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Infrared thermometers have plummeted in price in recent years, and are now inexpensive gadgets for the home cook, not to mention the pros. What do you use them for? What have you learned about cooking and temperature? What surprising uses have you found for them? What are they not good for?

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8 Answers 8

Infrared thermometers work very well when measuring the temperature of hot oil. For deep frying it's not a big deal, as standard probe thermometers work fine. But for shallow frying or sauteeing, the IR thermometer does an excellent job at providing the temperature of the oil. (Note that IR thermometers are not accurate when measuring the temperature of a dry steel pan, as the shininess makes the pan look much cooler than it is. IR thermometers work fine on dry cast iron pans, though!)

IR thermometers work rather poorly when measuring the temperature of hot water, however! Rather than measuring the temperature of the water surface, which is usually similar to the mass of the water due to convection, it measures the average temperature of the water vapor coming off the surface! In my experience, boiling water measures about 200 F with an IR thermometer.

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One thing I've found surprisingly useful is how accurate it is measuring the temperature of microwaved liquids. This can be handy when bringing milk or water to 100 degrees when making yeast breads. The convection of the liquid when heated by microwave means the surface temperature is within a degree or two of the center of the liquid, at least in my experience.

For hotter liquids, where the water vapor is cooler than the liquid, it may better to measure the side of the pan below the water level.

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They can also be used to get a quick reading on the grate temperature of a grill. Probably not as accurate as a grate mounted thermometer (sometimes seen inside a smoker) though.

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Great for making yogurt & checking temp of boiling milk @ 185f + cooling to 115f. Its critical to get the correct temp or you will kill the culture used to make the yogurt. Works like a charm!

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yes, although liquids at 185 will be under-measured by an IR thermometer, because the water vapor will be a bit cooler. But it should work relatively well at 115. –  Harlan Oct 31 '12 at 16:44

You can't measure the inside temperature. You will just get the superficial temperature which is usually almost useless.

You need a thermometer that can be inserted in the food (for example a meat thermometer) and then you will be able to do exciting things, for example the perfect temperature for frying oil (just under the smoke point) or the steak grade (raw, medium, well done).

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2  
I agree that infrared thermometers are not useful for things like steaks and roasts. I disagree that they're not useful for cooking, though! –  Harlan Jul 16 '10 at 14:13
    
My infrared thermometer also has an instant-read probe, so it can be used for both. –  GalacticCowboy Jul 16 '10 at 16:17

I bought one to measure the temperature of a firewood oven. Immediately I noticed it was useless.

In order to bake on those ovens, you must have enough temperature in the bricks, not just it their surface. Using the terminology: They have to be soaked. Luckly I had built the oven with plenty of sensors between them.

But there is one dish which needs a lot of temperature in the surface of the oven: pizza. Unluckly my I.R. thermometer could only read up to 325ºC (or so) (600 ºF). That wasn't enough for pizza.

So I bought a new "expensive" I.R. thermometer that reads up to 900ºC (1650 ºF). Now I know greater pizzas are made between 400ºC and 450ºC. (750~850 ºF))

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You have a firewood oven? Wow! Not really pertinent to the question at hand, but are you saying that if you go above 450ºC for pizza, you are heading away from the optimal temperature? –  Chris Steinbach Mar 4 '13 at 19:04
    
Only curious because the STG for Pizza Napoletana specifies 485ºC. –  Chris Steinbach Mar 4 '13 at 19:46
    
I'll check it with more attention next time I'll take note of the measures. I just noticed below 400ºC, they took too long to make, and over 500ºC too short. I haven't had that new thermometer for too long. –  J.A.I.L. Mar 4 '13 at 21:56

The best use, imho, would be to make sure your oven was hitting the correct temperature. Other than that, I can't think of anything cooking related.

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As a BBQ master, I use IR thermometers to measure grills for correct temp or find hot/cold spots. However you cannot just read the grill straight down as the IR will read the flame or flame tamers down below. However if you cast your eye at an angle to the grill until you cannot see below and take a reading at that angle, It will read the surface accurately. I also use the IR gun for pressure frying where the oil temp is critical before sealing. (Dont try pressure frying unless you know what you are doing)

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