Chefs use a variety of thermometers in their kitchens to accurately measure the internal temperature of food. Choosing the right thermometer is important for food safety as well as achieving the perfect level of doneness. The most common types of thermometers used by professional chefs are instant-read thermometers, probe thermometers, and infrared/laser thermometers. Each has its advantages and ideal uses.
Instant-read thermometers are perhaps the most ubiquitous kitchen thermometer. They provide a quick temperature reading, typically in 15-20 seconds. These thermometers are inserted into the thickest part of the food, which allows chefs to check for doneness and ensure thorough cooking.
Instant-read thermometers have a thin probe made of stainless steel. At the end of the probe is a sensory component called a thermistor. When the probe is inserted into food, the thermistor registers the temperature and provides a digital readout on the thermometer display.
Instant-read thermometers are highly portable and convenient to use. Chefs often keep one handy in their apron or chef’s coat pocket. The thin probe can quickly be inserted into food to check for proper internal temperature. Foods commonly checked with an instant-read thermometer include meat, poultry, fish, bread, and custards.
Here are some benefits of instant-read thermometers for chefs:
- Provide temperature reading within 15-20 seconds
- Thin, stainless steel probe can be inserted into thin foods
- Digital display is easy to read
- Compact size is highly portable in the busy kitchen
- Often relatively inexpensive from $10-$50
Popular brands of instant-read thermometers include Thermapen, ThermoPop, CDN, Taylor, and Lavatools. Thermapen is a favorite high-end choice, known for providing ultra-fast and reliable readings.
Probe thermometers are designed to remain inserted in food throughout the cooking process. The probe is connected to a digital display by a heat-safe cable. Probe thermometers provide the convenience of monitoring food temperature without needing to open the oven, grill, or smoker repeatedly.
The probe is made of stainless steel and can withstand high temperatures. It is inserted into the thickest part of meat or other food. The cable connects to a digital screen that sits outside the oven or grill. Probe thermometers are ideal for large cuts of meat like roasts, hams, and whole chickens or turkeys. They allow the chef to watch the rising temperature of the food to determine exact doneness.
Chefs often use probe thermometers when slow cooking tougher cuts of meat like pork shoulder or beef brisket. They can be left in the meat for hours to monitor the internal temperature until it is properly cooked and tenderized.
Here are some advantages of probe thermometers for professional chefs:
- Monitor food temperature remotely without repeatedly opening oven or grill
- Leave probe inserted in large cuts of meat or poultry for the entire cooking time
- Programmable alarms notify when desired temperature is reached
- Oven-safe cables allow temperature monitoring for oven cooking
- Provide very precise temperature control
Popular brands of probe thermometers for professional kitchens are Thermapen, ThermoWorks, OXO, CDN, and Taylor. Models with preset doneness temperatures and timers offer added convenience.
Infrared thermometers use laser technology to read a food’s surface temperature from a short distance away. They can provide temperature readings without needing to insert a probe. Infrared thermometers are very quick and ideal for busy restaurant settings.
These non-contact thermometers use a laser to detect the surface temperature of an object. They have a trigger button and simply need to be aimed at the food to provide a temperature reading on the digital display. The laser defines the surface spot being measured.
Infrared thermometers are not appropriate for taking internal temperatures of thicker foods. But they are very useful for measuring the surface temperature of items like grills, griddles, fryers, pizza stones, and thin meats. Chefs often use infrared thermometers to check the temperature of hot oil before frying or the surface of a grill before cooking.
Here are some benefits of infrared thermometers for chefs:
- Provide instant and highly accurate surface temperature readings
- Easy to use with just a trigger and laser pointer
- Safer option for checking temperatures of very hot equipment
- Eliminate guesswork when checking griddle, grill, or oil temperatures
- Can be used at a good distance from the heat source
Two popular brands of infrared thermometers for professional kitchens are the ThermoWorks Thermapen IR and the Lavatools Javelin. These models are precise, yet reasonably priced for most restaurant budgets.
Factors in Choosing a Thermometer
When selecting the right thermometer for their kitchens, chefs consider factors like speed, precision, convenience, and budget.
Speed is often important in a fast-paced restaurant setting. Thermometers that provide the quickest accurate readings allow chefs to work swiftly without sacrificing food safety and quality. Instant-read and infrared thermometers are the speediest options.
Precision is also a key factor. A thermometer used for roasts and other expensive cuts of meat needs to have a high degree of precision. Just a few degrees can make the difference between a perfect medium-rare and an overcooked roast.
Convenience features allow busy chefs to streamline workflows. Models like probe thermometers with timers and preprogrammed temperatures reduce the need for checking and monitoring.
And most chefs need to keep budget in mind. Inexpensive thermometer models can still offer the speed and accuracy needed in a professional kitchen. Thermometers range widely in price from around $5 for basic digital instant-read versions up to $100 or more for commercial models with advanced features.
Here is a comparison table of popular thermometer models for professional chefs:
|Thermometer||Type||Key Features||Price Range|
|ThermoWorks Thermapen One||Instant-read||3 second read time, precise to 0.7°F, advanced motion sensing||$105-$200|
|ThermoWorks Dot||Probe||Highly precise, preset doneness levels, adjustable alarm||$40-$60|
|Lavatools Javelin Pro||Infrared/laser||Advanced commercial model, precise to 0.1°F, wide temperature range||$55-$100|
|CDN ProAccurate||Instant-read||NIST-certified calibration, folds for storage, 5 second response||$25-$40|
|Taylor Commercial Waterproof||Probe||Waterproof cable, preset doneness guide, large backlit screen||$25-$50|
As this table shows, excellent thermometer options are available at moderate price points for stocking a commercial kitchen.
Using Thermometers Correctly
To obtain accurate temperature measurements, chefs need to use thermometers correctly. Using the proper technique is just as important as choosing the right model.
With any food thermometer, proper placement in the food is critical. The tip of the probe or laser must reach the thickest part of the meat or center of the food. For thin items like chicken breasts or burgers, the thermometer should be inserted through the side to reach the middle.
Allowing enough time for the thermometer to equilibrate is also essential. An instant-read thermometer requires 15-20 seconds in order to register the true temperature. Chefs need to leave probe thermometers in place long enough to equilibrate and infrared thermometers steady for a accurate reading.
Thermometers also must be kept clean. Probe thermometers in particular can pick up food residue that can taint future readings. The stem of instant-read thermometers should be washed occasionally in hot, soapy water to maintain accuracy.
Proper storage preserves accuracy. Thermometers have sensitive electronic components and should be stored carefully in a separate drawer or container. The probe tip should never be immersed in oil or water when not in use.
With training and practice, chefs gain skill using all types of thermometers correctly. Time invested in proper technique helps ensure accurate readings to monitor food safety.
Reliable thermometers are indispensable tools for professional chefs. The three thermometer types used most often in restaurant kitchens are instant-read, probe, and infrared/laser models. Each has specific uses based on speed, precision, and convenience required in different cooking tasks.
Factors chefs consider when selecting thermometers include response times, levels of accuracy, ease of use, and budget constraints. Top thermometer manufacturers offer commercial-grade models at reasonable prices suitable for any food service establishment. Proper use and care helps thermometers deliver consistently accurate temperature measurements to keep kitchens running safely and efficiently.
From quick checks with instant-read thermometers to extended monitoring with probes, these devices provide chefs irreplaceable data. Thermometers allow chefs to expertly walk the line between perfection and disaster with items like meat, fish and poultry. In busy restaurant kitchens, thermometers are absolutely essential tools of the trade. They help ensure the quality and safety of dishes that patrons enjoy. For professional chefs, checking temperatures is a fundamental skill that supports their ultimate goal of providing diners with exceptional dining experiences.