I’d gotten along just fine for years without a digital candy thermometer. For plenty of purposes in the kitchen–just trying to get a bubbling pot of sugar to a certain range, like the soft ball or hard ball phases, or just trying to get oil hot enough for frying–a standard candy thermometer, giving temperatures on an old-fashioned analog dial, is just fine. This Taylor Classic or Polder 511 will do the trick nicely.
As it turns out, though, candy thermometers come quite in
handy–and for DIY candy-making, a digital readout is much more
precise. Williams-Sonoma makes a reasonably priced digital model for $35, and Amazon.com offers several popular brands and models including Maverick’s digital oil and candy thermometer.
It beeps as soon as it reads the temperature you set it to, letting you
know exactly when your concoction is ready. It’s great if you’re doing
advanced work where it’s more important to hit a particular
temperature, rather than a range.