The Equipment Guide

It can be paralyzing to walk into a kitchenware store or browse online for the perfect knife, the right saucepan, or a food processor, given all the choices. This guide will help you sort out what you need (and what you don’t) as well as which brands we think are best. You don’t need a lot of fancy equipment to be a good cook, but the right tools definitely help. Here are our suggestions for what we consider to be the basics—the thermometers, knives, utensils, pots, and pans that are not only going to get the job done well, but that will also be in it for the long haul. In this section of the book, we provide the key details about what we’ve learned in our years of equipment testing plus in-depth sections (called Inside the Testing) that reveal the details behind some of our most interesting reviews. Here’s an excerpt from our Equipment Guide on thermometers and timers.

Thermometers and Timers

Instant-Read Thermometer
A fast, accurate thermometer is the best way to know when your food is done, which does wonders to improve the safety and quality of your food.

What to Look For: Look for a model with a wide temperature range (at least 0 to 400 degrees). We prefer digital models because they are faster and easier to read. A long stem is necessary to reach the center of whole birds and large roasts. Water-resistant models are easier to clean and an automatic shutoff will help with battery life.

Test Kitchen Top Pick: ThermoWorks Thermapen Mk4, $99.00
Best Buy: ThermoWorks ThermoPop

Oven Thermometer
Fact: Ovens are inaccurate. Since all ovens cycle on and off to maintain temperature, even the best models periodically deviate from the desired heat by at least a few degrees. And we’ve found they can be off by as much as 50 degrees unless they’re recalibrated regularly. A good oven thermometer can literally save your bacon.

Testing Oven Thermometer

What to Look For: Oven thermometers come in two styles: bulb and dial-face. We prefer dial-face models, as we’ve found that the tinted alcohol used in bulb thermometers can get stuck, compromising accuracy. In addition to giving accurate temperature readings, an oven thermometer should be easy to read and easy to mount securely and safely out of the way. It should also be durable.

Test Kitchen Top Pick: CDN Pro Accurate Oven Thermometer, $8.70

Candy/Deep-Fry Thermometer
Accuracy is paramount when cooking, especially for delicate tasks like frying or candy-making. A few degrees in the wrong direction can result in scorched sugar or soggy fried chicken. In the test kitchen, we use hands-free clip-on digital thermometers to monitor temperatures when deep-frying food, making candy, and—with some models—checking food in the oven without needing to open the oven door.

Clip-On Digital Thermometer Testing

What to Look For: You want a simple and straightforward clip-on mechanism with a large, easy-to-use control panel. Clear high- and low-temperature alarms are ideal. Look for a model that can be recalibrated so that it stays accurate over the long term.

Test Kitchen Top Pick: Thermoworks ChefAlarm, $59.00 Best Buy Polder Classic Digital Thermometer/Timer, $24.99

Remote Thermometer
Remote thermometers allow you to monitor, from a distance, the temperature of food cooking on the grill, on the stovetop, or in the oven. One or more temperature probes inserted into the food connect to a battery-powered base that communicates wirelessly with a receiver: either a pager or (via Bluetooth) your smartphone or tablet.

GRill Thermometers

What to Look For: Make sure that the model has a probe long enough to reach into thick cuts of meat and thin connector cables that don’t obstruct grill lids or oven doors. We prefer Bluetooth devices, which pair effortlessly with a smartphone and are far easier to operate than pager models. Be aware that none of the models we tested met their advertised distance range, though each company noted that ranges will vary depending on building materials and interference. But if the shorter distance isn’t a problem, our winner connects quickly and delivers accurate, clear temperature readouts.

Test Kitchen Top Pick: iDevices Kitchen Thermometer, $78.00

Refrigerator/Freezer Thermometer
Maintaining the proper refrigerator and freezer temperature is essential to keep food as safe as possible and avoid ruined food.

Cookware 101

Maverick Cold Check Digital Refregerator/Freezer thermometer

What to Look For: While even an inexpensive model will give you an accurate reading across a wide temperature range, spending a little more will buy you a model that attaches to the wall of your refrigerator or freezer for space-saving convenience. We prefer digital readouts for exact readings and ultraclear displays. Some models also off er alerts when temperatures rise into danger zones (above 40 degrees for the refrigerator; above 0 degrees for the freezer), and others can even display simultaneous fridge and freezer readings.

Test Kitchen Top Pick: Maverick Cold-Chek Digital Refrigerator/ Freezer Thermometer, $19.99

Kitchen Timer
A kitchen timer is one of those pieces of equipment that most home cooks don’t give much thought to, but we’ve found that a good timer is an essential tool for perfect recipes. In the kitchen, timing is everything.

Kitchen Timers

What to Look For: Look for a timer with a range of at least 10 hours (for longer braises, brines, and barbecues) that can count up after the alarm and time at least three separate processes simultaneously. Ideal design includes compact size and an easy-to-read display. Make sure that the timer is easy and intuitive to use.

Test Kitchen Top Pick: OXO Good Grips Triple Timer, $19.99