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Thursday Tips

Thursday Tips


How to measure the temperature of a pan?

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When I need to know if a pan is above or below 100 Celsius but don't have a thermometer handy, I squirt some water on it. Say I want to check for another temperature, e.g. for the Maillard reaction or killing Trichinella parasites.

What are some ways for estimating other specific temperatures? How accurate are they?


  • Sauté / stir fry : When you're just below the smoke point of an oil, it'll shimmer ... but that's only useful for a precise temperature if you know what the smoke point for that oil is, and you actually want to use oil for cooking.


  • Grilling : I can't remember if it was an episode of Good Eats or on Alton Brown's first book that he recommended that if you had an automatic ice maker, so had consistent sized ice cubes, that you time how long it takes them to melt at different temperatures, so you could use that to judge how hot a grill is.


  • Grilling / Pans in general : For grilling, and campfire cooking, I've always gone with the hand near the cooking surface to gauge how hot it is, but I don't know that it's all that accurate ... and people have a different tolerance for pain, so you'd have to do some tests to calibrate. It doesn't work as well for cooking on a stove except for cast iron; I suspect it requires a more radiant heat source.


  • Deep / shallow frying : I like the wooden spoon test -- dip something wooden into the hot oil, and as there's moisture in the wood, you should see small bubbles rapidly form if it's hot enough.


  • Searing : Listen as you add food ... After you've added a bit of oil, touch the food to the pan, and you should hear sizzling. If it doesn't, pull it back and wait a few more minutes for it to heat.


  • Breadmaking : If I need warm water for making bread, I'll run the hot tap against the inside of my wrist ... once it feels slightly warm, but not hot, it's just above body temperature, so should be good (around 38-40°C / 100-105°F)

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