboratory tests rated a thermometer, and thermometers are often five times slower than what the manufacturer’s claim is.
For instance, some thermometer manufacturer’s might say that their thermometer was tested to perform a reading in three seconds, but they’re using time constants determined in a lab. That’s only part of the reading. The same thermometer can take as many as 15 seconds to fully calculate a temperature.
To see how fast a thermometer really is, you can simply look at the time constants the manufacturer discloses, and you can multiply them by five. The number you come up with is how many seconds it will take for a specific thermometer to perform a full reading.
Recording features aren’t necessary for most types of cooking, but they’re invaluable when it comes to smoking meats or slowly roasting meat. This is because temperatures tend to fluctuate slightly during the cooking process, and some of the foods that are cooked slowly and at low temperatures have to stay within a certain temperature range to be safe for consumption.
A thermometer with recording abilities will keep track of your food’s temperature throughout the entire cooking process. If anything starts to go wrong, it’ll usually have a notification feature that helps you fix the problem before it’s too late.
Some don’t display a full record of the cooking process, though. Some just calculate the average temperature as the food cooks. This is easier for less experienced cooks to use, but it’s not as accurate.
7. Final Thoughts
Hopefully, you’ve now learned how to choose a food thermometer. We know it’s a lot of information to take in, but we can make it easier for you. The ThermoPro meat thermometer is built to take accurate readings over the course of a very long lifespan, and it has the thin tip and high-quality circuitry necessary to provide results almost instantly.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our meat thermometer buying guide, and we highly recommend checking out the ThermoPro food thermometer to get the most out of your cooking sessions.