Take the 2-minute tour ×
Seasoned Advice is a question and answer site for professional and amateur chefs. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I know that meat thermometers generally won't handle as high a temperature range as candy, but I'm only planning to make caramels and fudge (so soft ball and firm ball) and that's within the range of the meat thermometer that I already own.

Also, meat thermometers are often labelled "medium well" etc., rather than "soft ball". Since I have access to the temps required, that's not an issue.

I'm definitely a noob to candy, so is there some magical reason I can't use a meat thermometer for my candy? Is it a huge no-no? Does it contain leprechauns that will destroy my caramels?

share|improve this question
2  
I'm not sure about fudge, but I prefer to make caramels without my candy thermometer. The cold water test is far more accurate. Drop a small amount of the cooking caramel in a bowl of ice water, let it cool for a few seconds, and pull it out. The consistency of this bit of caramel is roughly what you will get in the final result. What you see is what you get. (As a side note, temperatures in caramel recipes are guide, not a fact. You can't just use someone else's temperatures and expect to get the same texture. That's why the cold water test is easier.) –  Computerish Jan 13 '11 at 3:47
    
The difference between a candy thermometer and a meat thermometer is the same as the difference between an oral thermometer and a rectal thermometer: the taste. –  Malvolio Jan 13 '11 at 4:10
    
I've heard of the cold water test, but I totally haven't tried it. You make a really good point about not using other people's temperatures -- if I'd thought of that earlier, there'd be about 15 batches of caramels over the last year that'd have a chance at not being thrown out. :D –  rachel Jan 13 '11 at 23:27

4 Answers 4

up vote 16 down vote accepted

I think Doug and yossarian both touched on the main points, but to summarize, there are four reasons why you might not want to use a meat thermometer for candy:

  1. Range A meat thermometer might go from 140 F to 220 F or something like that, which is plenty for meat. Candy often requires a range from about 75 degrees (chocolate) up to 400+ degrees (hard candy). The range on most thermometers is simply not sufficient for most candies.
  2. Accuracy When you temper chocolate, 88 F degrees is an ideal working temperature (for dark chocolate). Some people would consider 91 so high you might want to think about starting over. When you make caramels, the difference between 235 F and 240 F can be the difference between wonderfully chewy caramels and a sugar-flavored rock. If you can't read one degree increments at a glance, you need a real candy thermometer.
  3. Speed Meat thermometers often take 30 seconds to a minute to get an accurate result. When you are making candies, you have to be able to tell what the temperature is right now.
  4. Contamination I don't want the thermometer that goes in semi-raw meat anywhere near my chocolate.
share|improve this answer
6  
No kidding about the speed. I've had at least 4 different "instant read" thermometers at various points in time that were all completely worthless, unless you define "instant" as "some time today". –  Aaronut Jan 13 '11 at 2:50
    
Excellent points. Accuracy & speed're the things that keep coming up.. I had no idea that meat thermometers were considered that crappy in those terms. Contamination is a great point, too. It happens that the meat thermometer I own hasn't yet been used, so not something I'd yet thought about. :D –  rachel Jan 13 '11 at 23:43
1  
Re #4: you do know that thermometers can be washed, right? Right? –  Marti Mar 6 '13 at 14:48

I have a digital meat thermometer which reads just about instantly, is accurate, and goes up to about 500F degrees. I can absolutely not see why I shouldn't be able to use it.

And I have no qualms in using a thermometer that has been in contact with meat. If you don't clean the tip after that, you have no place in a kitchen anyway.

share|improve this answer

If your meat thermometer is accurate and responsive you will be fine using it. However, some meat thermometers are slow and basic and not particularly accurate with no means of adjusting. With meat, once you are in a range of temperatures, you will have edible food, although it might not be exactly what you are looking for. With candy, a difference of a few degrees means a different kind of candy...again, still edible, but much more different than say between medium-rare and medium on your roast.

The goal with any thermometer is to have it be accurate within the range that you need to measure. Just because the range you want is on that thermometer doesn't mean that it is accurate in that range. If you trust it, fine. Worst case, you lose a batch of sugar water.

share|improve this answer
    
Ah, valid point, thanks. I hadn't thought that meat thermometers don't need to be as accurate. –  rachel Jan 12 '11 at 23:27
3  
You would think that thermometers used to determine whether a food might kill you would be more accurate than those where the worst thing that can happen is having to throw away some ingredients and time. I've never understood why so many meat thermometers are so crappy. –  Aaronut Jan 13 '11 at 2:53
1  
There's another common practical difference - candy thermometers often have a clip or some other way to make it easy to attach them to a pot, so you can have your hands free for stirring and whatever else needs doing. –  Jefromi Jan 13 '11 at 3:59
    
Aaronut -- lol, I've often wondered that about the little red thing that pops up on a turkey when it's supposed to be done. From what everyone's saying it sounds like meat thermometers are not much more than a step above that. :/ –  rachel Jan 13 '11 at 23:32
    
Jefromi -- good point on that. –  rachel Jan 13 '11 at 23:34

If the temperatures you are looking for are within the stated range of the meat thermometer you will be fine. The difference between the two is just as you guessed, they are focused on different temperature ranges. A candy thermometer will need to be able to accurately measure melted sugar, which is way hotter than a medium rare steak. Putting a meat thermometer in to 350F sugar may break the thermometer. But putting it in to 160F fudge would be just fine.

And it's actually the pixies that will destroy your candy! Everyone knows there's no such thing as leprechauns.

share|improve this answer
    
Pixies!! Those jerks. I believe I have new nemeses. :D –  rachel Jan 12 '11 at 23:33

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.