In addition to the must-have instant read thermometer, an in-food/in-cooker (IFIC) thermometer should be part of every chef's collection of tools. Why have both, you might ask? While the instant read might provide the final say as to doneness, the in-food/in-cooker unit provides a real-time progress report on the status of the cooking session. An instant read cannot be left inserted in the food while it is cooking, so you only have a readout while you're inserting the probe into the food. An IFIC, on the other hand, remains inserted during the entire cooking session, displaying the temperatures of the food(s) and the cooker simultaneously.
While all IFICs do pretty much the same thing - display real-time temperatures measured by cabled probes - they differ in how they present the information to the cook. At the most basic level, the temperature of one or more probes is displayed on a control box into which the probe cables plug. This is adequate if the cooker is located in close proximity to the cook. If not, there are several varieties of wireless remote units available. Some come with a dedicated remote that communicates with the control box. Others communicate with a smart phone via Bluetooth, but range can be a problem. At the highest level, the control box communicates with the cook's Wi-Fi router, making the temperature data available, via the cloud, on a smart device or browser anywhere an internet connection is available. Your proximity to the cooker and how immediately you need temperature feedback will determine which of these categories is most appropriate for your needs.
Some IFICs have only a single temperature probe and others have six or eight. It's nice to have a readout of the cooker's temperature in addition to the food's temperature, especially if you're dealing with a smoker whose temperature might vary considerably over a long period. With the cooker's temp covered, ask yourself how many pieces of food you'll want to monitor, and use that as a guide to how many probe channels you'll need.
All IFICs that I've seen allow you to set alarms, frequently an upper and lower value, that will alert you to wayward cooker temps or food nearing completion. Most alarms are an audible/visual signal displayed on the control box, the remote, or on your smartphone. Many units have pre-programmed temperature values for different levels of doneness for different types of meat or you can set your own values. Most pre-programmed temperatures conform to the USDA standards, values that would usually result in overcooked food. The choice is yours. For an overview of safe doneness temperatures, see our award-winning temperature guide here.
Most smartphone apps present the same info: temperature, alarm settings, and a temperature vs. time graph for each probe. The graphs are helpful in determining the onset of the stall. Some are more intuitive to navigate than others. Many allow you to save or download the graphical data; you'll have to decide how important that is to you. (I use such data when testing thermostatic controllers.)
Most IFICs operate on batteries, although some require an AC power source. Think about the availability of power at your cooker if considering the latter category.
As with instant reads, quality of construction and resistance to moisture are considerations. Cheaper units often aren't designed and built to survive a rainstorm, something to think about if you're planning to use the control box outdoors.
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