Here’s a gadget that has only been in our kitchen for a few months now, but has already proven itself worthy of our “doesn’t suck” stamp of approval. Ever since getting my pellet grill last fall and having aspirations of becoming some sort of God of the backyard barbeque, I started looking for a good thermometer to use for checking and ensuring the meat was done perfect. And there are a lot of available options, from $2.99 pocket thermometers from the same aisle of the grocery store as the aluminum foil bakeware to several-hundred-dollar lab-grade probes with remote readouts. I tried (and even destroyed) a few of the little cheap ones. I surely wasn’t willing to spend hundreds to get something as overkill as the lab-grade onces. And I was never really happy with the old-fashioned meat thermometer traditionally poked into a roast or a turkey – it ends up stained by the grill smoke and is never fast to react to temperature changes.
Then I read about the ThermoWorks “Super-Fast” Thermapen. I often mention it as my “instant read,” though it’s not quite that fast. No, it actually takes about 2~3 seconds to get an initial “good” reading (when you take it out of the drawer at 70 degrees and plunge the tip into a roast that is at 130 degrees or so). But that’s close enough to instant for me. And certainly fast enough to crack open the lid on the grill, check two or three different points, and have the lid back down before ALL of the heat has been let out.
Sure, you can check a chicken breast for “done” by slicing half-way through it and looking to see if it is fully opaque. But if it’s not done yet, you’ve just introduced a slice in it for all the juices to escape and overcook while the other pieces are slower to finish without that gaping slit (nevermind the fact it doesn’t look as nice when serving). The probe on the Thermapen is only about 1.5 mm in diameter, with an even smaller tip – so you can stab it into that chicken breast (or even a thin-cut pork chop) and get an exact reading of the temperature inside. Then, with a little practice and a little common sense, you can connect the dots between what temperature when the cut of meat is sitting on the grill or roasting pan will give you the perfect juicy doneness when it has finished “resting” and is being sliced and served. And it even comes with a handy reference guide and cheat sheet to help you with that.
Now if you think that checking meat on the grill is the only handy use for this thing, you’re missing out. One of the great things about the Thermapen is the fact that because it is so sensitive, it will give you essentially “real time” temperature feedback for just about any application. And because the themocouple in the tip of the probe is so small, you can use it to test things by inserting it as little as 1/8″ deep – something basically impossible with most other pocket thermometers.
As a result, I find myself using it to check temperatures on a whole host of things. When making the Basil Chicken & Rice Soup, I used the Thermapen to check the oil temperature for frying the garlic and shallots – which was barely 1/4″ deep in the bottom of my sauce pan. You can use it for checking water temperature in a baby’s bath water – and know exactly how hot (or not) the water is. You could even use it for taking body temperature if you wanted…though I’d not recommend stabbing yourself in the arm with it to see if you’re running a fever.
There’s not much else I can say. About the only things you can’t do with it are run it through the dishwasher (or submerge it really – though a splash of water won’t hurt it), and leave it inside the oven or grill like you would a traditional meat thermometer (it will melt). But there isn’t any product out there comparable in speed, accuracy, and portability that you can do those things to…so that’s a moot point. If you’re looking for a great “instant read” thermometer to use in the kitchen and for grilling, this is certainly the one I would recommend.