Photo: Alison Miksch; Styling: Caroline M. Cunningham

They’re both useful kitchen tools that every home cook should stock—but they aren’t exactly the same. Here’s what to know.

Elizabeth Laseter
March 22, 2018

Whether you’re roasting a whole bird or making candy from-scratch, knowing the temperature of your food as it cooks can make or break its sucess. What's the best way to check the temperature? A thermometer! It’s simply the best tool you can stock for ensuring perfectly-cooked food. Not only will you get an accurate reading, but it’s also much easier (and safer!) than guessing the temperature by touch.

However, not all thermometers are created equal, nor are they interchangeable. There are two different kinds of thermometers you’ll want to stock in your kitchen—a candy thermometer and a meat thermometer. Here’s how to tell the difference between the two.

    Meat Thermometer

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    Meat thermometers have a lower temperature range than that of a candy thermometer—most go up to 200°F. This handy kitchen tool resembles a pointed stick attached to a dial that contains the temperature. A meat thermometer is useful for checking the temperature of beef tenderloin, roasted turkey, grilled chicken breasts, whole roasted fish, and more.

    RELATED: If You Still Don’t Own a Meat Thermometer, Here are 3 We’d Recommend

    A meat thermometer is crucial when cooking large cuts of meat such as whole ham or turkey, pork tenderloin, roast chicken, or meatloaf that require a safe minimum internal temperature (if you aren’t sure of these temperatures, reference the USDA’s handy chart). When cooking beef tenderloin, prime rib, or filet mignon, a meat thermometer can help you nail a perfectly juicy medium rare (145°F).

    From time to time, it may be necessary to re-calibrate your meat thermometer to ensure it’s giving you an accurate reading (this easy, how-to video shows you how to do it). Now, put your meat thermometer to the test with these tasty recipes:

    Candy Thermometer

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    A candy thermometer is used to measure temperatures up to 400°F. This long, skinny thermometer is commonly used when making hard and soft candy such as brittle, praline, toffee, fudge, and more. These candies all start with a common ingredient—sugar—that’s then boiled to a specific stage such as “softball” or “hard crack.”

    Knowing the exact temperature of the sugar is key, as cooking it to the proper stage determines the outcome of your candy. For this reason (and because sticking your finger in a pot of boiling sugar is simply a poor idea) a candy thermometer is an extremely useful tool.

    RELATED: How to Read a Candy Thermometer

    You may also use a candy thermometer when making homemade caramel sauce, sugar syrup, and when preparing oil for deep frying. When making fried okra, fried chicken, or deep-fried Oreos, or other deep-fried delights, it’s crucial to bring your oil to the proper temperature range (typically 350°F to 375°F). If the temperature is too low, your food will absorb too much of the oil and become greasy. If the temperature is too hot, your food will burn.

    Ready to test out your candy thermometer? Here are several delicious recipes to try:

    While you may think you can get away with using a meat thermometer in place of a candy thermometer (or vice versa), this is definitely not the case. A candy thermometer’s long, narrow shape allows you to safely check the temperature of hot sugar or hot oil without burning yourself. A meat thermometer is much shorter in length, and its temperature range isn’t typically high enough for cooking sugar. Plus, the pointed end of a meat thermometer makes it easy to stick into a large cut of chicken or meat, as opposed to the rounded end of a candy thermometer.

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