So, can you use a meat thermometer for candy?
First lets cover what each is designed for...
Meat thermometers are designed to check the internal temperature of a joint of meat, whereas candy thermometers are designed to be immersed in molten sugar.
These appear to be similar purposes but in vastly different temperature ranges.
Meat does not tend to reach temperatures of over 200 degrees Fahrenheit internally and as such, meat thermometers do not tend to register much over this temperature.
In contrast, molten sugar can reach temperatures of up to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. This means that candy thermometers are designed with a much wider temperature range.
Meat thermometers are designed to pierce a joint of meat and reach the center for an accurate reading of the internal temperature. This can be done at very close contact as the temperatures are not too high. This means that meat thermometers have a much shorter probe.
Meat thermometers tend to look like a pointed metal rod with a dial attached to the top. More modern thermometers are often digital and have a screen to display the temperature reading. This tends to be connected to the probe using a removable cable to allow you to wash the probe correctly.
At 150 degrees Fahrenheit, human skin will suffer third-degree burns after just 2 seconds of exposure. As sugar can reach temperatures that are more than double this, it is vital molten sugar does not come into contact with your delicate skin. For this reason, candy thermometers are designed with a much longer probe that can rest on the side of your saucepan.
Candy thermometers tend to be long, flat metal rectangles with a thermometer enclosed in the center. This allows the thermometer to rest securely on the side of the pan without falling in and ensures that it is easy to take temperature measurements.
Why is it important to use thermometers in the kitchen?
There are many health concerns associated with undercooking meat, particularly with meats such as chicken and pork. Undercooking chicken can cause you to suffer food poisoning at the hands of a bacteria known as salmonella. Undercooked pork carries a risk for the bacteria trichinosis.
Salmonella is caused by uncooked meat primarily. This means that the bacteria have not been killed off completely and so is allowed to grow and reproduce in the host body.
Symptoms of salmonella tend to appear around 8 to 72 hours after you have consumed the contaminated food. They can last for up to a week, but it is not uncommon for bowel issues to persist much past this point.
Trichinosis is caused by ingesting the larvae of a type of worm called the trichinella spiralis. If you do not cook your meat correctly, you allow the parasites to reach your small intestine, providing a good environment for them to reproduce and grow. From here, they then travel to your skeleton via the blood in your circulatory system.
Symptoms of trichinosis tend to develop anywhere between 10 and 14 days after you have eaten the contaminated food. The symptoms can last for up to 45 days and are often mistaken for the common cold. If it is left untreated it can result in death.
Candy making is a very precise process. Sugar must be melted and boiled until it reaches a stage known as hard crack or the softball stage. If the sugar does not reach the specifically designated temperature, your candy is unlikely to turn out or set correctly.
Generally speaking, sugar temperatures for candy are as follows. At 230 degrees Fahrenheit, the sugar reaches the syrup stage, when it has shifted from a solid to a liquid state. The softball stage, also known as the caramel stage, is what determines the finished texture of your candy. This stage is reached at around 338 degrees Fahrenheit.
Candy thermometers are also very useful when deep frying. Oil for frying must reach around 350 - 375 degrees Fahrenheit to crisp up the food. If the oil is too hot the food will burn, but if the oil is too cold your fried goods will take on a lot of oil and turn very greasy. If you do not possess a deep fat fryer with a temperature gauge, a candy thermometer is a nifty tool to ascertain when the oil is hot enough.
How do you choose a suitable thermometer?
Choose a type of thermometer first - either digital, instant-read, or metal coils. The digital ones are more modern and are more likely to have a larger temperature range. Some will even allow you to take the temperature of a pot from a distance, improving the safety of the cooking process.
Consider the primary function you will be using the thermometer for. If it is primarily for candy, we advise purchasing a specifically designed thermometer, and vice versa for meat. While it seems inconvenient, we would recommend having one of each style thermometer.
So, Can You Use A Meat Thermometer for Candy?
There are a couple of reasons why the 2 types of kitchen thermometers are not interchangeable. The most pressing is the safeguarding issues.
Candy thermometers are designed with increased length to prevent molten sugar or boiling oil from splashing onto your skin during the temperature reading process.
Meat thermometers have much shorter probe ends and put you at an increased risk of skin damage if they are used for the wrong purpose.
In theory, you could use a candy thermometer to take the internal temperature of a joint of meat. In practice, this only works if your candy thermometer has a pointed end.
As many do not have this, it is impractical to use them to take the temperature of meat as the probe will be unable to pierce the joint.
Meat thermometers are widely useless in the candy-making process. They are not designed to measure the temperatures that you will need to reach to create candy.
There are some meat thermometers designed to measure higher readings, but these are not the industry standard. We would always suggest purchasing a specific candy thermometer if you wish to create your own candy.