The most difficult part of cooking a turkey is that it is very difficult to tell when the bird is done cooking. A turkey is so large – although the same idea applies to many other kinds and cuts of meat, as well – that it is difficult to maneuver in and out of the oven to re-check the temperature of the leg meat. Fortunately, there is a very handy gadget that I added to my Thanksgiving arsenal that has been making my turkey cooking a whole lot easier: the Polder Original All-In-One Timer/Thermometer.
This is a probe thermometer, which has a 43-inch wire cord between the end of the thermometer and the base of the unit. You can put the thermometer in your turkey (or other roast) and close the oven door, leaving the thermometer in place while your food cooks. You can easily read the current temperature on the base of the unit – no need to peer into a dark oven at a tiny dial. This thermometer also has a programmable alarm temperature range, so you can set the alarm to sound when your food reaches a certain temperature. This is a very handy tool if you don’t want to feel tied to the kitchen all day, because the alarm is very loud and you should be able to hear it from anywhere in the home. I will admit, however, that since I’m usually working on sides or dessert in the kitchen while I’m roasting, I don’t use the alarm much myself.
This probe thermometer is definitely one of the best Thanksgiving cooking gadgets that I’ve added to my arsenal in a while, and it makes the turkey-cooking process a whole lot easier for me because it takes most of the guess work out of timing that turkey. And every bird I’ve made with it has come out juicy and perfectly cooked.
An oven thermometer is a crucial tool for any baker because ovens aren’t always that reliable. Not only can they easily be off by 5-10 degrees – especially if they have never been recalibrated – but the simple act of opening the oven door can release enough heat to impact the time your cake will need to finish baking. An oven thermometer will give you an accurate read on the reliability of your oven and let you make any necessary adjustments, such as turning up the temperature a little bit or decreasing the baking time by a few minutes, to ensure that you get good results in your baking.
But as with all kitchen gadgets, all oven thermometers are not created equal. Some are more accurate than others and some brands are more durable. Cook’s Illustrated tested several brands of oven thermometers in their high traffic test kitchens over a period of 6 months and reported their results in their most recent issue (Jan/Feb 2011). They prefer dial-face thermometers because they tend to be more accurate and limited their test to that type of oven thermomener. Their winner was The Cooper-Atkins Oven Thermometer, which remained accurate and easy to read throughout their months of testing. This was the least expensive thermometer, too. Second place was the CDN Pro Accurate Data Hold Oven Thermometer, which was accurate but very difficult to mount inside of an oven. The other models they tested were prone to breaking, fading numbers and inaccuracy over time.
Frequently replacing an oven thermometer every few months when they start to fade or if you suspect inaccuracy is a great way to ensure that you get better performance from any thermometer, regardless of brand, as well.
The most important thermometer you can have in your kitchen is an oven thermometer, as if your oven isn’t accurate you’re not going to get a whole lot of cooking and baking done. Following that, meat thermometers and candy thermometers are also very helpful. I use meat thermometers both for meat and for testing the internal temperature of baked bread. Candy thermometers I use for candy.
Candy consists mostly of sugars and caramels, but also includes chocolates. The temperature does not matter for most melted chocolate – especially if it is being incorporated into a batter or dough – but it is critical in tempering chocolate. Tempered chocolate is used for the hard chocolate shells on chocolates and other confections, as well as for decorations on top of cakes and cupcakes, and is a nice touch for chocolate-dipped things because when chocolate is tempered, it remains smooth and glossy after it has set. The process of tempering involves heating chocolate to 115F, cooling it down to about 80F and then reheating it to about 89F (for dark/semisweet chocolate). It’s a bit of a pain to do and, on the occasions I do it, a candy thermometer is helpful. A better tool, however, would be this neat Chocolate Paddle Thermometer. It is part spatula (handy, as this is not a feature of a regular candy thermometer), part thermometer and has a chocolate tempering temperature guide printed right on the front for easy reference. It practically guarantees success and takes all of the guesswork out of the sometimes intimidating tempering process.