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Talking Turkey About Digital Thermometers: 3 Go Under Fire

November 09, 2000|JENNIFER LOWE | jennifer.lowe@latimes.com

How many Thanksgivings have you stood at the oven door, waiting for Mr. Turkey to be done?

A good instant-read thermometer, perhaps the most indispensable tool in the kitchen, can take the guesswork out of the holidays. Pop it in the turkey, and when it registers the proper temperature, dinner's ready. I needed a new one, so I turned to the Internet, where everything including the kitchen sink is for sale.

It's darn near impossible to tell when a turkey is done without a thermometer. A thermometer checks the temperature all over the bird; stick it in the breast, and it might read 165 degrees, but the leg or any stuffing might be 10 degrees behind. The Times Test Kitchen has tested a number of turkeys throughout the years and has settled on a final reading of 165 degrees (though the USDA puts the temperature higher, at 180 degrees).

I had little trouble ordering three thermometers: a techie-looking Polder digital thermometer/timer from Chefscatalog.com, a Taylor "professional" pocket thermometer from Cooking.com and a Barbecue Essentials thermometer-fork from Crateandbarrel.com.

If you're in a hurry, try Cooking.com, based in Los Angeles; I ordered on a Monday, and the box arrived the next day by standard UPS shipping.

But as I cruised eight to 10 sites over an hour, what I couldn't find was guidance on using the thermometers. Unfortunately, a few sites showed just the thermometers without any details, and others repeated what probably was on the packaging. I found out why there might not have been much explanation when the thermometers arrived: Only the he-man-size fork-thermometer came with directions.

To try them out, I enlisted Mayi Brady, who tests recipes for The Times' Food section. The thermometers all worked within a few degrees of one another when tested on a chicken roasted at 400 degrees in the Times Test Kitchen. We wanted the chicken cooked to 165 degrees. Two thermometers passed muster with Brady, one didn't.

*

Barbecue Essentials Sure Grip Digital Instant Read Fork Thermometer from Crateandbarrel.com, $19.95, plus $5.95 shipping.

Cooking experience: We found the fork rather unwieldy for our small 3 3/4-pound chicken. We had to pull the pan almost completely from the oven to pop in the prongs of the fork, which is 14 inches long. It took two tries to get a reading of 167 degrees (the first was 135 degrees). Either we couldn't get the fork in the right spot, or it took the fork a minute to warm up. But we liked its easy-to-read digital face.

Comment: "It's too big for a chicken," Brady said. "It's definitely a hunk-o'-meat thermometer." So she flunked this one.

Ordering: Fast and easy. Confirmation sent by U.S. mail instead of typical e-mail.

Shipping: Ordered on a Monday, came the following Monday.

Return policy: Full refund within "a reasonable period of time." Customer pays return shipping. Items may also be returned to Crate & Barrel stores.

Phone: (800) 967-6696

*

Polder Cooking Thermometer/Timer, $29.99, plus $6.30 shipping from Chefscatalog.com

Cooking experience: The most gadgety of the three thermometers, this one had no directions for its five buttons and three digital displays, although we did discover a helpful timer feature. We popped the probe--trailing a long, heat-resistant cord connected to the thermometer--into the chicken, then attached the thermometer magnetically to the side of the oven. We set the alarm to beep when the chicken reached 165 degrees, and it worked perfectly.

Comment: "This is really a cool thing. You can just set it, and you don't need to worry about checking the chicken," Brady said.

Ordering: Fairly simple, though it took three tries to get my credit card accepted because I typed in the spaces between the numbers. The site couldn't tell me that was wrong. Confirmation was sent by e-mail.

Shipping: Ordered on a Monday, came on a Thursday when I wasn't home and required a signature. I signed a slip left by the mail carrier and the package was redelivered Saturday.

Return policy: Full refund. Customer pays return shipping.

Phone: (800) 884-2433

*

Taylor Professional Digital Pocket Thermometer, $18.50, plus $6.25 shipping from Cooking.com

Cooking experience: The compact Taylor fit neatly in Brady's hand, in the thigh of the chicken and in Brady's pocket. The digital readout increased slowly, making this the slowest of the three as we stood with the oven door open, and it gave a reading between the other two--166 degrees. Still, perhaps because it was like ones she was used to using, Brady liked this one best.

Comment: "I'm really used to this. I can always use one of these."

Ordering: Not a problem. E-mail sent as confirmation.

Shipping: Ordered on a Monday. I was stunned when I checked the UPS Web site Tuesday to find out when it would be delivered; the site said it was at my address. And it was.

Return policy: Full refund if returned within 30 days. You can print a return form from the Web site.

Phone: (800) 663-8810

*

Jennifer Lowe is deputy food editor of The Times.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

The Skinny: Shopping for an Instant-Read Thermometer

Sites visited:

* http://www.chefscatalog.com

* http://www.cookswarehouse.com

* http://www.comforthouse.com

* http://www.cooking.com

* http://www.crateandbarrel.com

* http://www.happycookers.com

* http://www.globalgourmet.com

* http://www.tavolo.com

* http://www.williams-sonoma.com

* The good: It was fairly easy to find what I wanted.

* The bad: It was not easy finding directions or guidance on using the thermometers.

* Bottom line: I could have picked one up at a store, but ordering online saved me from having to make one more trip.

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