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Instead of a Food Thermometer, Consider the Cake Tester

There are plenty of instances in which a food thermometer just isn’t necessary, says chef Danielle Sobel

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One of the most commonly-recommended kitchen tools is a thermometer, and with good reason. Nothing is as accurate for determining internal temperatures, which is crucial when cooking foods with varying degrees of doneness, when a few degrees is all that separates medium-rare and medium-well.

But for foods that should be cooked all the way through before eating (think braised brisket, not grilled steak), there’s another way: a cake tester. Chef Danielle Sobel of Pacifique in Los Angeles swears by these slender, inexpensive tools as an “all-but-foolproof method” to check if a piece of food is ready.

Oxo Good Grips Cake Tester

“All you do is insert the tester into the center of a piece of food and briefly touch it to your wrist,” she says. “If the metal is hot, the item is cooked through; if it’s warm, you’re not there yet.”

A simple rule of thumb is to use a cake tester for anything that’s intended to be cooked through or things that should never be served rare, like chicken. Sobel uses it for roasted fish, fried chicken, braised meats, and grilled or steamed root vegetables.

Sobel says there’s real culinary merit to using cake testers when testing meat, because it doesn’t poke a large hole. “A cake tester makes a hole the size of a pinprick, so you don’t risk losing the internal juices that need to redistribute as the meat is resting,” she says. “For more delicate items like fish or vegetables, if you stick a thermometer or a paring knife in there to check, the incision might be so big the whole thing falls apart. With a cake tester, if it slides in with ease, it’s ready, and there’s no evidence of a hole.”

And while thermometers are valuable in many cases, “It’s nice to get to the level where you can rely on this quick trick, which is accurate and not intimidating,” Sobel says. “I’ve taught it to all of my cooks, friends, and even my 92-year old grandma, who now swears by it.” Oxo makes a nice grippy cake tester, as does cake company Wilton, but you can also find cheap ones sold in multiples... or this fancy one from Terrain.

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