Heat in the Kitchen

The heating of food is synonymous with cooking, and the techniques to apply heat in the kitchen are numerous and nuanced.

So, one might think that accurate temperature measurement and control would be standard in the kitchen and for any kitchen appliance.

Perversely, it seems to me, the exact opposite is the case.

My induction cooktop temperature settings are numbered 1 to 10 (and max). Fridges and freezers don’t usually indicate temperature, and often only have a dial ranging from warmer to cooler. Most ovens have temperature settings, but are they ever checked for accuracy? Recipes might call for ‘microwave on high’. And so forth.

There is an equal vagueness about the temperature of the cooking medium. For example: “Heat oil until a cube of bread bubbles vigorously”. Really? What sort of bread: wholemeal, white? fresh or stale, how stale? why a cube?

Similar ‘instructions’ surround judging the doneness of a steak (poke it, how does it bounce back?), the doneness of a roast (skewer it, do the juices run clear?), and pretty much everything else we cook.

Why take the most important aspect of cooking (temperature) and make it esoteric, indirect and, more important, guesswork?

Especially when there is a low-cost device has been invented to tell the proper temperature of something – it’s a thermometer.

A thermometer is the single piece of equipment missing in most kitchens that would significantly improve reliability and quality in cooking.

For example, I know I like my steak cooked to an internal temperature of 55C. So I measure it, and when it reaches that temperature it’s done and I can eat it. It’s foolproof and it’s reliable.

Foremost, I recommend a digital probe thermometer, which enables accurate measurement of the interior temperature of the food being cooked (e.g., my steak).

After that, and mostly for convenience, a point-and-shoot infrared thermometer is useful. This allows quick and contactless temperature measurement, for example the temperature of oil for deep-frying (without getting the probe messy or looking for a cube of bread).

Finally, and for completeness, an oven thermometer. I don’t practice what I preach here, because I don’t have one of these. But that’s because I rarely cook in an oven. I prefer the accurate temperature control of a heated circulating water bath (more about this revolutionary approach for home cooking later). But if I was serious about baking, an oven thermometer would be indispensable.

Thermometers should be factory calibrated and come with a certificate of conformance. There is no use having a thermometer if it does not give the correct reading. In the absence of certification, it can be calibrated using iced water (0C) as a reference point. It’s important to get the ice-water balance right. Ovens can also be calibrated based on the melting point of sugar (185C).