I admit it. I am, in regard to most aspects of life, a luddite. Give me a turntable, an Atari (or, on my better days, a Nintendo), and a TV with UHF and VHF options (no remote, of course), and I'm pleased as punch. Get me in the kitchen, however, and I become more neutral. While I admire the simplicity of cooking with little more than knife and fire, I can't deny an appreciation for microwaves and food processors. And this technological ambivalence extends to thermometry. While there's a curmudgeonly aspect of my personality that would like to tell you that analog meat probes and glass chocolate thermometers are unequivocally the best tools for their respective jobs, the truth is, I can't. The truth is I've never met an analog meat probe that could hold its accuracy for more than five minutes in the average kitchen drawer, and my long, lovely, slender chocolate thermometer met its demise in its "protective" case well before it was able to dip into a pool of melted chocolate.
That said, after lots of experience with all sorts of different food thermometersfrom archaic blown-glass syrup thermometers to mini-radar-gun-lookalike laser thermometersmy pick of the moment for the most-bang-for-your-buck, practical, multifunctional, go-to thermometer is the Polder two-piece, $30 digital Dual Sensor Oven/Meat Thermo-Timer.
To be sure, it is a good bet for measuring the internal temperature (and therefore, doneness) of meatswith the added benefit of being able to leave the probe stuck in the meat, inside the oven, with the electronic part of the thermometer safely stuck to the outside of your oven, allowing you to check the cooking progress at any time without so much as opening the oven door. But, with its accuracy and broad temperature range, it is also serviceable for tempering chocolate, making candies and jams and measuring the temperature of oil for deep-frying (on all accounts, it's best to avoid submerging the probe completely).
The device can also be programmed to sound an alarm when a pre-set temperature (which you have selected) has been reached, and there are both "stopwatch" and "countdown" timer optionsall great features for busy cooks. The "Dual Sensor" aspect refers to the thermometer's capacity to convey not only the temperature of the food into which the probe is inserted but the ambient temperature of the air surrounding the upper part of the probe, meaning that when the probe is inserted into, say, a hunk of meat inside your oven, you'll get one reading telling you the internal temperature of said meat and another reading indicating the oven temperature. Although this is not exactly an essential function, it isn't exactly overkill either, especially for those of us with, say, a circa-1975 gas oven that tends to run a good 25 to 50 degrees out of true.
Note: Over time and repeated usage, digital thermometers such as this are sure to lose their accuracy, a problem which can occasionally be remedied by replacing the batteries, but which more often than not requires replacement of the whole device. It's an unfortunate side effect of our disposable, digital culture, but it's one that this luddite is willing to accept.
About the author: Amanda Clarke is a recovering restaurant pastry chef with a background in architecture. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she writes, tests, and develops recipes and works on freelance food-styling gigs between walkings and feedings of her two dogs and husband.