Infrared Thermometer Gun

In my last post, I talked about the importance of the Maillard reaction. By controlling temperature and getting it in that 300F-400F environment, you can get a nice color and flavor. It's easier for baked and deep fried items, but what about the stove? Most people sear their steaks on the stove before they Sous-vide. I actually cook my steaks using only a stove. I like to stir fry veggies on the stove and over the years I found the majority of the cooking I do is on the stove. How can we know the temperature of the frying pan?

A couple years ago I got one of these: on sale for $11 w/coupon code. It is currently at $16 and is still a great price.
My 3 year old daughter broke mine this morning and I will definitely order another, maybe an extra to keep in my car for times I need to cook at HB. I like that model and it worked well for me for a couple years. 

When I looked it up on Amazon this morning, I saw another one with good reviews for $5.34 At that price, I might just give them away whenever I go to someone's house to cook. 
It's pretty fun to use inside and outside the kitchen. On a hot day I go into the kids' room and aim it at the ceiling. "Hmm. 87 degrees. yeah it's pretty warm in here." In the kitchen I set my stove to a 7 and wait a while. The pan heats up to 350F to 400F before it starts slowing down to eventually 500F. I made pancakes this morning and it was 375 before I made the next batch. After I took it off, the pan was around 310F and ready for the next batch within a minute. Through trial and error I decided that a 7 on my stove would get me the best temperature range as I cook. When I got to 8, it starts to burn the food a little. 
When I go to my parent's house, their stove is completely different and I find that I need to go to a 9 to get the same results. At HB, I am turning the stove to 2/3s of the way to get the range I like. This cheap tool lets me get the nice Maillard reaction (from the last post) when I cook something on the stove. 

Some notes:
  • It should not be used to see if someone has a fever. You are measuring surface temperature and not internal temperature. Your skin is around 80F not 98F. An error range of 2-3F matters for the human body. It may say 100F when aimed at your tonsils when it is actually 98F. I don't really care much if the frying pan is read as 350F when it is really 345F. It is a tool not meant for something as sensitive as the human body. 
  • I like to use this when I grill as well. I like to get the grates at double desired temperature so 600F-700F. When the meat goes on, it sizzles and slightly chars but then the whole thing cools down as the meat robs all the heat from the grates. It makes nice sear marks when I do this. 
  • It will not be accurate on soups or liquids because the surface may be cooler than the rest. In this case you should stir it around and then measure or use a probe/instant read thermometer
  • It can be used to calibrate ovens (especially old ones). Let it preheat and then aim it at a wall. When I set mine to 350F, it really is 350F give or take a few degrees. Some ovens are set to 350, but are actually 300F and it never comes out right when you bake. There are oven thermometers for this as well.

Maillard Reaction

An important chemical reaction that happens during cooking is called the Maillard Reaction (pronounced may-yard). It's responsible for many of the flavors and smells of the foods you enjoy.

Some examples include:
  • the brown color of a seared and grilled steak
  • the smell and taste of sauteed onions
  • the brown crust of baked breads
  • the golden brown color in fries....and so on
 The Maillard reaction happens when a reducing sugar cross links with an amino group and it creates something entirely new and delicious. How can we get this when we cook? The Maillard reaction happens somewhere around 300F. If you are steaming something or pan frying below that temperature, you will not get the Maillard reaction. If you go to hot, you will burn food. The smoke point for many oils is around 400F. When it gets hotter than that, the oil will smoke and the food around it will start to burn and char.

So we have a window of 300F-400F where the delicious Maillard reaction takes place without burning the food. Have you ever wondered why most baked items set the oven at 350F? The thermostat in the oven will kick on at 300F and turn off at 400F so it stays in that sweet spot the whole time. There are times when certain items go to 400F or 425F, but it is fairly standard to bake most things at 350F. The same goes for deep fryers, most restaurants set their fryers to 350F for their fries (I did the fries at In-N-Out in high school). If ovens and deep fryers are set to 350F for this reason, then the best results for pan frying on the stove would likely be 350F as well. The trouble is at my home, the stove says 0-10 and I don't know how to get it at 350F. My next post will address this.

Temperature Notes Example Example Example
212F to 300F light colored,

300F to 400F Maillard- Reaction,
Golden brown,

400F and up Charred and burnt

By the way, that is why Kalbi is best over an open flame on a grill. The liquid/marinade cools the frying pan too much and surrounds the meat so it is steamed/braised at 212F and never gets hot enough for the maillard reaction to happen. If you crank up the heat higher to compensate for the drop and to evaporate all the liquid, you usually burn the meat or the sticky residue from the dried marinade and cause it to char/burn.

Kalbi has so much sugar from the marinade that it is able to get a lot of the maillard reaction. That is why it when it is cooked properly, it gets a brown/almost reddish maroon color. Most other meats that aren't marinaded in sugar get a slight hint of that brown red as it makes a nice sear.