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New High Tech Thermo

First Image
This blog is a combination of a preliminary review of the new infrared/instant read thermometer I just bought, a description of what happened to the first infrared/instant read thermometer and a comparison of the features of the two. I haven't had much time to play with the new model and frankly they're some things I discovered after I bought it that make me wonder if I'll have second thoughts in the long run. So another purpose of writing this blog is to warn other people who might be thinking of buying this thermometer about some incorrect specs on the website and some specs and functionality that might be lacking.

“Second

The first infrared/instant read thermometer combination I owned was made by BonJour.

The new thermometer is the Sur la Table Dual Thermometer, which sells for $99 at Sur la Table stores and on their website. It replaces the BonJour Chef's Laser Probe Combo Surface and Internal Thermometer which was the first model of this type that I owned. The BonJour model also retails for around $99, although I’ve seen it on some sites for as little as $79. I've had the BonJour model for a couple years now, and I gradually started having problems with it. When It was working right, I absolutely loved it. I never knew how much I would use the infrared feature of the thermometer. The reality is I bought it because it had a VERY quick and very accurate instant read probe. A fast instant read thermometer is very useful here in New England particularly in the middle of the winter. You’ll appreciate the speed when you need to open the grill lid to take the temperature of something you're cooking, and you don't want to let all of the heat out of the grill. Originally for me the infrared was just along for the ride, but it turned out to be very useful. I've written a blog on the benefits of the infrared portion of the thermometer, and I'll refer you back to that if you want to learn more: HIGH TECH THERMO

“Third“Fourth

The BonJour’s control panel uses physical switches which have openings around them which might let liquids or solids get inside the thermometer (left). The larger main trigger switch is also a physical switch with gaps around them(right). On my BonJour the trigger switch now sticks in both the on and off position, and while I was very careful with it something obviously managed to get inside.


So what happened to the BonJour? Well several things. One of the things I had been worried about was longevity. When I bought it I saw comments and reviews on several websites that said the models suffered from electrical problems and would simply stop working. And BonJour essentially shrugged their shoulders and said it wasn't their problem, and that there was no long-term warranty on the thermometer. The manufacturer said it was a "quality assurance" product. Translated into English, this simply meant that they guaranteed it would work when you open the box. After that you were on your own. Where I know I take good care of my tools, I wasn't real worried about that. But it turns out I had exactly that type of thing happen to me. Out of the blue the little red laser pointer dot that served as a targeting indicator stopped working. The infrared portion of the thermometer would still take a reading, but without that targeting laser you had no idea precisely where you were shooting and taking your reading. At $99 I was not eager to replace it, so I kept on using it crippled though it was. Next the instant read probe started acting up. It would intermittently decide it wasn't going to take a reading. This isn't a great thing to find out when you go to stick the probe into a piece of meat and it doesn't work. In the last 6 months the main button to tell the thermometer to take a reading was acting up. It was sticking where sometimes it would be hard to press and other times it would be hard to release. You never knew when it would decide to act up.

“Fifth

The Sur la Table Dual Thermometer.


The sticky button was the last straw for the BonJour and I decided back in November that the time had come to replace it. I certainly had no plans of replacing it with another BonJour model. After looking around I found the Sur la Table Dual Thermometer on their website. It had several features that appealed to me. First and foremost: On the Sur la Table website it said it had a lifetime warranty. This was a big change from the BonJour, which basically was guaranteed until you opened the box. With a lifetime warranty, if there were issues reliability issues they weren’t going to be my problem. Another thing I liked about it is it had no protruding buttons or switches. Having physical buttons that stick out can be a recipe for problems. I don’t know why the main button of the BonJour suddenly got sticky, but one guess is something had worked it’s way into the button via the crack around the button’s perimeter. But the Sur la Table model had a flush control panel with membrane type switches underneath a plastic cover. This looked like it might work better outdoors at the grill. In fact the Sur la Table model was listed as water resistant and shatter proof. So it seem like it might be a little more rugged than the BonJour model and it therefor might last longer. I tried several times to buy the Dual Thermometer in a Sur la Table store starting last November and it never seemed to be in stock. I finally picked it up about two months ago, and at that time the store had at least a dozen units in stock. Unfortunately though I’ve had it for two months, I haven't used it until this past weekend. The main reason I hadn’t used it is the battery cover uses a very tiny Phillips head screw and I couldn't find my jeweler's screwdrivers to tighten down this screw. I didn’t want to use it without the screw in place, nor did I want to try to finger tighten it and run the risk of loosing the screw More on the reason for this tiny screw in a moment.

“Sixth

Front & back views of the padded carrying case with belt loop .


So I finally found my jeweler’s screw drivers and I opened up the new Dual Probe this past weekend. I must say it was a mixture of good news, some bad news and some very BAD news. The good news was when I opened the box there was a very nice case to hold the thermometer. The case was padded and seemed rather rugged and had a hook on the back so you can wear it on your belt. Right away I felt better about this because if I'm wearing it on my belt, I'm less likely to drop it. Not that I ever dropped the BonJour by the way, but I still felt safer. The next thing I liked was that the thermometer was definitely weather resistant. The targeting lamp and the infrared beam are both housed behind gasketed lenses. The various switches on the front panel are membrane switches with no exposed openings. Then there was the tiny Phillips head screw that kept me from using the thermometer. The screw serves to physically keep the battery compartment closed up tight at all times. In addition,, there was a rubber gasket that gets inserted into the countersunk hole for the screw after the screw is tightened down. The gasket serves to seal off the screw from the elements. This was well done and gave me confidence that if splashed a little water anywhere on this unit, it wouldn't be the end of the world. You don’t want to submerge it in water, but a little water on the exterior isn’t going to hurt it. Overall I was very impressed with the build quality of the unit.

“Seventh“Eighth

The Sur la Table unit’s control panel uses membrane switches which prevent liquids or solids from getting inside the thermometer and it is easier to keep the thermometer clean (left). On the back side the targeting light and infrared lamp are both lensed and gasketed (right). At the bottom of this picture you can also see the rubber gasket that is inserted to seal of the screw to the battery compartment cover.


Then I ran into the BAD news. When I opened the directions to see how to set up the Dual Probe unit, I was greeted by the sight of a bullet pointed list of the features. One of the features listed a one-year limited warranty. This totally contradicted the lifetime warranty listed on the website. After having just handled the unit, and installing the batteries I felt good about the build quality, so I was willing to live with a one-year warranty. Honestly I didn't have a choice. Since I had gone two months without opening the package, I was way beyond the 30 day return window anyway. But if the lifetime warranty is a major selling point for you, let me just tell you again it's only a one-year limited warranty.

“Ninth

The F fahrenheit indicator is tiny, tiny, tiny. Fortunately you only have to set this once per set of batteries.


The next piece of bad news was when I tried to do the set up. There are couple settings that you have to preset such as whether your units are Fahrenheit or centigrade. When I went to do the setup I couldn't see the little F or C indicator on the screen. There was something there but it was beyond tiny. This despite the fact I was wearing my glasses at the time. I went and got a magnifying glass and STILL was UNABLE to read the indicator. I finally went outside in the very bright light and between my glasses, the magnifying glass and the bright sunlight I was finally able to read the F on the display. But still not easily. The good news here is you only have to do this set up once and there are only three items to set. Like the BonJour unit, the Sur la Table unit has a setting for something called emissivity. This compensates for whether the surface being measured is light or dark. The Sur la Table unit downplays the use of emissivity and says it should only be used by professionals who understand it's meaning. This is a good thing because the emissivity number is in the same small type that the Fahrenheit or centigrade display was in. In other words: virtually unreadable. Another display related item is the Bonour’s LCD display is backlit, while the Sur la Table’s isn’t. I have a good grill light, so I am probably all right. If your grill isn’t particularly well lit, this may be very inconvenient.

When I began reading some of the specs for the unit, I was in for some more disappointments. The infrared portion of this unit only measures temperatures up to 482 degrees F max. The BonJour units range was nearly double that at 932 degrees F max. Another disappointment was the air temperature range under which the thermometer works. Both units are listed as working in air temperatures of 32-122 degrees F (0-50 C). I was hoping the new unit could go below 32 degrees, particualrly where it was much more weathertight than the BonJour. This 32 degree F (0 C) number could be a real problem, particularly in the winter. Then again I may be able to hold the thermometer above the grill grate while shooting the grate reading and let some of the heat come up coming off the grill get the local air temperature above 32 degrees. I am guessing gloves will be required. Now the 482 degree maximum number may not be as bad as it seems either. In my experience with the BonJour unit, I was typically measuring grill temperatures at or below 450°F. Generally when I was going above 450° I was shooting for all the heat I could get, so I wasn't taking a grill reading of those cooks. As far as indoor cooking goes, the same is true. I would generally shoot my pans when I was trying not to burn something and was looking for low, medium-low, or medium temperatures, all of which are below 450 degrees. I will definitely do a follow-up blog on the Sur la Table Dual Probe where I describe my real-world experience to see whether these limitations are "on paper limitations" or "real world" limitations for my usage. Obviously your mileage could vary.

“Tenth

Here is the Sur la Table unit with the instant read temperature probe folded out. The temperature range of the probes on the two units are identical which suggests that the probes are from the same source.


The next limitation I ran into, was for the temperature probe of the Sur la Table unit. The whole reason I bought that BonJour unit to begin with, was that the instant read temperature probe was extremely fast and accurate. The specs said you would get a reading that was within 90% accuracy within one second. The final reading would be accurate to within 1.4°F. The Sur la Table unit did not list specifications for it’s initial quick accuracy, but it did say it's accurate within plus 1.8°F. The probes on both units list the same temperature range for the probe, so it could be the exact same probe. In terms of quick accuracy I tested the unit out with some hot water to see how it did. It seem to get close within 2 to 3 seconds. That should be good enough for my purposes. What I'm looking for is to be able to take a quick reading and get the lid of the grill back down before I lose all of the heat. Some of the other so-called “instant read” thermometers I've used can take well over a minute to register the final temperature. I want to be able to go in and go out and get something that in the ballpark so I know whether I have more cooking time ahead of me. If the reading turns out to be close to my desired done temperature, then I keep the grill lid open a little longer and let the reading settle into its final form. The temperature probe of both units is tucked in along side the body of the thermometer and both pivot up to 180 degrees when being used. The construction of both probes and their pivot appear similar. Once again I should measure that I did start having intermittent problems with the BonJour temperature probe.

To be complete I should mention that the Sur la Table Dual Probe is NSF approved, whereas the Bonjour appears not to be. The description of the Sur la Table unit says it is made of of ABS plastic, which is a food safe product. The Sur la Table control panel also has 3 indicator lights that serve to show 3 conditions related to food safety. The HACCP (Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Points) is a system developed by the NSF that identifies certain critical temperatures involved with the safe handling of food. A green light over the snowflake icon indicates the temperature is below 40 degrees F (4 C) which is the HACCP safe temperature for frozen foods. A green light above the steaming coffee cup icon indicates a safe HACCP holding temperature. A red light over the crossed out fork icon indicates the temperature is in the HACCP danger zone of 40 degrees to 140 degrees (4 C-60 C) where bacteria will begin to grow.

The last difference between the two units will have to be tested in the real world to see if it is a good or bad thing. The BonJour model has a little tiny red laser pointer that showed you the center of where you were shooting the infrared temperatures. That red laser pointer is the first thing that died on the BonJour model. The Sur la Table thermometer actually uses a white circular beam that spreads out to show you the exact area being measured at the distance you are measuring from. I think this may be a little easier to understand, since you get to see the exact size of the area under measurement. In terms of the actual measurement being done by infrared, I'm unsure about what happens when you measure something like a grill grate. I am guessing that both units are in effect doing an average of the temperature at the grate level and where the gaps in the grate occur it is measuring the heat at the top of the flame tamers. The shape of the targeting beam should in no way affect the reading. So I don't think there is any difference between the two in terms of the temperatures they would show. Once again I'll try an experiment and find out. But I'm guessing the white beam may be more intuitive to use.

So in conclusion, I think I MAY have done better getting this Sur la Table thermometer, despite the fact some of the specs aren't as good as the BonJour. I think the build quality is definitely better on the Sur la Table model than it is on the BonJour. As I mentioned, I will write a blog when I have some more hands-on experience with the new unit. In the meantime I'm going to list the pluses and minuses of both units. This way if you're thinking of getting a combination infrared/instant read the monitor you'll know what you're getting yourself into if you choose one of these two models. Also you won't be surprised like I was when you find out the limited warranty on the Sur la Table unit is for only a year and not lifetime.

FEATURE COMPARISON:
GREEN = Feature or Specification that is Superior to the other unit.
YELLOW = Feature or Specification that is Similar to the other unit.
RED = Feature or Specification that is Inferior or Inferior to the other unit.
COMMENTS -
Some additional comments of mine are listed in Italics

BonJour Chef's Laser Probe Combo Surface and Internal Thermometer
CONSTRUCTION: Plastic body, physical switches, swiveling stainless steel instant read probe. I’ve had problems with the main switch sticking
READ OUT: Backlit LCD Display: All items on this screen are very legible and screen is backlit.
CARRYING CASE: No
NSF CERTIFIED FOR COMMERCIAL USE: No
OPERATING TEMPERATURE: 32 - 122F (0-50 C)
INFRARED MEASUREMENT RANGE: -60 - 932F (-55-500 C) This is double the high end range of the Sur la Table unit.
INFRARED MEASUREMENT ACCURACY: +/- 1.8F (1 C)
TEMPERATURE PROBE RANGE: -67-626 F (-55-330 C) The measurements are the same for both devices so chances are they use the same probe.
TEMPERATURE PROBE ACCURACY: +/- 1 percent of reading or 1.4 degrees F (0.8 C) There are several systems for measuring thermometer accuracy, I feel these units use the same probe so a few tenths of a degree is insignificant for grilling use.
TEMPERATURE PROBE RESPONSE: 90% in 1 second.
BATTERIES: 2 AA The backlit display may explain the use of bigger batteries.
WARRANTY: All products found defective upon receipt will be replaced. In plainer English they guarantee the unit will work when you unbox it. After that you are on your own. This is virtually useless IMHO.

Sur la Table Dual Probe Thermometer
CONSTRUCTION: ABS Plastic body, membrane switches, swiveling stainless steel instant read probe, water resistant construction. The construction of this model seems to be a little better and less likely to allow foreign items to get inside the unit. You do need a jewelers screwdriver to remove the battery cover.
READ OUT: LCD Display: The display is NOT backlit and has microscopic sized characters for some of the units like F or C. Once the units are set you do not need to see these characters.
CARRYING CASE: Yes, padded with loop for wearing on your belt.
NSF CERTIFIED FOR COMMERCIAL USE: Yes
OPERATING TEMPERATURE: 32 - 122F (0-50 C)
INFRARED MEASUREMENT RANGE: -67 - 482F (-55-250 C)
INFRARED MEASUREMENT ACCURACY: +/- 1.1 to +/-1.8F (1 C) up to 150F (65 C), +/- 1.5 percent of reading above 150 C (65 C).
TEMPERATURE PROBE RANGE: -67-626 F (-55-330 C) The measurements are the same for both devices so chances are they use the same probe.
TEMPERATURE PROBE ACCURACY: +/- 1.1 to +/-1.8F (1 C) up to 150F (65 C), +/- 1 percent of reading above 150 C (65 C).There are several systems for measuring thermometer accuracy, I feel these units use the same probe so a few tenths of a degree is insignificant for grilling use.
TEMPERATURE PROBE RESPONSE: Not listed but in an unscientific test the temperature was in the ball park in 2-3 seconds. So they are definitely in the same ballpark.
BATTERIES: 2 AAA. The battery compartment is well sealed and moisture resistant with hold down screw and gasketed screw cover. You will need a jewelers screw driver to change batteries.
WARRANTY: One Year Limited. While this is better than the BoJour warranty, the Website lists the warranty as Lifetime which is VERY DECEIVING IMHO.

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