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Does anyone really need a candy thermometer? Maybe not, if you like to take the time to experiment with dropping hot sugar syrups into bowls of cold water or messing around with pulling hot sugar syrups between your fingers, or throwing bits of bread into hot oil to see how fast it browns, or even if it browns.
If all that doesn’t sound really exciting to you, then you’ll probably want to have a candy thermometer in your kitchen drawer. It will tell you the right temperature for whatever when making candies, marshmallows, jellies and jams, and even deep-fried hot chicken. This is an immense help.
There are different types of candy thermometers, but all do the same thing. They just do it in different ways to suit different people. "I use a candy thermometer mostly when cooking sugar syrups, candy making, chocolate tempering, cooking jams & preserves," says Hsing Chen, pastry chef and co-owner of Andros Taverna in Chicago. "Always keep a cup of water next to you to put your candy thermometer into so that the sugar doesn’t stick to it. Makes for easy cleaning!"
My favorite use for a candy thermometer? Spun sugar. It’s actually one of the messiest thing to make, but at least it’s easy to do since my candy thermometer tells me the exact right moment to start flinging sugar strands all over the kitchen! If that sounds like fun to you, here are the best candy thermometers for a sugary good time.
Best Overall: Polder Candy/Jelly/Deep Fry Thermometer
What We Love: High-quality construction, easy to use, clips to your pots
What We Don’t Love: Feels slightly clunky, tips easily during cooking
The classic image of a candy thermometer is a tall, flat model, clipped to the side of a pot, the red faux mercury liquid rising from the bottom bulb. This stainless steel candy and deep fry thermometer from Polder looks exactly as described and does the job well.
The rust-proof metal back clip attaches to your pot and displays the temperature in both Fahrenheit and Celsius. The markings also include five of the seven stages of candy making, along with temperatures for deep-frying. Of course, the liquid inside isn't mercury anymore, but it's easy to see it against the metal background. One drawback is that the metal clip can sometimes be a fulcrum, with the thermometer tipping to one side during use. An insulated handle provides protection, and though this thermometer is top-rack dishwasher safe, we recommended handwashing it.
"I've been using my Polder thermometer for well over a decade now. It's easy to clip to my Dutch oven when it's time to fry up some doughnuts and definitely comes in handy whenever I attempt sugar confectionary." — Siobhan Wallace, Commerce Editor
Length: 12 inches | Temperature Range: 90–400 degrees Fahrenheit, 30–210 degrees Celsius
Best Budget: Taylor Precision Products Candy/Deep Fry Thermometer
What We Love: Works well, affordable, easy to store and clean
What We Don’t Love: Must handle carefully to avoid breakage, references are on the sheath
A small round thermometer works better for some, especially when you're short on drawer space (the large flat thermometers do get in the way every now and then). That's why thermometers like this one from Taylor Precision Products are good for small spaces and small budgets.
This thermometer is mostly glass surrounding the internal blue liquid, with stainless steel and plastic accents. It has a clip that secures it to the pot and measures temperature in both Fahrenheit and Celsius. When cooking, you'll need to reference its protective storage sheath. It's where you'll find the correct temperatures, in both temperature scales, for candy-making, jelly-making, scalding milk, and deep-frying. Hand-wash only so you don't void the lifetime warranty.
Length: 8.5 inches | Temperature Range: 100–400 degrees Fahrenheit, 50–200 degrees Celsius
Best Digital: Taylor Precision Products Digital Candy Thermometer
What We Love: User-friendly operation, easy-to-read display, swivel design for optimal placement
What We Don’t Love: Battery operated, no reference guide
Digital thermometers offer one very clear difference over old-school liquid thermometers: it's easier to see the temperature. There's no bending over a bubbling pot of oil to see if the temp is now 350 degrees or has gone up to 360 already! And there's no lag, so you don't all of a sudden realize the oil is up to 400, burning your batch of samosas. "I like a simple digital thermometer for the most accurate reading," says Chen. "I store my candy thermometer flat in a drawer without anything on top of it. Always make sure you have a backup or batteries."
With a pared-down design and easy-to-read LCD swivel display, this model from Taylor Precision Products is the perfect modern candy thermometer. This sturdy, stainless steel thermometer is a nice size to not get lost or forgotten in a kitchen drawer, and a well-designed clip secures it to any pot. The wide display can be changed to Celsius with the push of the button. It is battery-operated with the batteries included.
Length: 9 inches | Temperature Range: -40–500 degrees Fahrenheit, -40—260 degrees Celsius
Related: The Best Instant Read Thermometers
Best for Deep Frying: OXO Good Grips Glass Candy and Deep Fry Thermometer
What We Love: Sturdy, tall, large top loop handle
What We Don’t Love: Large size can hard to store
Small splatters are almost inevitable when you're deep-frying, especially when you drop the dough into the oil. That's why a taller thermometer is indispensable, especially when the top is easy to grab.
At a good size and nicely sturdy, this OXO candy and deep-frying thermometer has a clip that can be adjusted to the height of the pot, which makes it easier to use in shallower pots. Mostly stainless steel with an insulated plastic handle, the design is made for a long-lasting life. If it gets greasy, tongs or another tool can be used to easily grab the top loop. It shows temperature in both Fahrenheit and Celsius with markings for candy and deep-frying.
Length: 16 inches | Temperature Range: 100–400 degrees Fahrenheit, 40–200 degrees Celsius
Related: The Best Deep Fryers
Best Bluetooth: Williams Sonoma Bluetooth Candy Thermometer
What We Love: Sleek high tech tool, allows for multitasking in the kitchen
What We Don’t Love: Shows temperature only in Fahrenheit (unless you can hack it!)
Smart technology is definitely a trend in the kitchen. This means the newest idea in candy thermometers is Bluetooth-connected and the technology performs part of the process. After you choose your desired temperature on your device (iPhone, iPad, or Android) and put the thermometer in place, the digital display beeps when the temperature is reached. This gives the cook the chance to put their eyes on other tasks while waiting.
Like all candy or deep-frying thermometers, this comes with a metal clip to attach to your pot. A downside is the display on the small side and doesn't swivel, so you'll need to maneuver it to read while cooking.
Length: 10 inches | Temperature Range: 40–450 degrees Fahrenheit
Related: The Best Kitchen Scales
The Polder Candy/Jelly/Deep Fry Thermometer (view at Amazon) is a well-designed tool for everyday use by any level cook. For an easy-to-read swivel display, the Taylor Precision Products Digital Candy Thermometer (view at Amazon) is user-friendly, but you will need to know what temperature to get to beforehand.
What to Look for When Buying a Candy Thermometer
There are several types of candy thermometers. The most common type has a metal probe that is inserted into the sugar syrup. Glass thermometers are also available with metal detailing, and there are also infrared thermometers that take the temperature by laser.
Candy thermometers display the temperature reading in several ways, depending on the type. There are vertical thermometers with printed temperature markings, others with a circular dial on top with a pointer to show the temperature, and digital thermometers that show the temperature on a small top-mounted screen device. It’s important to choose the one you feel comfortable with keeping your eye on since boiling sugar (or oil) can be dangerous and temperatures can sometimes rise quickly.
Some of the features to look for in a candy thermometer are whether it has a clip or a magnet to secure it to the pot and whether the clip can be moved to different heights. Other considerations are whether the thermometer displays in both Fahrenheit and Celsius, plus the type of display, for easy reading. Lastly, some smart thermometers are showing up on the market if you want Bluetooth connectivity.
Thermometers don’t do well with rough handling in general, but some are sturdier than others. They need a bit of care. The more glass there is on the thermometer, the more it will need to be gently handled. Find a safe place to store any thermometer where it won’t be banged around, and also always check to see if it’s dishwasher safe. Most are not.
Can you clean a thermometer in the dishwasher?
Usually not. The high temperature of the dishwasher can mess up the internal measurement and the harsh detergents can damage the finish. There are a few thermometers on the market where the manufacturer says they’re top-rack dishwasher safe, though.
What are the different candy-making stages?
It's good to know the different stages of sugar-making. The first stage is thread, which happens at 230–235 degrees Fahrenheit. Next is soft ball at 235–240 degrees, then firm ball at 245–250 degrees, and hard ball at 250–265 degrees. Then comes soft crack at 270–290 degrees, hard crack at 300–310 degrees, and finally caramel at 320 degrees.
Why Trust Simply Recipes?
Karen Resta is a NYC-based writer specializing in food culture and history, cooking, pastries and restaurants. A former executive chef who began her professional journey as a pastry chef, she travels around the globe as a photographer and writer, finding the best authentic food and pastries along the way. Her favorite use of a candy thermometer is to make spun sugar. She’s passionate about finding quality ingredients within your given budget and believes that having the right tools and knowing how to use them makes all the difference in the kitchen. She curated this list with that in mind.
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