Geeky gadgets: infrared thermometers

Thermometers are an invaluable kitchen tool for scientific chefs. They lend preciseness to what would otherwise be intangible kitchen lore. One of the coolest and nerdiest types of thermometers you can get is an infrared thermometer gun.

This gadget is great for getting surface temperatures, like checking the temperature of your pans or oven. It tells you if a pan is hot enough to create a nice sear, or if your oven is calibrated wrong. It will also let you know if a dish is too hot to touch (this varies and can be anywhere from 110 degrees Fahrenheit for those with delicate hands to 120, aka burning temperature, for those with tough skin).

It's also great because it's instant. You just point and shoot and the temperature reading shows up on the digital display. It even updates in real time if you keep the trigger pressed. And for my Canadian friends, it also has a toggle for changing between Celsius and Fahrenheit.

One cautionary note though, this really is just for surface temperatures, so it's not good for things like measuring the internal temperature of meats to see if they're cooked well enough (for that, you'll need to get a probe thermometer, another handy gadget).

Oh, and did I mention that it has a LASER? Yes, you get to point and shoot a laser gun, all in the name of good cooking. Makes you feel pretty bad-ass yet dorky all at the same time.

And of course this has a ton of great practical applications outside of the kitchen, like checking what temperature your MacBook is really at when it feels like it's burning your wrists, seeing how hot your light bulbs are, checking for drafts by your windows … but I had you at laser, right?

If you're intrigued enough to buy one for yourself, I'm dipping my toe into blog monetization by trying out Amazon's referral program. So you can follow this link and I might make some spare change (actually I have no idea how much I'd make, but I'll let you know if you're curious): infrared thermometer gun. I bought this one because it had the highest and most ratings and thus far I'm a happy customer.
Unknown  – (October 18, 2010)  

I saw a talk by Jacques Torres and he was a big fan of these things for determining the temperature of chocolate, particularly for tempering. He observed (as you have) that you save a lot of money by buying the thermometers intended for auto repair rather than the ones intended for cooking. :)

For probe thermometers, Ikea has a cheap $7 Fantast thermometer that I've been pretty happy with for sous vide. It only goes up to 266 degrees, so it's not quite adequate for deep-frying or candy-making, but I don't do those often.

I might buy your thermometer... I often am not quite sure whether my pan is hot enough for searing. I end up overheating it and getting these awful brown sticky oil spots seared onto the pan. Or maybe I should just get a blowtorch for searing. :)

Unknown  – (October 18, 2010)  

Wow, I'm a big fan of Jacques Torres. I remember seeing him make a chocolate sculpture once on TV when I was a kid. I was in awe, but things didn't go so well when I tried to make my own chocolate creation after having melted the chocolate in the microwave (too young to use the stove at that time) ...

Thanks for the tip on the IKEA thermometer. I'll definitely check it out!

Unknown  – (November 09, 2010)  

So I bought one. It's a pretty fun toy. Point into mouth, take body temperature. Point outside window, measure outdoors temperature. Point at Cathy, take her temperature. ;)

One word of caution... I was trying to heat up an All-clad pan to sear some beef heart I'd picked up at the farmers market. After heating it for 5 to 10 minutes, it had barely crept over 300°F on the thermometer... not really hot enough to sear. Impatient, I decided to just go for it. So I poured some high-heat sunflower oil (supposedly good to 460°F), and it immediately started smoking like crazy... oops. This article suggests that the reflective pan surface was reflecting the wall, interfering with the measurement.

But it seems quite good on my dull black cast-iron Le Creuset wok, so I'm pretty happy with that. :)

Unknown  – (November 09, 2010)  

Funny, I went through the same set of temperature readings when I first got this too ;)

That's a really good point - you're right, the thermometers don't work well on highly reflective surfaces. I usually use mine on my non-stick pans.

I hope everything ended up ok with the beef heart (how do you season that?). For heating oil, I usually pour it on the pan while the pan is still cool and let the change in viscosity/smoke as the pan heats up help in giving me a feel for the temperature of the pan.

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