The Best Hack for Checking Oil Temperature Is Still a Thermometer.
Hacker attacks boil down to wasting less time, using less equipment, and making life easier in general. But sometimes there just isn’t a shortcut or replacement. Sometimes you have to go a long way or buy the right tool. One such tool is a digital thermometer.
Temperature control is a very important part of cooking and it is difficult to control what cannot be measured. A thermometer is the simplest and most obvious way to measure temperature, but that doesn’t stop people from trying other, more creative methods.
I was browsing through the collection of cooking videos on TikTok just this morning because I am very young and trendy when this video of McNugget’s trick caught – no, required – my attention.
This is a pretty good video. I love that Joshua takes the time to turn the chicken into a McNugget-like pasta, I love that he sculpts several dinosaurs, and I love his overall demeanor.
When he goes to fry nuggets, he uses a chopstick to check the oil, and the presence of bubbles around the chopstick indicates that the oil is hot enough to fry.
I have never heard of this technique before, although we have already covered the wooden spoon variation of it (seven years ago – long before me). The post also mentions that you can use a popcorn kernel for a similar dough, claiming that it will burst when the butter reaches a temperature “somewhere between 325 and 350 ℉”. (I then found other sources on the Internet that claimed the same thing.)
At first glance, these khacks seem good and I love the idea of being warned with a nice pop! – but I had some initial concerns.
First, not all chopsticks and wooden spoons are created equal, and the coating, processing, and residual moisture from washing can affect how they react to hot oil. Popcorn, on the other hand, is an organic plant matter that is not known to be permanent. Popcorn bursts when the water inside turns to steam, which happens at 212 ℉ – well below 325 ℉, the absolute minimum oil temperature required to fry something in it. (I usually aim for 360 ℉ as the butter cools as you add food to it.)
How quickly the corn reaches its bursting temperature depends on the water content of the individual corn slice (which can vary) and how long the kernel is heated with oil, so I thought this was not the most reliable method.
Anyway. Instead of sitting on the couch and thinking about the theoretical water content, I decided to take a digital thermometer and actually measure something. I took some cold butter, poured it into the Dutch oven and added three popcorn kernels. I also put a wooden spoon in there (uncovered). The first core burst when the oil reached 278 ℉. The latter received 283 ℉. If you started to fry food at this temperature (which is too low), the temperature would drop even lower, and your food would absorb the oil that is too cold, resulting in fatty and coarse foods.
The spoon, however, started to bubble at around 330 ℉, which is in the 325 to 350 ℉ range, although it’s still a little cold in my opinion. Again, I can only say that this is true for that spoon, and I would be uncomfortable to claim that it works for all wooden kitchen utensils (although it looks like it also works for Joshua’s chopstick). I could check all my spoons to see which bubble is at which temperature, but for that I need a thermometer.
I’m not going to tell Joshua to stop checking the frying oil with a chopstick. Joshua is doing okay, and at least he doesn’t eat popcorn, which is a very bad move.
But if you don’t already have a reliable chopstick (or other piece of wood), just get a damn digital thermometer. It is safer (especially if you are cooking meat), more precisely and does not depend on the water content in one piece of corn, which is nice.