When grilling and roasting, knowledge of the exact temperature of your food prevents you from serving overcooked steaks, dry fish, or undercooked holiday turkey. This is where a meat thermometer can save face and your meal. Sure, there are extremely analog means of testing meat, like pressing and prodding, inserting a meat fork or cake tester and holding it against a tender area of your body, or observing the color of the juices running out. But these techniques, as time-honored as they are, leave room for interpretation.
Firmness, perceived temperature, or the clarity of juices just aren’t the same from person to person. But using a meat thermometer, provided it’s accurate, leaves no question about the current state of your food. In my professional kitchens, we considered no steak, poultry, or even hamburger ready unless a thermometer confirmed it.
Meat thermometers take different forms for different tasks. Instant-read thermometers give you a snapshot of the meat’s current state, while leave-in or wireless thermometers allow you to observe the rise or fall of temperatures over time. We’ll come back to these differences. But first, we’ll review six meat thermometers that stood out to us after we tested 19 digital probes and 23 instant-read models.
ThermoWorks Thermapen ONE
The Thermapen ONE is about as easy to use as it gets. Extend the probe, stick the pointed end into whatever you want to temp, and read the display. Fold the probe back in for storage when you’re done. Too easy, right? So, why does such a simple thermometer come with such a high price tag? That answer lies in its speed, accuracy, and display. In our sous vide and boiling water tests, the Thermapen was within one degree of accuracy every time. Its response time is impressive, too, settling on a reading within about two seconds.
It’s an instant-read design, meaning you don’t leave it in for any length of time; you just examine where the food stands right now. In terms of aesthetics, readability, and how it fits in your hand, we found the Thermopen to be functional and middle-of-the-road. But the display is ample for the unit’s size and backlit for easier reading, and it rotates with the orientation of the handle so you don’t have to attempt to read it upside down.
After six months of long-term testing, the Thermapen ONE continued to hold up with incredibly quick and accurate readings. We were particularly impressed with its battery life, which hasn’t faltered in the slightest, even with the use of its automatic backlight and auto-adjusting display. It helps that the tool automatically shuts down when you fold the prong back in to store it, which makes this thermometer both long-lasting and reliable.
Probe Length: 4.3 inches | Temperature Range: -58 to 572°F | Bluetooth/Wi-Fi: No | Warranty: 5 years
Best Leave-In Digital
The ChefAlarm is more of an appliance than a spot-checker like the Thermapen is. The temperature probe connects to a base unit for constant monitoring during your cook. Its accuracy is fantastic; for all of our static temperature tests, like measuring boiling or ice water, the ChefAlarm registered within a fraction of a degree. If there are any downsides, they lie in the limitations of the control settings. The timer works in minutes and hours but not seconds, and we found that setting the temperature can be frustrating due to the amount of time it takes to move the indicator via the up/down buttons.
However, the unit has a few useful features, like a count-up/count-down timer and a target temperature setting with low- and high-temperature alarms. The alarm that indicates you’ve reached the target temperature or the end of your timer is reasonably clear and loud, ranging between 72 and 88 decibels. For reference, sirens on emergency vehicles operate at 110 to 120 decibels, so there’s only a small chance of not noticing your alarm. In our tests, it was audible at a 50-foot distance, with some diminishment at 75 feet.
The ChefAlarm continued to perform well throughout our 6-month long-term testing period, with only a few minor kinks in the probe wire that bore no ill effects on its overall efficacy. We were pleased with its continued quality, ease of use, and variety of applications, both indoors and out. It saved us numerous times when we were confronted with fluctuating oven temps, ensuring that our meat came out perfectly done despite unreliable heat settings. The included carrying case also made a nice addition for keeping the thermometer stored and protected when not in use.
Probe Length: 6 inches | Temperature Range: -58 to 572°F | Bluetooth/Wi-Fi: No | Warranty: 2 years
ThermoWorks DOT Simple Alarm Thermometer
The DOT is the bare-bones little cousin of the ChefAlarm. That’s not to diminish either model, but for someone who doesn’t need or want the extra functionality of the ChefAlarm, the DOT could be the right choice. It shares the same accuracy, but the display only operates in whole numbers, so the tests showed spot-on for our sous vide and ice water tests and only one degree of variation in the boiling water test.
It’s a compact model with a circular design about three inches in diameter and a backlit display showing the current and target temperatures. With that, it has one function, which is limited to the target temperature but is simple and intuitive to use. The alarm is consistently audible at 80 decibels, loud enough to hear clearly at 50 feet. Like the ChefAlarm, the temperature control can be frustratingly slow to set, as the up/down pushbutton controls take five seconds to cover each 100-degree increment. If one changed the setting from 100 to 500°F, it would take at least 22 seconds to accomplish.
Sluggish temperature controls aside, this model performed just as well during long-term testing. Over the 6-month period, we used it for grilling, oven roasting, and even checking the temperature of frying oil, and it continued to give out rapid and consistent temperature readings. Its battery and display also held up well, showing no signs of slowing down or fading. We also found the magnets on the back of the display to be quite useful when it came to hands-free monitoring, and it also includes a small kickstand for when there isn’t a magnetic surface available.
Probe Length: 4.5 inches | Temperature Range: -58 to 572°F | Bluetooth/Wi-Fi: No | Warranty: 2 years
Best Multi Probe
ThermoPro TP25 4 Probe Bluetooth Remote Meat Thermometer
The TP25 lets you monitor up to four ranges simultaneously. It comes with two grill clips to enable monitoring of heat zones, or the probes can monitor individual pieces or types of food. Quadrants for each probe’s temperature dominate the display on the base unit, but the app gives more versatility and information. Among the app features is a heat graph for each probe to view the entire cooking process. One of the app’s drawbacks is that while it comes with pre-set FDA-safe temperature levels for different foods, setting custom temperatures could be more intuitive.
The accuracy of the probes veered no more than two degrees in our static tests, which is quite acceptable. The Bluetooth range was good in open spaces, maintaining a connection for over 30 yards, but it dropped off when faced with interior walls as one would encounter going inside their house. The app, however, gives a warning when the connection is lost. The alarm is loud at 90 decibels, enough to hear in a crowded room, should that need arise.
During long-term testing, the TP25 continued to exceed our expectations, performing just as well at the end of the six months as it had on day one. We loved the hands-off approach that Bluetooth connectivity gave to even the most complex cooks. And because we could trust the probe to keep an accurate temperature, we could simply set it and monitor our meat’s progress from the app without having to get up and check the base unit constantly or keep opening the oven or grill, causing it to lose temp.
Probe Length: 8 inches | Temperature Range: 14 to 572°F | Bluetooth/Wi-Fi: Yes | Warranty: 1-3 years
Meater Plus with Bluetooth Repeater
The MEATER is unique in that it is a genuinely wireless thermometer. The probes connect via Bluetooth to the base unit, which then connects to the app, and you can extend the range by connecting the entire assembly to WiFi. In testing, we found the probes pretty accurate, either dead-on or within two degrees in our static tests, but it registered three degrees short on the boiling water test, which was approaching the upper limit of the probe’s range. The probes have two sensors each, one end to insert in food and the other to monitor the ambient temperature, so there is no need to dedicate a probe to monitoring the grill.
This is a set for the gadget person. All functionality for the collection is built into the app, as the block has no control functions at all. The app has useful features such as target temperature, ambient temperature, and estimated time remaining. Each setting is touch-responsive, with no need for drop-down menus for setting temperatures. The alarms leave a bit to be desired, as they depend on your phone’s volume, and there are pop-up notifications for various states that alert once with a short audible alarm.
During the 6-month long-term testing period, the MEATER continued to perform well. However, we did experience a few connectivity issues that were minor, though not ideal. Occasionally (around two or three times over the entire testing period), the app would disconnect entirely from the probe, requiring us to restart it and manually reconnect. This wasn’t a dealbreaker, but it could be frustrating if it were to happen in the middle of cooking. The probe works great for larger proteins like turkey or prime rib, and we loved how helpful the app was for entertaining by alerting us when the meat should be done cooking and preventing us from getting distracted by guests.
Probe Length: 5 inches | Temperature Range: Up to 212°F (internal) and 527°F (external) | Bluetooth/Wi-Fi: Yes | Warranty: 1 year
Best for Smoking
ThermoWorks Smoke Thermometer
The Smoke is a two-piece unit consisting of the base, which houses the controls and the two probes it connects to, and a receiver for monitoring. The setup was easy and intuitive, taking about 25 seconds to link the base and the receiver. The display is quite prominent, yielding acreage for the controls to provide a more robust view of the probes, including high/low-temperature alarms and min/max temperatures experienced during the cook. With the dual probe arrangement, one can monitor the pit while the other monitors the food, or you can track two pieces of food, like a pork butt and a chicken, which require different temperatures.
Judging performance, there was a slight variation in our static tests, but in fractions of degrees between each probe and the control temperature. The base unit has individual alarms for each probe, so the user can differentiate between them. The base unit alarms have four volume settings, ranging from 80 to 90 decibels, while the remote has one set at 70 decibels, all loud enough to hear at a distance of 50 feet.
Long-term testing shed light on a few kinks that we didn’t encounter during our lab testing. While the probes and main display continued to work well with minimal signs of wear or tear over the 6-month period, we did encounter a few connectivity issues with the remote display. We noticed that it lagged behind in a few of the temperature readings, not always in sync with the readings on the main display. There were also a few times when the receiver struggled to connect to the main unit, despite being within the correct range. However, despite those issues, we still found the Smoke incredibly useful for when you’re smoking or grilling and need to step away for a moment or two.
Probe Length: 6 inches | Temperature Range: -58 to 572°F | Bluetooth/Wi-Fi: Yes | Warranty: 2 years
Our Favorite Meat Thermometer
It’s hard to beat the ThermoWorks Thermapen ONE for speed, accuracy, design, and ease of use, and that’s why it made the top of our list. However, the ThermoWorks DOT is an excellent blend of simplicity, accuracy, and value for those wanting a leave-in model.
Our Meat Thermometer Tests
We used a combination of subjective and objective scenarios to test the thermometers. Starting with initial impressions, we observed the design and shape of the thermometer and how easy it was to hold, use, and read. For wireless and other smart thermometers, we gathered opinions on how easy and intuitive setting up the app and familiarizing oneself with the various controls both in-app and on the thermometer. We moved into a more objective mode for smart thermometers and tested the alarm volume with a decibel meter.
Next, we tested the accuracy of each thermometer in three scenarios: the predetermined temperature of a vat of water with an immersion circulator controlling the temperature, a pot of boiling water, and, for leave-in and wireless thermometers, a container filled with ice and water. We tested each scenario multiple times, discarded the most significant outlying temperature, and averaged the remainder. We also used a stopwatch to record the speed at which instant-read models registered their final temperature.
Watch Us Test Meat Thermometers
The final performance test recorded the temperature of cooked meat. Leave-in or wireless meat thermometers measured temperature over a period of cooking time, while instant-read thermometers measured temperature after a prescribed amount of time to measure the degree of doneness.
Finally, we assessed thermometers on how easy and intuitive they were to use and read, such as whether they had backlit displays and whether we had to hold the device at an unnatural angle to read the display. We also considered value before averaging scores. We counted accuracy for 50 percent of the final scores, with design and ease of use comprising the rest, which determined our ratings.
Factors to Consider
Digital Probe vs. Instant-Read
Choose a thermometer based on your need for one. A digital probe is intended to be left in a piece of food or your oven, smoker, or grill to monitor the temperature over time. This may be the overview you want from long cooking, or you might want more immediate results. An instant-read thermometer is just that. Say you have a piece of chicken in the oven and want to know if it’s done. Insert the thermometer, and it tells you the current temperature within a few seconds. Think of the use as quick cooking versus slow cooking and make your decision from there.
Wired vs. Wireless
Wired thermometers aren’t necessarily more accurate than wireless, but you’re not dependent on as much technology with a wired model. Wireless models provide more freedom, especially should you want to monitor food on a rotisserie, where wires would be tangled in short order, but in those cases, the probes require charging before use to maintain a connection.
Base this decision on two factors: the height of your grill lid and the thickness of the food you’ll usually cook. In testing one of the models, the probe was too long to close the grill lid when inserted into a piece of meat. Monitoring chicken wings with a five-inch probe may be excessive, as the probes tend to be top-heavy, but a shorter probe may not be sufficient for monitoring the internal temperature of a pork butt.
Temperature range is another factor that you should base on your intended use. If you’re roasting, grilling, or smoking meats, some wireless thermometers have an upper limit of 212°F, which is perfectly in range for this task. If you’re doing something like making candy and need to monitor the temperature closely, you’ll need a higher limit.
Speed and Accuracy
If you want to cook meat or vegetables, a couple of degrees of variation can be fine. If you’re working with modernist techniques, preserving, or doing confectionary work, that variation can be the difference between success and failure. Along with accuracy, the speed of the reading can be quite important when you’re in the middle of a cook. You’ll want a thermometer that can quickly give you a steady reading of your food’s internal temperature rather than one that takes a minute or two to rise. For the fastest results, you’ll want an instant-read thermometer, although standard probe thermometers are usually only a few seconds behind.
Some of the models we tested are completely app-dependent, while others have a display on the base or thermometer themselves. Find something that suits you in those areas, and then look for a model that displays the information you consider most important at a size you find comfortable reading. If you prefer not to be completely dependent on an app or wireless connectivity, then you’ll want to find a model that comes with a native display.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you use a meat thermometer?
Meat thermometers are relatively simple to use at a basic level. All you have to do is turn the thermometer on and stick the probe into your meat — or whatever dish you’re temping — and allow it a few seconds to produce an accurate reading. It only starts to get complicated if you have a thermometer with lots of extra features like an app, wireless connectivity, or a complicated user interface with multiple settings. If that is the case for you, then be sure to read the manufacturer’s instructions thoroughly so that you know how your device operates.
How do you read a meat thermometer?
The majority of thermometers on the market today are digital, and those are relatively easy to read. They usually have the temperature readily displayed on a digital screen in standard measurements. However, if your model works via an app, then you’ll have to check your phone to get a temperature reading.
Which kind of thermometer can you leave in the oven or grill?
Probe thermometers or oven-safe analog thermometers are the perfect Thanksgiving tools, as they are suitable for leaving in the oven or grill. An instant-read thermometer is not intended for this purpose, and you would risk damaging your device.
Is an instant-read meat thermometer or probe thermometer better?
There is no “better” between the two types of thermometers. It depends on what you are trying to accomplish. An instant-read thermometer gives you a snapshot in time of the temperature of whatever you’re measuring. This is useful in pan roasting or open grilling, where you don’t have to open your oven or grill to take the temperature.
A probe thermometer allows you to measure the temperature over time and is particularly useful in low-and-slow roasting, grilling, or smoking. You can view the current temperature of the food without opening the oven, grill, or smoker and losing ambient heat in the process, which requires recovery time before the cooking device is hot enough to start cooking your food again.
Can you use a digital thermometer with an induction cooktop?
Yes, with caveats. Induction cooktops utilize a magnetic field for conducting heat. That field can affect the operation of a digital thermometer, and most sources point to the magnet interfering with the thermocouple of the thermometer. The interference will not cause any damage to the thermometer or cooktop, but your temperature reading will be inaccurate.
ThermoWorks and equipment manufacturer Wolf both suggest these workarounds. The first option is to remove the pan from the cooktop before taking measurements with your thermometer. The other option is to briefly turn the power off on the induction device before temping your food.
Other Meat Thermometers We Tested
ThermoWorks BlueDOT ($69 at ThermoWorks)
The BlueDOT is the Bluetooth-connected version of the DOT. It’s a fully functional, low-frills, connected thermometer. If we had to find negatives, they would be in the limited connectivity in anything but line-of-site situations, dropping connection indoors at a short distance.
ThermoPro TP28 ($70 at Amazon)
The TP28 is a well-performing, well-designed, accurate thermometer. Finding fault required splitting hairs, and in that, the user interface presents a slight learning curve to create custom settings.
Cuisinart Bluetooth Easy Connect Meat Thermometer ($60 at Amazon)
The Easy Connect scored high in design and accuracy but fell short in connectivity range. Since the greatest part of the functionality is in the app, the signal dropping at about 30 yards can be an irritant.
Taylor 1478-21 Digital Thermometer ($25 at Amazon)
The Taylor is a good single-purpose thermometer. It has an accurate but limited temperature range, and programmable functionality is limited to the time and target temperature.
Weber Connect 3201 WiFi-Enabled Smart Grilling Hub ($140 at Weber)
The Connect performed well in our tests. Yet, the probes could be sharper, and the app could be more intuitive and feature-rich considering the price.
Taylor Precision Products Thermocouple Thermometer ($98 at Amazon)
This is an incredibly fast-reading and accurate instant-read thermometer. Its drawbacks lie in the unintuitive controls, which may be more than the average user needs.
Weber Instant Read Meat Thermometer ($18 at Amazon)
For the price, the Weber is a decent thermometer, although it registers a few degrees high, and its design doesn’t do it any favors in separating it from its peers.
What Didn’t Make the List
A handful of thermometers we expected to perform well didn’t for various reasons and fell off the recommendations list. It could be that the instructions were too limited or the alarm too low to be useful, like the Weber iGrill2. Or the thermometer could be slow to register and have limited accuracy, like the Taylor Precision Products Instant Read Digital Thermometer. Others, like the ThermoPro TP-02S, have displays too small to easily read. Finally, the ThermoPro TP03 suffers from design issues, making it clumsy to hold and read the display.
Greg Baker is an award-winning chef, restaurateur, and food writer with four decades of experience in the food industry. His written work appears in Food & Wine, Tasting Table, Food Republic, and other publications.