Beginner’s Guide to Candy Thermometers: What You Need to Know




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Candy thermometers are a cooking tool that you need to have in your kitchen at all times. These thermometers measure the temperature of sugar syrup and other ingredients while they cook, so there is no guesswork when it comes to how hot things are. Different types of candy thermometers will work better for some recipes than others, so we’ll go over what each type does best later on in this post!

Different types of candy thermometers will work better for some recipes than others, so we’ll go over what each type does best later on in this post!

What to look for in a candy thermometer?

  • Thermometers should be easy to read and accurate. Most decent candy thermometers have a digital LED screen to view the temperatures from a safe distance.
  • The thermometer should have an appropriate temperature range for the type of candy you are making (but this will vary per recipe). Some recipes call for temperatures much higher than others; this should be a minor issue as temperatures for candy-making range from 210 degrees Fahrenheit to a little over 300 degrees.
  • A good candy thermometer has different stages of cooking sugar marked on it. There are 8 stages of cooking sugar:
    • Thread, soft ball, firm ball, hard ball, small crack, crack, hard crack, and caramel
  • A probe that is long enough to avoid boiling splashes on your hand while measuring temperatures

What are some different types of candy thermometers?

Types of candy thermometers range from a $20 model to $100+ professional-grade models.

  • Dial Type Thermometer: For beginners, this type has an easy-to-read dial and is simple to use. Dial thermometers can be used for a variety of purposes such as cooking meats at the optimal temperature or monitoring temperatures of deep fryers.
  • Digital Thermometers: My personal favorite type of thermometer! Quick to read along with fast, accurate readings of temperatures. For making candy, I highly recommend getting a thermometer with a timer. This will allow you to “multi-task” and do other preparatory work while monitoring heating temperatures. Some digital thermometers even come with alarms to alert you when a certain temperature has been reached.
  • “Utensil” Thermometers: This is geared towards those who want to make chocolate and other whipped sweets. These thermometers come in the form of tools such as spatulas, forks, or whisks.

Convenient Features to Look For In a candy thermometer

  • Alarm – You can do other things while you are keeping an eye on the heating.
  • Pot Clip – If you are going the alarm/timer route, you will need a way to hold the thermometer or probe in the boiling sugar.
  • Easy calibration – It should be easy to tell if your thermometer is calibrated by checking the readings in boiling water (212°F or 100°C).

What is the difference between a candy thermometer and other types of cooking thermometers?

Candy Thermometer: A specialized type of thermometer that can be used for making candies such as hard candies. Candy thermometers are usually more expensive, have different stages of sugar cooking marked on them, and are meant specifically to measure the range of temperatures to make candy.

Is buying a candy thermometer that important in making candy?

In older recipes, there are methods to guess the temperature of the candy-making process. One is the “cold water test” where you drop a small amount of the boiling sugar mixture into cold water. You then compare it with the table for hard and soft candy in order to figure out how far along your recipe is progressing.

But again, this is all guesswork. To make high-quality candy, the consistent, accurate reading from a candy thermometer takes out all of the guesswork.

How do I know which stage of candy-making I am in?

Here is a quick table on the stages of cooking sugar:

StageTemp. F/(°C)AppearanceUsage
Thread230°F (110°C)Syrup. Thin strands in waterSyrup, jams
Soft ball240°F (115°C)Smooth; like a solidified liquidFudge
Firm ball245°F (118°C)Solid, but loses shape if pressedCaramel candy
Hard ball250-265°F (121-129°C)Slight chew, stickyMarshmallow
Soft crack270-290°F (132-143°C)Chewy, stretchyTaffy, nougats
Hard crack295-310°F (146-154°C)Hard and brittleToffee, lollipops
Caramel325-340°F (163-171°C)Liquid goldAnything caramel!
Burnt sugar350+°F (176+°C)Charred, darkToss out

Can I use a sugar thermometer for meat?

Candy thermometers typically have a way higher temperature range required for cooking meat – as high as 400 degrees Fahrenheit. The readings are usually more accurate and instant as well. If it has a pointy probe and an internal reading of meat is required, a sugar thermometer is fine to use.

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