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Initializing the Kitchen : Kitchen Equipment (part 7) - Thermometers and timers, Mixing bowls, Bar towels

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1.6. Thermometers and timers

Probe thermometers are awesome because they use a thermocouple attached to a long heat-safe lead, designed so that you can stick the probe into a piece of meat and set the controller to beep when it reaches the desired temperature. Timers are handy, and if you’ll be doing much baking, one will be critical. But if you expect to be doing mostly cooking, a timer is just a proxy for checking when, say, an oven roast has reached temperature, in which case why not use something that actually checks that? And when it comes to food safety, it’s not possible to “see” what a hamburger cooked to 160°F / 71°C looks like, even when cut in half.

Infrared thermometers are great for taking dry temperatures, such as the surface temperature of a frying pan before you start making pancakes, or ice cream you’ve just made with liquid nitrogen . The other great thing about them is that they’re instant: point, click, done. You can also use them to take the temperature of liquids in a pan without having to worry about handling a hot thermometer probe or washing it after. Keep in mind, though, that stainless steel is reflective in the IR range, just like a mirror reflects visible light—you’ll end up taking the temperature of your ceiling, not the pan, if you try to meter an empty stainless steel pan. Also, IR thermometers only take surface temperature, so they shouldn’t be used for checking internal temperatures for food safety.

Tuck a probe thermometer into a quiche or pie to tell when the internal temperature indicates it is done. I pull my quiches out when the temperature reaches 140°F / 60°C. The egg coagulates in the range of 140–149°F / 60–65°C, and 140°F / 60°C is hot enough that the “carryover” heat will just set the egg custard without making it dry.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the most overlooked but useful thermometer: your hands. Learn what various temperatures feel like: hold your hand above a hot pan, and notice how far away you can be and still “feel” the heat (thermal radiation). Stick your hand in an oven set to medium heat, remember that feeling, then compare it when you’re working with a hot oven. For liquids, you can generally put your hand in water at around 130°F / 55°C for a second or two, but at 140°F / 60°C it’ll pretty much be a reflexive “ouch!” Just remember to use a thermometer for foods that need to be cooked to a certain temperature for food safety reasons.

1.7. Mixing bowls

While you can get away with using your dinner plates or soup bowls for holding some things, you’ll invariably need mixing bowls for working with and storing your ingredients. I recommend two types: large metal bowls (~12 to 16″ / 30 to 40 cm diameter) and small glass bowls.

For metal bowls, poke around your nearest restaurant supply store for some cheap stainless steel ones, which should cost only a few dollars apiece. These bowls are large enough to hold cookie dough, cake batter, and soup, and they have enough room for chopped leafy greens that you plan to sauté. You can also toss them in the oven at low heat to keep cooked items warm, something you can’t do with plastic ones.

Small glass bowls are also very useful, especially if you’re using a mise en place setup. Measuring out chopped ingredients into small glass bowls ahead of time will allow you to toss the ingredients together much faster during the cooking process. If you have leftovers, just wrap the bowls with plastic wrap and store in the fridge. Look for glass bowls that are all the same size and that stack well. You’ll often find these bowls available at your local hardware store.

1.8. Bar towels

In addition to wiping off counters with them, you can use bar towels (typically 12″ × 18″ / 30 × 40 cm terry towels with some thickness) as potholders, under a cutting board to prevent slippage, or as a liner in a bowl to help dry washed items such as blueberries or cherries. And you can never have enough of them. I keep several dozen on hand in my kitchen.

You can use a bar towel as a potholder to handle dishes or pans that have been in the oven. Fold it in half to double the thickness, and don’t use a wet towel because it’ll steam up and burn you. Some people prefer oven mitts, because oven mitts are typically thicker and don’t have the potential to catch on corners like a towel might.

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