*See below for tips about using digital thermometers for chocolate, different brands and types to try, and more advanced thermometers for chocolate use.*
So why do I use a digital thermometer? Well, for starters, I have found that the non-digital thermometers (liquid/mercury-in-glass) are slow to get to the measured temperature and often inaccurate. What's more, it is difficult to get a precise temperature reading, which is essential for tempering chocolate. The thermometer at this link on Amazon, is an example of the liquid type that I have given up on using. Although it is better than most (such as this one) because it shows the temperature in single-degree increments, so you can get a more accurate reading. However, it only reads in Fahrenheit, with no Celsius measurement. Digital thermometers, on the other hand, will often convert.
In addition, I live in Canada where we always seem to work under two systems. Naturally, we own some thermometers that read in Fahrenheit because many of our kitchen tools and cook books, as well as our much of our television cooking shows, come from our American neighbours. Yet we are supposed to be using Celsius for everything. So we tend to follow both Canadian and American recipes and it can get confusing sometimes.
For instance, I prefer to temper my chocolate in Fahrenheit, but when I am making meltaways or any kind of chocolate mixed with an oil (i.e. coconut oil), I need to cool the mixture over ice until it reaches room temperature. The room thermometer in my kitchen reads in Celsius only, so if my chocolate thermometer reads in Fahrenheit, I have to take the extra step of converting the room temperature to Fahrenheit. But if I use a thermometer that allows me to toggle between the measurement types, I can simply press a button and see what the chocolate temperature is in Celsius, so I know when to stop stirring. Click here and here for examples of recipes that would rely on room temperature.
So when you buy a digital thermometer, the least expensive kind will only read in Fahrenheit or Celsius, but it is best to dish out the extra $5 or $10 and buy one that can convert from one measurement to the other.
So how much does a digital thermometer cost?
President's Choice (a Canadian brand found at Loblaws, Superstore, Valu-Mart, Independent Grocer, etc.) sells them now for only $14.99! Or you can shop at your local hardware store, Walmart or kitchen supply store, where another brand may cost about $20. I keep about 4 or 5 on hand at all times (when I need to melt several types of chocolate in one day, or in case a battery dies at an inconvenient moment!), but that is because I run a chocolate business. You will likely only need one or two to get started.
I recently discovered a great digital thermometer with a spatula available on the Chocolat-Chocolat website (click here to view). It looks amazing and you won't have to hold both a spatula and a thermometer!
Tips for Using a Digital Thermometer with Chocolate:
- Do not touch the bottom of the bowl! When using a digital thermometer in chocolate, it is best to hover the bottom tip in the middle of the bowl. Do not let it touch the bottom or the sides, especially when using it over a double boiler, or you will have an inaccurate reading.
- Never get your thermometer wet when working with chocolate! This is difficult when working over a double boiler to temper chocolate. Plan ahead and keep a dry piece of waxed paper beside your workstation. When you want to put the thermometer down, you will have somewhere to put it. It is best to keep it out of the way of water from the double boiler (remember, even one drop of water in a bowl of melted chocolate will ruin your entire batch!)
- Cleaning your thermometer: If the top of the thermometer gets covered in chocolate, wipe it immediately with a dry paper towel. But if you forget, let the chocolate harden and scrape or chip it off with a hard plastic scraper, then rub the rest off gently with a paper towel. Wash only the metal section with water to protect the screen.
The Next Step: Non-Contact Thermometer
For me, it is time to invest in a more advanced digital thermometer - a non-contact thermometer, which I could not find online in Canada when I started working with chocolate. If you want to jump to the next stage now, check out the video at this link for Chocoley's recommendations. This infrared thermometer (click here to see it) is more costly at $49.95 U.S., but the price is worth it if you never have to clean a thermometer again! And it gives you an instant read, making your work a lot quicker and easier.