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Laser Sighted Grill and Oven Thermometer

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This blog will be a review of the Laser-Sighted Grill and Oven Thermometer. It is available from scores of sources and in several different colors. I will lay out a use case for using an infrared thermometer for both your indoor and outdoor cooking activities. I had no idea how useful they can be, but now I can’t imagine not having one of these thermometers in my arsenal. I have had a less than successful history with the first two models I’e owned, which I will touch on below. But this model has lasted me 3 years and seems quite robust.

MY HISTORY
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Two Fails: This thermometer marks the third, and hopefully the last, laser sighted infrared thermometer I will own for a long while. The first one I bought was a Bonjour Laser Probe thermometer that came with a quick response temperature probe as well. I really didn't buy it for the infrared part, but it came along for the ride. While this thermometer ultimately proved to be a disappointment, I did learn about the convenience and uses for an infrared thermometer. I bought a second version from Sur La Table that didn't have the temperature range I needed. The Sur La Table model had a fast response temperature probe with the exact same specs as the Bonjour model. I believe it was the same probe in both models. The infrared sensors were different and had different specs. The sensor only measured up to 500 F (260 C) vs 1000 F (538 C) for the Bonjour Model. I thought I could get by with 500 degrees (260 C), but this proved to be too low of a maximum temperature. Both of these thermometers cost around the same as a Thermapen, and I figured they were almost as good. Not true, now that I own a Thermapen I know better. There is an expression that when you buy something very expensive but good, it only hurts once. For the money I spent on two infrared thermometers with a temperature probe almost as good on paper as the Thermapen, I could've bought one Thermapen plus this thermometer and had money left over to spare.

Third Time is a Charm: At this point I can't even remember where I picked up my version of this thermometer. I had learned that infrared thermometers could be quite useful, but the first two had left a bad taste in my mouth. I went some time before getting a third model. I was not going to spend big bucks for another one. Seeing this thermometer retailing for $29.99 at a grill store caught my interest and it was totally an impulse buy. When I looked at the specs it went up to 800 degrees (427 C). Not as good as the 1000 (538 C) degrees of the Bonjour model, but better than the only 500 degree (260 C) top temperature of the Sur la Table model. It was around the time I got my first Egg and I had many uses for an infrared thermometer. I figured for 29 bucks I didn’t have much to lose. This inexpensive infrared thermometer has outlasted both of the more expensive models I purchased. Using the thermometer is as simple as pulling the trigger and pointing the targeting laser at the item you wish to measure.

One Thermometer, Many Choices: I believe the Companion Group, who makes reasonably good quality grilling accessories, is the OEM for this particular model. I have seen it many places in a silver grey color on top side and the bottom half is black. I have seen it at Lowes, Brookstone, various grills stores and it is widely available online. It is sold through the Stephen Raichlen Store under his name and there is a version of it sold by the Big Green Egg Company outfitted in Big Green Egg colored plastic. The fact these two companies sell this model tells me that is reasonably good quality. I have seen it as low as $24.97 on the internet, I believe I paid $29.99 for mine when I bought it about three years ago now. But buyer beware: I've seen it go for as much as $45.99. Regardless of price, they all seem to be the same model with identical specs. The only physical difference is the color of the plastic used for the case.

INFRARED THERMOMETER GOTCHAS:
Surface Temperature: An infrared thermometer is used to measure the surface temperature of an item. If you need to take an internal reading you will need to insert a temperature probe into the object down where you need to measure.

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Aiming: Some people incorrectly think that the red targeting beam you are seeing is what is taking the temperature. This is not the case, the red beam is strictly a targeting beam showing you the center of the circular area where the reading is being taken. The infrared sensor takes readings above, below and on either side of the targeting beam. The width of this targeted area widens the farther the thermometer is away from the object you are measuring. There is a chart on the back of the thermometer showing you the area being measured for the distance the thermometer held away from it’s target. This thermometer measures an area of 1” in diameter at a distance of 6” (2.5 cm in 15 cm), 2” diameter 12” away (5 cm in 30 cm) and 3” diameter 18” away (7.5 cm in 45 cm).

Emissivity: I want to explain this in a simple manner without this turning into a science class. But there are some things you need to know because the readings you take could be incorrect in certain situations. Emissivity is the amount of radiant (heat energy) that an object gives off. This is the internal heat energy given off, radiated, by the object. There is a scale from 0.0 to around 1.0. Dark colored objects tend to absorb the energy projected onto them and give off only their own infrared energy. Their emissivity is said to be close to 1. Organic objects or items made from formerly living organic objects tend to have an emissivity around 0.95. Really shiny objects made of highly polished metals tend to reflect radiant energy contacting them and have an emissivity reading closer to 0. So if you had boiling water for pasta in a shiny stainless steel pan and shot the side of the pan with an infrared thermometer, you would get a reading far lower than 212 degrees (100 C). The shiny material of the pan could actually be reflecting more of the visible light energy from the room and this would dominate the reading more than the heat energy. Some infrared thermometers give you the ability to adjust the emissivity reading to suit the reflectivity of the material you are trying to measure. Lower priced infrared thermometers for cooking typically have a fixed emissivity of 0.95, 0.96 or 0.97 where most organic objects read. Just do not try to measure shiny objects with fixed emissivity infrared thermometers.

SPECIFICS OF THIS THERMOMETER:

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Appearance: You can see what the unit looks like from the pictures. But if I had to describe it, I would say it looks like the bottom half of a golf ball cut in half with a ping pong paddle handle attached to it. The unit is just under 6” long by about 2” wide maximum x 1 1/2” maximum thickness. The bottom of the round portion has a lens for the infrared sensor and there is a small hole next to it for the infrared targeting lesser beam. The bottom of the handle has the trigger near the top where the handle meets the round portion. There is also a chart showing the beam spread. The flat top of the rounded section contains the lighted LCD display.The top of the handle has a recessed well for your thumb (to help hold the unit) and this also serves to help you slide the top cover off to access the battery compartment.

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LCD Display:

The LCD display measures 1” x 1” (2.5 cm x 2.5 cm) which backlights in orange. Across the top in 1/8” (3mm) high letters the display lists the maximum temperature that you have measured in the current measurement session. Below that, in easy-to-read 3/8” (9mm) high numbers, is your current temperature reading. At the lower left along the bottom of the display is a 1/8” (3mm) high battery indicator showing the level of the batteries. This comes on briefly and then goes out after a few seconds. In the lower right corner is a Fahrenheit/Celsius indicator. The LCD display goes out in just under 20 seconds if you do not press the trigger again to take another measurement.

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Batteries:

As mentioned the top of of the handle serves as a sliding cover for the battery compartment. It takes two AAA batteries which seem to last quite a while. I am still on my original set after using it for 3 years. There is also a small switch above the battery compartment to set the units from Fahrenheit to Celsius.

USES FOR AN INFRARED THERMOMETER:
When I bought the first thermometer that took infrared readings, it was a nice touch that came along for the ride. I was interested in the fast read temperature probe that was also part of the unit. I quickly discovered many uses for the infrared thermometer, some expected and some a pleasant surprise.

Measuring Pan Temps - Stove: My non-stick pans are black/dark grey and so they are an ideal surface to measure with an infrared thermometer. When I got my first infrared thermometer I had just bought my new non-stick Calphalon pans and a new stove. Both items mentioned that they were very heat efficient and you should use lower heat settings than you might have used on other pans or stoves. I found I was totally out of my league in terms of what setting to use. That was until I started shooting the pan bottoms with the infrared thermometer. I found that for Medium I needed to set the burners to Low with the new setup to get a medium temp in the pan. When I got my latest stove a year ago, I found I was starting from scratch. But I soon figured out the new settings using the infrared thermometer. This assumes your pans are a dark or black color which comes closest to the fixed emissivity setting of this model.

Learning the Settings of Your Stove: This is a variation on the item above. For my last two stoves I have taken sample readings using my Calphalon pans starting from the lowest settings and going up to the highest. This gives me the cooking temperature I will be using at the various knob settings. For times when the cooking temperature is not super critical, I can just use this information to get me in the ballpark without getting the thermometer out. Another thing you can test on your stove is the warmup time. Simply start taking readings of your pans at a given setting to see when they get to their maximum temperature.

Measuring Flat Top Griddle Temps - Gas Grill: I had a pretty good handle on the required knob settings on my gas grill to reach a given temperature. I would preheat the gas grill with the griddle grate installed. When the grill showed it was at my cooking temperature I would pop open the lid and take a quick reading to verify the griddle grate was at my desired temp too. The cast iron griddle grate is the desired black color ideal for temping with an infrared thermometer.

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Measuring Flat Top Griddle Temps - Big Green Egg: The BGE is intended to be used with the lid closed as much as possible. Raising the lid can serve to let in a large amount of air which can serve as combustion air. Using an infrared thermometer I can set the Egg up so I can take my readings without having to open the lid. I set the Egg up with the chimney uncovered. I do not install the Dual Function Metal Cap and control my temperatures exclusively via the lower damper. This is easily done for temps of 350 F (177 C) or above. I install the BGE Half Moon Griddle Grid or Grids and preheat the Egg. I take readings by shooting the temps down through the open chimney. I am able to move the targeting beam around so I can reach all parts of the griddle grids. I stabilize the Egg so that the griddle grid temps, as measured via the infrared thermometer, are my desired cooking temperature. See CYA Note below.

Measuring Exterior Temperature of Grill - Example 1: Just before I bought my Big Green Egg, I got a welders blanket for my smoker to help it deal with the cold and the wind. The welders blanket was rated for 1,000 F (540 C). I knew the Main Chamber wouldn’t reach that temp…EXCEPT where it was close to the Side Firebox where the coals were burning. I was able to take temperature readings to see just how close I could install the welders blanket to the SFB without exceeding 1,000 degrees (540 C).

Measuring Exterior Temperature of Grill - Example 2: If you are trying to decide whether your grill is cool enough to cover you don’t have to try to quickly touch it. Just shoot it with the infrared thermometer. You fingertips will thank you.

Measuring Wok Temperature - Big Green Egg: Lately when stir-frying, I stabilize the Egg at 600 F (315 C) for about 15 minutes. Then I open the lid, close the lower damper down, add the wok and use the infrared thermo to take the temperature of the wok. This allows me to insure my temps remained stable around 600 F (325 C) after I opened the lid and closed down the damper to compensate. The patina of my wok is black, so it is ideally suited for measuring with an infrared thermometer.

Measuring Dutch Oven Temperature - Big Green Egg: As I described above with the Half-Moon Cast Iron Griddle Grids, I pre-heat the Egg with the chimney open and control the temps with the lower damper only. Once again I am able to shoot down through the open chimney to the bottom surface of the Dutch Oven. I am able to take the temperature readings without opening the lid. I stabilize my temps so the bottom of the Dutch Oven is at my desired cooking temp before I begin cooking in the Dutch oven. Once again the BGE Dutch oven is cast iron and has the desired dark color. See CYA Note below.

Measuring Pizza Stone Temperature - Big Green Egg: As described above, I set up the Egg to heat up without the top cap and shoot down through the chimney to take readings of the pizza stone. I stabilize the Egg for about 30 minutes at my desired cooking temperature of 600 F (315 C) and use the infrared thermometer to check the pizza syne temperature. When I am making a series of pizzas in cold weather I also shoot the stone in between pizzas to make sure the temps haven’t dropped too much. In this case the pizza stone is a light color. Where the stone is being measured inside the Egg with the lid closed, there isn’t lots of extraneous light reflecting off of the stone to throw the readings off. See CYA Note below.

CYA NOTE: My lawyers would want me to say…well I don’t have a legal department, but if I did they would want me to make the following disclaimer: Shooting temps down through the chimney of the BGE isn’t exactly a recommended procedure. Most of the time it is safe. At a certain combination of temperature and specific charcoal being used you will start seeing flames coming out of the chimney of the Egg. It will look like the back end of a rocket. For me, the flames seem to happen when I am using Wicked Good Weekend Warrior charcoal and my temps rise above above 750 degrees. Around that temperature I start seeing signs of flames. You should probably get to know your Egg and your charcoal(s) before trying this at home. You might want to wear welders gloves when taking the readings. This is what I do when my Egg has gotten close to 700 degrees. But as I mentioned, each charcoal is different. Only use this technique when you have learned your Egg and do wear gloves.



CONCLUSION:
I never realized all of the uses for an infrared thermometer, until I actually owned one myself. It will help you attain better and more consistent results, both in your Kitchen and out at your grill. The first two infrared thermometers I owned were far more expensive than this model and lasted far less time. I will admit to buying this model as a matter of final desperation/frustration. I had come to rely on some of the uses I’ve found for this type of thermometer. I figured if this thermometer had a short life too, at least it didn’t cost me as much money. Happily this model has served me well for three years now. I would shop around a bit because you can pay either $29.00 or $45.00 for the same thermometer. The only difference may be the color of the plastic used for the body.

SOME RELATED LINKS
Here are some links to earlier blog entries about the first two Infrared Thermometers


  HIGH TECH THERMO 2009 Blog entry about the Bonjour Infrared Thermometer.
  MEASURING UP 2010 Blog entry about things I learned using my first infrared thermometer.
  NEW HIGH TECH THERMO 2012 Blog entry about my second infrared thermometer - Sur La Table Dual Thermometer

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