9 Best Meat Thermometers Your Kitchen Needs, According to Experts
It's time to talk meat—thermometers, that is. Whether you're a professional chef or a novice home cook, everyone needs at least one type of meat thermometer on hand.
As the name suggests, these handy devices measure the temperature of meat during the cooking process. That includes roasting a chicken, searing a steak, pan-frying pork chops or poaching fish. Why use a meat thermometer? Not only does an accurate meat thermometer let you know when your meal is safe to consume (which is crucial considering undercooked meat, especially chicken and other poultry, can cause illnesses such as Salmonella and listeria), but it's also a valuable tool to use to help ensure your meat is cooked exactly the way you prefer it.
To help you decide the best meat thermometer for your needs, we've put together this handy guide using input from professional chefs who use these trusty devices on a daily basis.
Why is it important to use a meat thermometer when cooking?
Simply put, using a meat thermometer when cooking is the only surefire way to know that your meal is fully cooked and ready to be enjoyed. Though you may have a great eye for knowing when your steak is exactly medium-rare or get a gut feeling when that chicken is perfectly roasted, only a meat thermometer can tell you for sure.
Using a meat thermometer can also help you determine if a meal has been overcooked. When you cook meat to a proper temperature, it is juicy and tender; if you leave it in the oven or on the grill for too long, it will be dry and lack flavor.
Since no two cuts of meat are the same, using cooking time to determine when a meal is done is an inherently flawed method. While some pieces might be cooked perfectly, others could be undercooked or burnt. In other words, a meat thermometer is the only way to go if you're looking for a stress-free dining experience.
What are the different types of meat thermometers you can buy?
As with most kitchen devices, there are dozens of varieties of meat thermometers to choose from. Different types of thermometers—such as analog or digital and those that have long probe or a shorter one—are best suited for different purposes.
In order to determine the best meat thermometer for you, it's important to understand the pros and cons of different types of the device.
Analog Meat Thermometers
Before the digital age, analog meat thermometers (which you must read yourself) reigned supreme. Many cooks and professional chefs who were trained using analog thermometers still prefer them today. They are typically used for larger cuts of meat (such as cooking a Thanksgiving turkey) thanks to their longer probes and can be left in the meat while it cooks, though you should always double-check that the thermometer is oven-safe.
- They're classic. These use an old-fashioned mechanical mechanism, as opposed to an electronic one, which some professional cooks prefer.
- Set it and forget it. You can typically stick an analog meat thermometer in your meal at the beginning of the cooking process and leave it in for the duration. This allows you to carefully monitor any changes in temperature.
- Don't break the bank. Since analog thermometers don't have a ton of extra features, they're often much less expensive than some of the fancier digital models.
- No batteries required. Unlike their more modern digital counterparts, analog meat thermometers don't need batteries in order to function. Instead, they need to be calibrated before each use. More on that below.
- They can be tricky to read. Analog thermometers don't have a big flashy display that will show you the temperature of your meat with a glance or the touch of a button. Instead, you need to read them manually, which can be difficult to do. This is especially true if it requires opening a hot, dark oven and getting rather close to your piping hot meal.
- They take longer to read. Analog meat thermometers typically take a longer time to read when compared to their digital counterparts, which can be difficult to manage while cooking.
- Calibration is key. Analog thermometers can become uncalibrated rather easily, which could be an annoyance for some. Though not difficult, analog thermometers can easily be calibrated to ensure accuracy. This can be done by using the ice water technique and adjusting the thermometer to 32 degrees Fahrenheit.
Ruth Hartman, owner and chef of Coffee Creek Ranch, an all-inclusive resort in Northern California, describes the method as follows: "Insert the thermometer stem at least an inch deep in the ice water without letting the stem touch the sides or bottom of the glass. Wait for the thermometer to register; this usually takes a minute or less. The thermometer is accurate if it registers 32 degrees Fahrenheit or 0 degrees Celsius. If not, you need to adjust the calibration nut securely with a wrench to rotate the head until it reads 32 degrees Fahrenheit."
Digital Meat Thermometers
Unlike analog meat thermometers, digital meat thermometers do not need to be calibrated and can be read instantly. Most digital thermometers are also equipped with additional helpful features such as a backlit screens for increased visibility and preset timers based on specific cuts of meat.
- They're easy to read. While analog thermometers can be tricky to read, especially while you're cooking, digital thermometers typically have larger displays with much better visibility. They're also often faster at registering the temperature of your food.
- They've got bells and whistles. Simply put, most digital thermometers have features that can make your cooking life easier, such as the aforementioned backlight and an alarm that will sound when your meat has reached a preset temperature.
- They tend to be smaller. Digital thermometers tend to be smaller than analog thermometers, which makes them easier to use for some. "I personally prefer these 'pocket' style or sizes for thermometers over others since they are smaller, portable, and more user-friendly," says Luis Cuadra, the executive chef at District restaurant in Los Angeles. "There aren't any wires or cables to untangle on each use."
- They can't be left in the oven. While you can stick an analog thermometer in your meat and typically leave it in while it cooks, digital thermometers that aren't marked "oven-safe" can't be used during the duration of the cooking process and instead must be inserted and then removed once you get a reading.
- They can malfunction. Like any electronic device, digital thermometers can malfunction. Additionally, when a digital thermometer goes haywire, it typically does so with a far greater degree of inaccuracy than analog models.
- They require batteries. Whereas analog meat thermometers are self-contained, digital ones function only with batteries, which do eventually stop working.
- They can be more expensive. While you can get a good analog thermometer for less than $10, digital thermometers typically cost around $12 and up. Some can cost up to $100 or more.
Long-probe vs. short-probe meat thermometers
Thermometers with longer probes typically have probes that can be up to five inches long, making them ideal when you're cooking bigger pieces of meat. In other words, if you're whipping up a brisket or a turkey, reach for that long-probed thermometer.
However, while a meat thermometer with a long probe can work with thinner cuts of meat such as a flank steak or chicken breast, it will be a little unwieldy to manage and could potentially be less accurate since the probe needs to penetrate (though not go through) the meat despite its thickness.
How to pick the best meat thermometer
When it comes to picking the "best" meat thermometer, it's really a matter of personal preference and what you intend to use it for.
Depending on your needs, we have the 9 best meat thermometers for every type of home cook.
Best Inexpensive: ThermoPro TP03 Digital Instant Read Meat Thermometer
With literally thousands of 5-star Amazon reviews, it's hard to believe that this meat thermometer currently costs less than $13. As with most digital thermometers, it comes with an array of extra features that make the cooking process even easier. More specifically, this device boasts a backlight and a stainless steel probe that is nearly 4-inches long and can read the temperature of your food in under five seconds. It also has an extensive temperature range of over 600 degrees and comes with a three-year warranty.
Best Splurge: ThermoWorks Thermapen Mk4
If you cook a lot of meat and don't mind a splurge, the ThermoWorks Thermapen Mk4 is the way to go. It provides full digital readings in three seconds or less. Advanced technology makes it intuitive and easy to use. For example, users can hold it in any direction and the display will automatically rotate right-side-up so it can be read it in any position—in either hand, straight up or down. In other words, you can read temperatures without cocking your head. This thermometer also has a thin yet short probe that easily pierces through the toughest meats and is oven-safe up to nearly 700 degrees.
Best for Grilling: ThermoWorks Classic Super-Fast Thermapen
For the best instant-read thermometer for grilling or smoking meat, Anthony DiBernardo—chef and pitmaster of Swig & Swine barbeque restaurant in Charleston, South Carolina—recommends a Thermoworks Thermapen, which is similar to the splurge above, though not quite as costly. "It's important to use an instant-read meat thermometer, especially when grilling or smoking because it reads temperature quickly," says DiBernardo. "Fast and accurate readings mean less time spent with your smoker open and more time cooking."
Best for Keeping in the Bird: ThermoPro TP-16 Digital Cooking Food Meat Thermometer
If you're looking for a thermometer that you can keep in your meat while it cooks, you need something that is both oven-safe and has a long probe. The ThermoPro TP-16 fits the bill. It has a cook mode with USDA preset temperature settings, which means you can cook the meat of your choice using an oven, smoker or stove-top.
"My favorite thermometer is hands-down the Cooper pocket thermometer, either the DFP450W or DPP800W," says Cuadra. "It is digital and always accurate, plus it gives a precise reading in just a few seconds. I discovered it by chance more than 12 years ago and have used it ever since. I was tired of having to calibrate analog thermometers every couple of days, or after every time I would ding it or drop it because anything can cause it to lose its calibration."
He says, "The Cooper model has everything you would want in a thermometer. It is 100 percent waterproof, so I can also use it to test our dishwashers. This digital thermometer has a thin tip that allows me to use it on more delicate items without damaging them. It also has a wide temperature range (+400 degrees), which is another example of how versatile it is."
"The best meat thermometers are the commercial ones most chefs still use. They come with a long straight probe with a round needle dial that sits on top," says Hartman.
She likes the brand Taylor Precision Products and advises home cooks to look for a meat thermometer that comes with a tube to protect it and has a pen clip so you can wear it in your pocket. "Then you take it out when you need it while you are cooking," she says.
Best Ovensafe: ThermoPro TP06S Digital Grill Meat Thermometer with Probe
If you're looking for a thermometer that you can toss in the oven with your meat and forget about, the ThermoPro TP06S is a solid choice. The stainless steel probe can withstand temperatures up to 716 degrees Fahrenheit and the thermometer has a timer mode. It also boasts preset temperatures for nine types of meat and their various USDA-recommended doneness levels. You can also reset the preset temps to your desired taste.
Best Bluetooth: Veken Meat Thermometer for Grilling, BBQ Wireless 4 Probe Remote
Bluetooth thermometers are the most expensive of the bunch overall, but they are unmatched in terms of the level of convenience. This Veken model, for example, has a professional remote signal that reaches up to 490 feet, which means you can watch the game or chat with your guests without worrying about your dinner. Dozens of the hundreds of positive Amazon reviews praise this double thermometer for its fast readings (we're talking two to three seconds) overwhelming accuracy and durable probes.
Best Overall: Habor 022 Instant-Read Meat Thermometer
If the thousands of 5-star reviews for this meat thermometer don't convince you of its worthiness, then consider this: The Habor 022 thermometer is super fast (it can take temperature readings in four to six seconds) and has a probe that is neither too long or too short, meaning it's suitable for whatever kind of meat you're cooking. It's also accurate within one degree and has a temperature range that goes up to 572 degrees Fahrenheit. What's more? It costs less than $15.
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