No kitchen can be considered fully equipped without a kitchen thermometer. But which kind should you get?
The long answer short is that you should probably buy both. But if you can only buy one at the moment, you should go by whether you have a preference for candy or meat.
Candy thermometers allow you to measure the temperature of cream, chocolate, sugar syrup, and frying fat or oil, and meat thermometers the internal temperature of meats being cooked.
You can’t really use a candy thermometer and a meat thermometer interchangeably. The temperature range of a meat thermometer isn’t high enough for boiling sugar syrup or hot cooking oil, and the tip of a candy thermometer prevents you from inserting it into meat.
When to use a candy thermometer: Use a candy thermometer to make fudge, chocolates, toffee, and other candies, and to measure fat or oil temperature when frying food.
When to use a meat thermometer: Use a meat thermometer to bring steaks, burgers, sausages, beef tenderloin, whole chicken or turkey, or fish to the minimum temperature required for safe consumption.
For everything else you need to know, read on below.
What Is a Candy Thermometer?
A candy thermometer, also known as a jelly, sugar, or deep-fat thermometer, is an essential piece of equipment for the home confectioner to measure the temperature of cream, caramel, chocolate, jam, and sugar syrup.
You use a candy thermometer by clamping it to the side of the pan or pot, making sure that the tip of the probe doesn’t touch the bottom of the cooking vessel (you want to read the temperature of the cream or liquid, not the bottom of the cookware).
Although the exact temperature range of a candy thermometer depends on the make and the model, most candy thermometers can measure temperatures in the range of 90°F to 400°F (32°C to 205°C).
Thanks to their ability to withstand and measure high temperatures, candy thermometers also double as excellent tools for measuring the temperature of cooking oils and frying fats.
What Is a Meat Thermometer?
A meat thermometer, also known as a cooking thermometer, is a kitchen instrument for measuring the internal temperature of meat that’s being cooked, especially steaks and roasts.
Generally, meat thermometers can measure temperatures in the range of -58°F to 572°F (-50°C to 300°C), but the exact range depends on the make and model of the particular instrument.
Meat thermometers can be analog or digital. Analog meat thermometers have a measuring range of 2 inches, so they’re suitable for roasts and smoked meats, but less so for steaks, pork chops, and chicken breasts. Digital meat thermometers are more precise, so they can also be used on thinner cuts.
Instant-read meat thermometers take only 2 to 3 seconds to read, but they shouldn’t be left in the meat during cooking. That’s where leave-in thermometers come in, which are designed to withstand the heat of the grill or oven, and can be left inside as the meat cooks.
Candy vs. Meat Thermometer
Candy thermometers have a higher range than meat thermometers do because they’re designed to measure the temperature of boiling sugar syrup and hot fats or oils. Most candy thermometers measure temperatures up to 400°F/205°C, while their meat counterparts measure up to 572°F/300 °C.
The body of a candy thermometer is made to be clamped to the edge of the pan or pot so that it won’t slip inside the cooking vessel when the cook is stirring the liquid or fat and working with the ingredients inside.
Meat thermometers, on the other hand, have a long, thin, pointed probe that can be easily inserted into the center of the thickest part of the meat being cooked.
A meat thermometer is designed to be compact and handy, allowing the cook to measure the temperature of meat as it cooks on the stovetop or grill, or in the oven or smoker. Leave-in thermometers these days have wired probes and a separate body that stays outside the oven or smoker.
(These days, there are even wireless thermometers that don’t require a physical connection between the probe and the body and that notify you on your phone when the meat is cooked.)