Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Hot, hot, not

My new hero is Alton Brown of Food Network's "Good Eats". He's awesome... the Bill Nye of the cooking world. Alton Brown explains the how & why behind cooking. The science, if you will. For me, everything makes more sense if I can understand why. Also, knowing "why" in cooking makes figuring out substitutions easier. Why is this ingredient important? Why do we use this shape pan? Why do we mix ingredients in a certain order? If I can understand the "why", then I can figure out what I can safely omit, or what might work in its place. Or why my biscuits keep turning out like hockey pucks.

A few weeks ago, I checked out a few of Brown's "how to" books from the local library. One of the things he mentions in his books (over and over again) is the need for thermometers. For everything. But today's post is about the oven thermometer.

According to Alton Brown, most oven thermostats are inaccurate. And he is all about accuracy (I like that).

I came across an oven thermometer at Tuesday Morning for $7. I had seen the same one for $12 on Amazon, and they are something ridiculous like $15-20 at Sur la Table. So, $7 seemed reasonable, and I became the proud new owner of a brand new discount oven thermometer.

Honestly, I wasn't expecting anything terribly exciting from this experiment. Eh, maybe my oven is off 5 degrees, one way or the other. No big deal. My recipes seem to come out just fine (uh, most of the time). But, yes, I was curious. I mean, three books in which Alton Brown kept saying "you need an oven thermometer"- the hype had gotten to me :)

Surprise! Look what I found:

Oven temp:
That's 440 degrees. Or so it thinks.

Actual temp: 

About 380 degrees, according to this thermometer. It is a little difficult to get a pic through the oven glass, but if you open the door, you lose all the heat. The temp goes down very quickly... which also surprised me- how much and how fast. Anyway, I was trying to get an accurate photo, so I had to take it thru the glass. This was after the oven had preheated for a while (I was trying to bake at 400 degrees), so it wasn't that the oven hadn't caught up yet. The oven had read 440 for several minutes, and the internal thermometer had stopped rising.

I was surprised- and fascinated! Who knew it could be off SO much??? Alton Brown truly is a genius.

Maybe now that I'll presumably be cooking at the correct temperature, my recipes will dramatically improve? ; )

Of course you realize that now I want to borrow a THIRD thermometer, to see which one is more accurate- the oven thermostat, or the new oven thermometer. If truly concerned with accuracy, one must know how accurate the tool is, no? Maybe my discount oven thermometer is the one that is off.

Do you use an oven thermometer? Or a thermometer for any other kitchen tasks?

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