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ChefAlarm: Affordable Leave-In Thermometer

This post was written by my wonderful husband. I hope you enjoy it!

ChefAlarm Display

I was recently given an exciting new product from ThermoWorks to review called the ChefAlarm, and was quite pleased once again.  I’ve never been a great cook but learning to cook with thermometers these past few years has improved my success rate immensely.  And when it comes to thermometry, there is no better company than ThermoWorks, the maker of the Thermapen, which is the Cadillac of instant read thermometers.   (See my Thermapen review here)  I use my Thermapen every time I cook pretty much anything.  In the information age we live in, you can quickly find the ideal internal temperature for just about any food  you are cooking, from meat to bread to muffins to baked potatoes.  Try it!  On top of finding suggested temperatures for various foods, you can also keep a food diary to track your own preferences.  All of this information of ideal and preferred temperatures combined with a fast and accurate thermometer you are pretty much guaranteed consistent results.  Truly great chefs have an instinct for cooking that I just don’t possess so for me cooking is more of a math/science experiment and I’m OK with that.  So my cooking involves notes, food scales, and my Thermapen (and sometimes even a spreadsheet–what can I say, I’m a statistician).  But even naturally gifted chefs can benefit from a great thermometer to confirm those instincts and tell you what is going on in the center of the food you are cooking.

Thermoworks Thermometers

One thing you cannot do with a Thermapen, however, is leave it in the oven/grill while the food is cooking.  You can use it to check on the progress of what you are cooking but it is often nice to not have to open up the oven and check.  That is where my new toy comes in to play.  The ChefAlarm (link) is a new product from ThermoWorks that connects to probes that you can insert into the food and leave in during the entire cooking process.

There are two compatible probes with the ChefAlarm, the Pro-Series High Temp Cooking Probe (included) and the optional Pro-Series Needle Probe that is ideal for thin cuts of meat and/or sous vide.  Designed for use in commercial kitchens and professional settings, the Pro-Series Probes deliver better accuracy, faster readings, unique designs, wider temperature ranges and better moisture-resistance than the probes sold with low-cost “houseware-grade” temperature alarms.

The probe then connects to the ChefAlarm which displays the temperature of the probe, allowing you to monitor the internal temperature of your food without having to open the oven/grill.  The ChefAlarm display provides a lot of useful information including the minimum and maximum temperatures since being turned on/plugged in and the current temperature is displayed in a very large font that is easily visible at some distance at a glance (in either F or C).  In addition to these current and historical temperature measures, the ChefAlarm also serves as a timer so you can monitor time and temperature all on a single display.  The timer can count down with an alarm or it can count up.  The alarm is adjustable up to 92 dB which can be heard even in a noisy kitchen.  There is also an option to set alarms for high and low temperature thresholds.  Other features include a backlight, splash-proof design allowing you to use it by a busy stove, and is available in 9 colors.  The ChefAlarm folds up to show the display when setting on a counter and it also has a magnetic back allowing it to lay flat on metallic, vertical surface.   ChefAlarm includes unit, Pro-Series High Temp Cooking Probe, SST Probe Clip, Operating Instructions, and Padded Zip Wallet that neatly holds everything.

Perfect Temperature for Bread

I have tried this product on several things so far both in the kitchen as well as the grill.  Used in conjunction with the Thermapen, it is a great way to cook large cuts of meat.  Both products have shortcomings for this (Thermapen can’t be left in while cooking and ChefAlarm can only check the temperature of the one spot you placed the probe), but together they work really well.  Embracing Homemaking has a wonderfully informative article on using the ChefAlarm in conjunction with a Thermapen to cook the perfect holiday turkey.

Grilled Turkey - Yum!

With a new baby due close to Christmas this year, we will be having our first Christmas at home this year and with that our first time cooking a turkey!  I have planned to grill it and have already done a practice turkey breast.  The ChefAlarm and Thermapen combination took all the guesswork out.  It was a practice turkey and I did end up overcooking it a bit but professional equipment can only cover up so many sins of a bad cook!  I broke a cardinal rule and apparently placed the ChefAlarm probe against a bone and that through off my reading.  But like I said…it was a practice turkey!  I am confident I’ll be able to nail the real one.  So far, I’ve also tried the ChefAlarm cooking a wonderful pot roast (target temp 135F – 145F for medium), baking some sourdough bread (target temp 200F-210F), and cooking some chicken fingers in a deep fryer (target temp 165F).  Having the leave-in thermometer with the alarm set really reduces the chances of overcooking anything.  I love my Thermapen and I now love the ChefAlarm, but together they are a perfect combination.

The ChefAlarm would be a perfect gift for any griller or cook on your Christmas shopping list and now is the perfect time to shop for them as they currently have a “buddy sale” going on where you can get 2 for $52 each (regular price is $59).

ThermoWorks Miniature Needle Probe Review

This is Ashley’s husband again with yet another review from the good people at ThermoWorks. I love this company! You may recall that I have reviewed two products from them already and they remain two of my very favorite cooking tools. The first was the Thermapen, which is the incredibly fast and accurate thermometer used by food safety inspectors, television cooks, and home cooks alike. I must admit this remains my very favorite and most used product from the company. I would recommend a good, instant read digital thermometer to anyone that cooks and this one is the best of the best. {Insert from Ashley: Through Labor Day ThermoWorks is having a HUGE sale on the Thermapen!!  They’re calling it their Buddy Sale.  When you buy 2 or more Thermapens you’ll only pay $80 for each one.  Regularly $96!  Expires Labor Day 9/3/12.  Visit ThermoWorks for more information.}

 

The second product I received was the TW8060 two-channel thermocouple. This is another great product that I use quite often. If you read the review of the TW8060 two-channel thermocouple you may recall that the the TW8060 is a 2-channel thermocouple alarm thermometer that works with a large variety of K type probes sold by Thermoworks. Less technically, the TW8060 is the thermometer and display (and other functions) where you can monitor the temperatures of two different probes at once and the probes are detachable and interchangeable. Thermoworks sells hundreds of different types of probes you can choose from depending on the intended use.

 

For the original review they gave me two probes to review along with it: the crocodile clip probe which is used to monitor the temperature inside your oven, grill, or smoker; and the smokehouse probe which is a leave-in thermometer used to measure the temperature of a thick cut of meat. These probes were both wonderful and I use them often. I use the crocodile clip probe every single time I use the grill for closed lid, indirect cooking. Since my grill doesn’t have a thermostat like the oven does it’s the only way to maintain a constant temperature for low and slow cooking. I just keep the lid shut, monitor the temperature (the TW8060 has alarms to help with this) and tweak the dials on my gas grill as needed. It almost feels like cheating but some people need all the help they can get! The smokehouse probe I use somewhat less often because I usually don’t cook chunks of meat that large, but when I do it is as essential a tool as the crocodile clip probe.

 

Grilling Chicken

 

But what about when I’m grilling something smaller like chicken breasts? I tried the smokehouse probe for that a few times and it did work but the probe is really not designed for small pieces of meat like that and it leaves quite a big hole for juices to escape. This brings me to the current review. We got a new probe to review that is aptly named the “miniature needle probe”. This probe has quickly become a real favorite of mine. As the name implies this probe is quite thin (0.06” diameter!). This looks as thin as a hypodermic needle. Not only have I used this as a leave in probe for chicken breasts, I’ve even used it as a leave in probe for thin tilapia filets (going in from the side). Yes, it is that thin! If I felt like I was cheating before, using the crocodile clip to monitor the grill temperature, I really feel like I’m cheating now. Delicious, succulent cheating. With a cooking diary, grill temperature monitor, and a thin leave in meat thermometer you are pretty much guaranteeing yourself consistent results.

 

One of the surprising things about this probe is that even though it is designed to be a leave in probe, it is actually instant read as well. In fact it gives a 2 second reading (yes, that is faster than the Thermapen!). This doesn’t really replace the Thermapen, though, since the Thermapen is still much more convenient to handle and use for checking temps instantly. You could use it as an instant read if you really wanted to but it would be a bit of a bother fiddling with the wires and hooking it up to the TW8060 as opposed to just pulling the Thermapen out and flipping open the probe. They go great together though. You can leave the miniature needle probe in one piece of meat at a time and monitor the temperature of that piece to give you an idea of how your meat is cooking but then you would still want to do a quick temperature check on the other pieces with your Thermapen to make sure it’s all done and not just the one piece.

 

Grilling Steak

 

I initially wanted this probe for grilling chicken breasts slowly with indirect heat but I have found many other uses for it since then. As I have mentioned, I have used it for tilapia filets on the grill and I’ve also used it for thick ribeyes using Meathead’s reverse sear method. Just be sure to remove the miniature needle probe before you get to the searing step since it is only rated up to 482 F and the higher searing temperatures will likely damage the probe. The probe is probably not long enough (2” and 3.5” models are available) to get to the center of a pork loin or brisket, so you will still want a smokehouse probe if you plan to use the TW8060 for that, however the miniature needle probe would work great with a small ham or a roast.

 

Baking Bread

 

But the miniature needle probe isn’t limited to grilling or even to meat. Another use that I love is for bread baking. I love baking sourdough loaves and one indicator of the doneness is the bread’s internal temperature (although it is not the only indicator). To use my miniature needle bread for bread baking I first bake the bread for about 20 minutes so it can hold the thermometer without tearing and then I insert the probe into the center of the bread from the side. The hole it leaves is tiny and barely noticeable. It’s so small I have even used it to check the doneness of miniature blueberry muffins in a similar manner!

 

Another surprising use that I love is for baking potatoes. Baked potatoes are more forgiving than some foods but there is a somewhat fine margin of fluffy, moist perfection that lies between a hard, undercooked baked potato and an overcooked, dried out potato and the best way to find that margin of perfection is by the internal temperature. Ever cook a baked potato for the recommended time at the recommended temperature only to cut it open and it’s still hard in the center? Potatoes are different sizes and they won’t always cook exactly the same. The time and temperature that worked last time might not work this time. Find the internal temperature that you love and cook it until it hits that temperature and you won’t ever be surprised by the result. Then it’s just a matter of figuring out how you like the skin and modifying the oven temperature each time you bake a potato until you find one that gives you a skin that you love. The different temperatures will result in different baking times but if you are relying on the internal temperature to determine doneness you won’t have to worry about it. As with the bread I do partially bake the potato before inserting the probe because it’s easier to insert.

 

One other ideal use for this particular probe is a cooking technique called sous vide.  I just read an article on ThermoWorks’ blog about it recently and it is very interesting.  It does require some equipment in addition to the miniature needle probe:  a thermal circulator that can accurately maintain a constant temperature in water and a vacuum sealer.  We have a vacuum sealer but don’t have thermal circulator so I haven’t actually ever tried this but would like to sometime.

 

If you do a simple web search (e.g. internal temperature of baked potato) for just about any food you can find the ideal internal temperature. Use that as your starting point and then see what you like and adjust as needed. Keep track of it and with great thermometers you will have great, consistent results.

ThermoWorks Super-Fast Thermapen Thermometer

Here’s the first review written by my husband.  I hope you enjoy it!

 

Ashley has been wanting me to contribute to her blog for some time now and if ever there was something I was excited to review it was the Splash-Proof Super-Fast Thermapen cooking thermometer from ThermoWorks.  My only condition for helping out with this review was that I get to use the Thermapen!

Thermapen Specifications

I enjoy grilling and most of my food is usually edible and sometimes really good.  Lately, though I’ve been trying to really figure out the secrets to grilling and making meals that are consistent and special.  A few months ago I made my first big step in that direction with my discovery of AmazingRibs.com, a grilling blog by Craig “Meathead” Goldwyn.  I’ve just scratched the surface of the wealth of information that he has put together on his site but the main take-home message is the importance of a fast, reliable meat thermometer and an accurate grill/oven thermometer.  With the Splash-Proof Super-Fast Thermapen I can check this first recommendation off my list in a big way.  For the second recommendation, ThermoWorks offers products for measuring the grill temperature as well but I have not tried any of them at this time.

Thermapen gift

 

If you aren’t into grilling, the Thermapen is a unique gift idea that any serious griller on your Christmas shopping list would absolutely love!  And if you don’t have any grillers on your shopping list then keep reading because the Thermapen isn’t just for grilling (far from it!).  It is incredibly useful in just about every aspect of food preparation and cooking.

 

The Thermapen is generally recognized as the fastest and most accurate cooking thermometer on the market. It has more good qualities than just being fast and accurate but these two are essential for grilling and cooking in general.  The difference between food being cooked to a safe, perfect temperature and being overcooked can be a matter of just a few degrees and that difference can occur quickly.  Perfectly cooked food isn’t the only advantage to a fast thermometer.  Being able to quickly check the temperature of several locations of the food and getting the lid/door shut quickly without losing a lot of heat is another thing to consider.

thermapen

Many thermometers call themselves “instant read” but I know one of my “instant” thermometers that was in the $50 range can take over 30 seconds to come from room temperature up to close to the temperature of the meat.  And that is my “nice” one.  I have others that are even worse.  In stark contrast, the Thermapen gives you the correct temperature to within 1 degree Fahrenheit in 3 seconds or less!  That is blazing fast.  And what about accuracy?  The Thermapen is accurate to within 0.7 degrees F up to 392 degrees F (and accurate to within 1.8 degrees F for higher temperatures up to 572 degrees F).  You won’t find a faster, more accurate cooking thermometer that is affordable.

 

As I’ve already hinted, while the Thermapen is perfect for grilling, this is not just a grilling tool.  You will benefit by using the Thermapen for most cooking tasks.  You can use it to take the temperature of oil in the deep fryer, the internal temperature of bread or cake, and if you need a candy thermometer there is no need for a separate one–the Thermapen can be used for that too!  In fact, they even have a handy temperature guide on their web site for the various types of candy and other foods.  The new and improved Splash-Proof Super-Fast Thermapen shouldn’t be submerged, placed in a dishwasher, or placed under the tap but, as its name implies, it is now sealed tight and won’t be damaged if it gets wet so you can safely use it for tasks that could get liquid on it.  Due to the thermocouple being located at the very tip of the very thin probe it is ideal for checking the internal temperature of very thin cuts of meat which would be impossible with most meat thermometers.  And the Thermapen isn’t even limited to cooking at all.  As soon as you open the Thermapen out of the box, the auto-on feature will turn it on and it will start reading the temperature of the air.  It is not quite instant in the air and can, in fact take up to a couple of minutes unless the air is moving, but it will give you an accurate reading of the air temperature.  And we used ours to check the temperature of our baby’s bath water to make sure it was safe!  Just be careful to note that you should not put the Thermapen directly under the tap, put the probe in still water only, or you could damage the thermocouple in the probe.

Baby Bath
Having a tool like the Thermapen won’t make you a good cook and the people at ThermoWorks will tell you the same thing.  I do agree, however, that having a Thermapen can make you a better cook and, if used properly, will give you more consistent results.  In just about any area of cooking there is no better method of measuring the “doneness” of food than temperature.  There are other methods used such as pressing a steak, cutting a piece of chicken in half to see if the pink is gone, sticking a toothpick in a cake, or following strict times given in recipes but none of these methods will give you perfectly consistent results like an accurate cooking thermometer (used in conjunction with an accurate oven/grill thermometer).  The pamphlet that came with my Thermapen suggests recording the temperature of your favorite food on the recipe so you can note the temperature when it is just the way YOU like it and make that perfect result repeatable.

 

Thermapen Calibration

The Thermapen is very easy to use.  You just swing open the probe and it automatically turns on and starts giving you temperature readings.  There are no buttons to push or anything.  You can change a few things with switches inside the battery compartment if you wish.  The default on the large display is Fahrenheit but you can change this to Celsius.  The default precision is to the tenth of a degree and you can change this to whole degrees if you want a bit more of a “lock”.  Also, it should not be needed since the Thermapen is calibrated (and even comes with the initials and results of the calibration) before it is shipped but you can calibrate it.  I wouldn’t recommend this unless you really know what you’re doing and I would call them first.  Besides that it just works right out of the box without you having to do anything.  You just put the tip of the probe wherever you want a temperature reading, look at the display, and use your noggin to process the information.  You can find recommendations of the best location of the probe depending on what you are cooking but in general check the center of the thickest portion since that is generally the slowest to heat up (or cool down).

Grilling Chicken

My first test with the Thermapen was, of course, on the grill.  And the meat in question was my nemesis, very thick chicken breasts.  For years I have struggled to get consistently good, juicy chicken off the grill and the thicker it was the more difficulty I had.  I would almost always end up overcooking it and leaving it very dry.  I used Meathead’s technique for cooking chicken breasts using indirect heat on the grill with a target grill temperature around 300 degrees F.  I checked the temperature after about 20 minutes and then every couple minutes after that with the Thermapen.  The grill lost very little heat with these checks since I was able to get a temperature and close the lid quickly.  Once I got the reading at the center of the thickest part of the breast to a bit below 165 F (the temperature will continue to rise a bit as the meat is resting I pulled it off the grill.  It rose up to a little over 165 after resting 5 or 6 minutes and the result…well it was, by far, the tenderest, juiciest, and best tasting chicken I have ever made.

Chicken Breast

My next test was poultry again, Thanksgiving turkey!  We traveled for the holidays so I didn’t do the cooking but my mom let me check the temperature of the bird with my new toy.  It confirmed what I have known for years, Mom’s turkey was cooked to perfection (right around 165 F in the center of the thickest part of the breast).  The ThermoWorks web site has great cooking tips for turkey using the Thermapen so there’s still time to use it for your Christmas bird!

Thanksgiving Turkey

Each Thermapen comes with a handy booklet on the proper care and use of the Thermapen and it is a very informative guide.  One section goes through a list of things the Thermapen does not do and what it does do.  This was very nice to have as a user’s guide but I think this would also be helpful in determining if a Thermapen is right for you.  Here is my abbreviated version.

A Thermapen does not:

  • Serve as a leave-in thermometer.  I have not tried them (but based on the Thermapen I would love to!), but ThermoWorks does make leave-in thermometers that can be used in conjunction with a grill/oven thermometer and a Thermapen but the Thermapen itself should not be left in a hot oven or have prolonged exposure to high heat.
  • Lock in on a temperature.  The Thermapen is instant and accurate and the temperatures inside foods are constantly changing so your Thermapen will be constantly changing with them.  Some consider this a downside since they can’t stick it in a roast in the oven and pull it out to check the reading since it’s already changed by the time it’s removed.  I don’t think this is really that big of a downside because I can see the large display at arm’s length and, since it’s not a leave-in thermometer, it will never be further than arm’s length and since it’s instant you don’t have to hold it there long.  A back light could help out with this if you have a dark oven but I still don’t see this as much of a drawback myself.
  • Tell you when food is “done”.  It only tells you the temperature.  Use USDA recommendations, recipe recommendations, and your personal preference to determine when your food is done based on the accurate temperature displayed on the Thermapen.

 

A Thermapen does:

  • Give you the fastest, most accurate temperature you can find in an affordable thermometer to check the internal temperature of your: meats, vegetables, casseroles desserts, candy, breads, doughs, sauces, drinks, and more that you prepare in your oven, microwave, refrigerator, freezer, deep fryer, grill/smoker, and anywhere else you work with food.
  • Come in a variety of cool colors.  A lot of the color choices are just for aesthetics but originally the color coding was to avoid cross-contamination when the used commercially.  I know I enjoy using my purple one!

 

That is all I’ve had time to test it on so far but it is safe to say that it will be used on just about everything we cook (and all our baby’s bathwater!) from now on.  I consider this tool indispensable for anyone who wants to take their cooking to the next level.  We got our Thermapen to review but I would have definitely paid the money for one.  If I had one recommendation for a change, it would be to add a back light.  This time of year if you are grilling dinner you are pretty much grilling in the dark.  I had to bring out a lantern to set by my grill to read the thermometer and a back light would have been helpful.  My general recommendation though is that if you cook a lot, you need a Thermapen!  OK, I’ll pass the blogging torch back to Ashley now, thanks for reading.

Thermapen colors

This is Ashley now. 🙂  For more information or to snag a Thermapen of your own visit Thermoworks.com.  If you are interested in buying one I would suggest ordering now while they are on sale right now for $89 (regularly $96)!  Also, the girl in me has to show you all the fun colors it comes in!