The heat is on

In this edition of our monthly Gadget column, we examine thermometers.

Taylor Classic 1-Inch Instant Read Thermometer

Many years ago, I spent countless hours in restaurants, not in front of computers. I honed the skill to determine if a protein was rare, medium-rare or well-done just by giving it a slight push and feeling the give of the flesh. These days, I can type perfectly while blindfolded, but I need to fall back on a trusty thermometer to discern the difference between a rare and medium pot roast. Even when working on the line, I always carried Taylor’s simple thermometer as a back-up. A gadget in the most basic of definitions, Taylor’s thermometer should be a quick go-to for any home chef or grill master for its control and reliability. The stainless steel five-inch stem is durable so you can pop it into a chicken thigh on the grill for a quick check or leave it lodged in a pot roast in the oven for a constant gauge. Unlike digital thermometers where you need to trust the readout, the simple manual calibration takes the guesswork out of a Sunday barbecue. Proving that sometimes the best gadgets aren’t $600 touch screens of proprietary limitations, Taylor’s thermometer functions on ancient, universal principles and retails for less than $4.

Target Digital Fork Thermometer

Arguably the best retail store in the universe, Target offers a digital thermometer. It contains enough bells and whistles to separate itself from a one-button medical thermometer, but not so many as to become a confusing universal remote. Largely plastic, the seven-inch thermometer comes with interchangeable one- and two-prong attachments. The idea is that you can measure and flip your meat at the same time, but skewering anything heavier than a hot dog makes for a precarious venture. The redeeming quality of this thermometer, read-outs that convert the temperature into doneness based on the meat you’ve selected by cycling through eight options, may also be its downside. It’s helpful for people who haven’t memorized the Fahrenheit difference between medium and well for a pork chop, but the temperature consistently recorded five to seven degrees higher than the calibrated Taylor thermometer. If I were a conspiracy theorist, I would say that the manufacturers intended this, picturing a future lawsuit from someone getting sick after eating chicken that this thermometer reported was fully cooked. Still, if you’re not fussy about a little wiggle room in your reading, this makes a great last minute $20 gift.

Kintrex Digital Infrared Thermometer with Laser

Designed for in and out of the kitchen, Kintrex’s infrared thermometer enters the ring at a slight disadvantage. But, come on, it has a frickin’ laser beam! The joy of pointing a laser-sighted gun and pulling the trigger to take something’s temperature is unmatched. With a quick draw from the included belt holster, I eagerly took the temperature of everything I could lay my sights on—if you’re curious, my cat’s head is 1.7°F hotter than her butt. Capable of registering temperatures between -76°F and 932°F, this is the only thermometer of the three that can double as a candy thermometer handling the high temperatures necessary to make candies or work with a deep fat fryer. When you’re working with a fryer whose optimum temperature begins at 350°F, the ability to measure from a distance counts adds a measure of safety. Unfortunately, without a probe, the thermometer really just reports surface temperature, so if you want to find out if the center of your steak is still red, good luck. At $45, it’s almost five times the price of a candy thermometer, but the safety and cool factor could justify the purchase if you pull taffy more often than you grill tuna. Plus, frickin’ laser beams.