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9 Best Instant-Read Thermometers of 2022, Tested and Reviewed

Being able to check the internal temperature of your food is the only way to ensure correct doneness. For that, you need one of the best instant-read meat thermometers from this guide. We review the top models, discuss their pros and cons, and ultimately help you make the right pick.

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Last Updated: November 4, 2022

In this article we recommend and review some of the most popular and best instant-read thermometers on the market today.

We also cover what it is you should look for when choosing one, dig a little deeper to explain exactly why we think you NEED one, before ending with some best practices to care for your unit to make sure it lasts years, and you get your moneys worth.

The number one thing I tell everyone who wants to up their barbecue and grilling game is that they need to own a quality instant read thermometer.

With the price of beef continuously going up, you don’t want to be overcooking and ruining your prime grade ribeye, and you don’t want to be under cooking that chicken breast, either.

Anyway, the number one benefit of owning an instant read thermometer is the complete removal of any guesswork. All food will be cooked to safe temperatures throughout, and also perfectly to your chosen level of doneness. Consistently good results can only be achieved by being able to measure the internal temperature of your food precisely.

By the way, we also have an article on how to use instant-read thermometers that you should check out after buying.

But for now, let’s crack on…

At a Glance: Our Top Picks for Best Instant-Read Thermometers

  • Best Overall: 
    Thermoworks Thermapen One
    The fastest, most accurate instant-read thermometer on the market, that has become the industry standard for those who like premium quality and are happy to pay for it.
  • Runner-Up: 
    ChefsTemp Finaltouch X10
    There’s really nothing to dislike about this thermometer. Super fast, super accurate, fantastic build quality, and cheaper than our top pick. You can’t go wrong with this product.
  • Budget Pick: 
    Lavatools PT12 Javelin
    If cost is your most important deciding factor, you can’t do better than this highly capable thermometer at this price!
  • Most Features: 
    Taylor Precision Products Dual Infrared and Thermocouple Thermometer
    A dual instant-read and infrared thermometer all in one package, great for those of you with wood fired or pizza ovens.
  • Best Talking: 
    Surround Point Talking Instant Read Thermometer
    A top pick for the visually impaired, this thermometer speaks out the measured temperature at the push of a button.
  • With Timer: 
    Maverick PT-75 Temp & Time Instant-Read Digital Thermometer
    A fully featured and capable thermometer, this one also includes a timer, something not seen in any other on this list.
  • Pocket Sized: 
    Thermoworks Thermopop
    A small, pocket sized thermometer with case and clasp so you can clip it to your top pocket like you would do a pen.
  • Also Recommended: 
    Lavatools Javelin PRO Duo
    Formerly our top pick for best instant-read thermometer for most people, it’s somewhat fallen behind newer entries, but is still an absolutely fantastic thermometer at a great price.
  • Also Recommended: 
    ThermoPro TP620 Instant Read Meat Thermometer
    A high-end thermometer with lots of convenient features, it’s certainly one to consider

Note: Clicking the above links will take you to further information, current prices and customer reviews on Amazon and select other retailers.

Reviews of Our Recommend Instant Read Thermometers

These are, in our opinion, 9 of the best, most feature packed, durable and good value for money instant read meat thermometers on the market today.

There’s sure to be one to suit your needs in this list, regardless of your specific budgets and requirements.

Thermoworks Thermapen One

1

For some people, only the best will do. These people typically have a fair bit of expendable money. More people still will tell you there are cheaper options that will do the job just as well. But sometimes it’s worth the expense to be able to say: “Yes, but this product just does it better!”

The Thermapen One is the finest digital instant-read thermometer currently available. It doesn’t do anything that the rest of the thermometers on this list do, it’s just that it does them incredibly well.

First of all, we have the speed of reading. I have owned and used about 15 instant-read thermometers in my life, and the Thermapen One is the fastest I have ever used. It measures temperatures in under 1 second! And not just the initial reading. It will be this fast over and over as you move from one meat to another.

Why is this important? Because it means less time holding your hand over a screaming hot grill taking temperatures and less time for foods to still cook as you wait for the reading to finalize.

Next, we have the incredible accuracy. The K thermocouple sensor is accurate to within ±0.5 °F (±0.3 °C), so you can be sure your medium rare steak target is absolutely nailed or that your chicken pieces are ready to come off the grill at a safe temperature.

In my own tests, the Thermapen One read boiling water at 212.1 °F:

Thermapen one in a pan of boiling water, displaying 212.1 degrees Fahrenheit

It read iced water at 31.9 °F:

Thermapen one in a large glass of iced water, displaying 31.9 degrees Fahrenheit

 

But if this doesn’t convince you, Thermapen provides a certificate of calibration that shows just how dialed in and accurate the temperature readings are:

Thermapen one user guide and certificate of calibration side-by-side

Further features that make — In my opinion — the Thermapen One simply the best are:

An auto-rotating display, 360 degrees, so you can always take a readout from any angle. Many thermometers have a 180-degree rotating display, but the Thermapen One has 4 positions, covering the full 360 degrees, so the numbers are always orientated right for you to read.

There is an auto-shutoff mode with a motion-sensing power-up, so if left unused for a short while, it will turn off to save battery life and turn itself back on the minute you pick it up.

It also has a light sensor that triggers a backlit screen in the dark, ensuring you can always take readings in any lighting conditions.

Finally, it comes with a 5-year manufacturer’s warranty. Thermoworks are confident in this product and are happy to back it up!

Pros

  • Unrivaled accuracy, with a calibration certificate to prove it
  • Fastest read time on the market, under 1 second
  • 360-degree screen rotation based on the orientation
  • Auto-shutoff and motion sensing power-up extends battery life
  • Intelligent backlight turns on as needed
  • IP67 waterproofing makes it washable and safe for the rain
  • 11 colors available, so you can personalize it to suit your tastes

Cons

  • No way to mount or hang it when not in use (And I struggled to find this ‘flaw’ it’s that good!)

At the price point, the Thermapen One is not for everyone. It has a higher spec and performance than any other instant read thermometers we’ve owned or tested, but many competing models do the same job sufficiently for a much lower price.

But if you don’t mind spending a little more, and appreciate owning the very best, then we cannot recommend the Thermapen One enough.

Please check out our hands on testing and review of the Thermapen One for further details.

ChefsTemp Finaltouch X10

2

If you’re of a certain age and a car buff, you might remember the Porsche slogan: “There is no substitute.” We can probably say the same about this amazing thermometer from ChefsTemp.

Now, I got lucky, and they sent me one free to review. But, having done so, I’d gladly have paid full pop for mine, and I’m happy to recommend you do the same — if you’re serious about your sizzle.

While all folding digital instant-read probe thermometers do the same basic job, this one does them all better. I do feel the Thermapen One just pips it to the post performance-wise, but for an average cost of $30 less, the ChefsTemp Finaltouch X10 is a worthy runner up!

Let’s start with the probe itself. Unfolding it from the body automatically powers up the X10; no fumbling for an ON/OFF button.

As you rotate the probe, you’ll eventually pass through 180 degrees before arriving at the final, fully open position 270 degrees away from fully closed. That means you can use it in practically any orientation anywhere on your grill, including the all-important left-handed 90-degree position.

Four photos showing the ChefsTemp FinalTouch X10 270 degrees of rotation

But what good would that be if the display stayed oriented to the right? ChefsTemp thought of that. Flip over the thermometer, and the display auto-rotates to the correct orientation, making it a truly ambidextrous unit.

It’s easy to read the large LCD, too, thanks to the high contrast screen. It has a basic white-on-black readout, not unlike a phone in night mode. The intelligent backlight comes on automatically when you move the thermometer and shuts off after a few seconds of disuse.

Features like this help prolong the battery life, too; the pair of AAAs should last up to 3000 hours.

The ChefsTemp Finaltouch X10 is also blazing fast, delivering accurate readings (±0.7 °F from -22 – 392 °F) in about one second flat. This greatly reduces the chance of missing your target temperature and burning your hand over a hot grill waiting for a reading.

In my tests, boiling water was measured at bang-on 212 °F:

ChefsTemp FinalTouch X10 taking the temperature of boiling water, displaying 212 degrees Fahrenheit

And iced water was measured at 31.9 °F:

ChefsTemp FinalTouch X10 taking the temperature of ice water, displaying 31.9 degrees Fahrenheit

This is incredibly accurate and right up there with the very best.

Other notable features include a robust, ergonomic design, IP67 waterproofing, anti-microbial housing, a 3-year replacement warranty, and it’s magnetic and has a hole to hang it on a hook when not in use. Oh, and it looks good, too!

Pros

  • Highly accurate
  • Incredibly fast
  • Easy-to-read high-contrast screen
  • Display auto-rotates for ambidextrous use
  • The probe rotates 270 degrees, making it easy to insert from any angle
  • Intelligent backlight comes on when you need it
  • Auto-sleep mode and motion-activated power up
  • IP67 waterproofing allows for complete submersion for easier cleaning

Cons

  • None. Seriously, none, it is that good.

The ChefsTemp Finaltouch X10 is hands down one of the very best instant-read thermometers available today. It’s an investment compared to some models, but it just does everything so well that it’s easy to swallow the price tag.

If you grill a lot and insist on nailing your doneness every time (as you should!), this is the thermometer for you.

Please see my hands on review and testing of the ChefsTemp FinalTouch X10 for further details.

Lavatools PT12 Javelin Digital Instant Read Meat Thermometer

3

The little brother to the Lavatools Javelin Pro thermometer discussed above, this unit is basically the bare-bones equivalent with fewer features.

Just like the Pro model above, the PT12 is accurate to within ±0.9 °F, and can read the internal temperature of meat in 3 – 4 seconds, just a tiny bit longer than the Pro. This makes it a very capable thermometer.

Just like the Pro, this model can read temperatures between -40 °F to 482 °F. So if you’re looking to use this unit to grill, barbecue, make candy or brew beer, it will get the job done.

Built with the same quality as its big brother, this unit also offers a splash-proof design.

But this is where the PT12 falls down when compared to the Pro:

The PT12 doesn’t offer nearly as many features, it’s a bare-bones unit offering just a built-in magnet and an auto-off function when you open and close the probe.

But as a basic unit, it’s easy to operate with nothing that can possibly confuse. Simply open the probe and the unit turns on. However, it doesn’t have a rotating or backlit display.

Pros

  • Accurate to ±0.9 °F
  • 4 second read time
  • Simple operation
  • Auto shut-off prolongs battery life
  • Great bang for your buck

Cons

  • We wish the PT12 had a backlit display for nighttime grilling because when smoking a large cut like a brisket or pork shoulder, it’s inevitable you’ll sometimes be grilling in the dark.
  • A rotating display would make it easier to read.

If you’re shopping on a budget, looking for a bare-bones unit that is still ‘fast enough’ and more than capable, or you’re simply looking for a second meat thermometer to have as a back-up, this is the unit for you.

Taylor Precision Products Dual Infrared and Thermocouple Thermometer

4

This unit is an interesting piece of kit that differs to most on this list. It is a dual function thermometer, able to both read the internal temp of meat by a probe, and also read surface temperatures thanks to the included infrared thermometer.

In other words, you will be able to read the temperature of surfaces without touching them using infrared light, making sure it’s hot enough before you start searing meat, or put your pizza onto a stone.

The accuracy of this unit varies depending on the temperature: below 14 °F – ±2 °F; 14 °F to 149 °F ±1 °F; Above 149 °F ±1% of the temperature being read.

With what has to be one of the fastest reading times I’ve ever seen, both the infrared and thermocouple thermometers can read within 1 second.

Again, the temperature range varies. The infrared temperature ranges from -67° to 482 °F. While thermocouple temperature ranges from -67 °F to 626 °F.

This model has three LED lights on the face of thermometer to let you know if the temperature you’re reading is either food safe for hot or cold holding, or if it’s somewhere in the middle.

There’s also a hold setting, to freeze the last read temp, and an auto shut-off to save battery.

This unit requires a bit more work to operate, but once you understand how it works, you shouldn’t have any issues.

To measure the internal temp of the meat, open the probe, press the green “Probe” button, and it will automatically measure your temp.

To measure the surface temp, hold the infrared lens a couple of inches away from the surface you want to measure. Press the red “Scan” button, and a white light becomes visible to show it’s reading the temperature.

Taylor is a trusted brand name that has been manufacturing thermometers for over 150 years. Like most of their products, this meat thermometer is a high-quality construction, built to last.

Pros

  • The fact you can measure both internal and surface temperatures.
  • Fast reading.
  • Interesting features, not seen on some others.
  • From a known, trusted and proven brand

Cons

  • The lack of a back lit screen is a bit of a let-down for a thermometer that has so many forward-thinking options.
  • It would also be nice if the screen were bigger and easier to read.
  • A bit harder to use than others, but still very simple (nobody will struggle with it.)

If you’re looking for a thermometer you can use to measure both the internal and surface temp, this unit offers excellent value.

If you already own an infrared thermometer, it wouldn’t be necessary to purchase a thermometer like this that offers both.

This is a great thermometer for the money. It is essentially like you’re getting two for the price of one, and should be a consideration for anybody that cooks in wood fired ovens / pizza ovens.

Surround Point Talking Instant Read Thermometer

5

The Surround Point Talking Thermometer is a nice thermometer at a lower price point. It does have a neat feature where it will actually speak out the temperature reading, so is good for those who are visually impaired.

The probe has a wide temperature range of -58℉ to 572℉, with an accuracy of ±1 °F, so you can take your temperature reading with confidence.

And like most all thermometers we’re looking at, it has a fast reading time of approx. 4 seconds.

As previously mentioned, this unit has the unique feature of being able to tell you out loud the temperature reading automatically. This is great if you’re trying to read temp in an awkward spot and can’t actually see the temperature reading.

There is a simple on/off button, and another button to choose between displaying temps in Fahrenheit or Celsius.

In addition, the unit has a backlit display (also push button) and automatically shuts itself off if left alone.

By no means is this thermometer difficult to use, but there are some buttons on it that you’ll need to operate to use it effectively.

Essentially if you want to use the backlight or have thermometer tell you aloud what the temperature is, you will need to press the clearly labeled buttons.

This unit is one of the cheaper ones on our list, so I feel obliged to warn that you frequently get what you pay for in these scenarios. It should also be noted that the unit is not waterproof.

Pros

  • The low price point
  • The neat feature where you can hear the temp at the push of a button
  • Backlit display (though push-button, not auto-sensing.)

Cons

  • It would be nice if the display could have rotated.
  • Nice if the unit was at the very least splash proof.

On top of being a great choice for someone on a budget, this thermometer would be great for someone visually impaired who will benefit from being told the temperature reading audibly.

If you wouldn’t either benefit or enjoy hearing the temperature read out, then this probably isn’t the model for you.

Also, if you’re looking for a quality thermometer with more bells and whistles like a rotating display or being splash proof, this may not be the unit for you.

In short, this is a great budget option and would probably make a nice back-up thermometer for some.

Maverick PT-75 Temp & Time Instant-Read Digital Thermometer

6

Generally, anything branded as a “maverick” is an outlaw that plays by its own rules. Like Ford’s 1970s compact car or Tom Cruise piloting an F-15. In this case, it’s a digital thermometer with some unconventional features.

Perhaps most noteworthy among those features is a solution to the problem of having to insert a probe thermometer “upside down” because of hand dominance or some other reason. Just press and hold the button on the back for a few seconds, and the LCD readout flips to the left-handed orientation. That’ll save a few craned necks.

Another plus is the LCD itself. Unlike virtually all other models, this one displays backlit white characters on a black background. As a result, it’s perfectly visible in all light conditions, including in total darkness. No button pressing is required, either — it stays on unless there’s a certain amount of inactivity. Even then, the display is on, just not backlit, and you can still read it under decent lighting.

The Maverick PT-75 instant read thermometer showing 63.9 degrees Fahrenheit

The “Temp” in the name is self-explanatory. But what about “Time”? That’s a reference to the count-up timer, a feature unique to the Maverick PT-75. You can activate the timer by pressing the button once after unfolding the probe. When you close the thermometer again after taking a reading, the timer starts counting up from 00:00.

Now you know how long it’s been since you last checked on your meat if you’re running a longer cook session. Need to check back in 10 minutes? No problem! Just check the display. The timer runs to 99 minutes before shutting off.

Those are the things the PT-75 does differently from the competition. What it does the same or better is give you fast and accurate readings. In fact, it performs on par with some of the very best on the market.

The manufacturer promises readings in about 2 seconds, and we found it delivered on that and sometimes did better. Accuracy is +/-2°F from 0 to 212°F, and our tests showed it to be at least that precise, if not more so.

Boiling water should be 212 °F; it measured 211.8 °F:

Maverick PT-75 being used to take the temperature of boiling water in a saucepan with a glass lid

Iced water should be close to 32 °F; it measured 33.1 °F:

Maverick PT-75 being used to measure the temperature of ice water

Additional features are the tapered probe for easier insertion, a large hole for hanging on a tool hook, a rubber tip at the probe end to guard against drop damage, and a rubber gasket to seal the battery compartment. Waterproofing is IP44, so it’s resistant to splashes.

Overall, the PT-75 is solidly built, beefy but not oversized, and easy to handle. And we definitely appreciate the large 6.2” handle and 4.7” probe for keeping sensitive hands well away from the heat.

Pros

  • Rotatable display for left- or right-handed operation
  • Auto-dimming always-on white on black LCD
  • Count up timer to measure time since last temperature check
  • Water-resistant housing
  • Very fast & accurate

Cons

  • Display does not rotate automatically. it need a button push
  • Multi-function button may be confusing at first

Given the array of unique and thoughtful features coupled with fast and nearly spot-on readings, we can’t help but recommend the Maverick PT-75 as a solid buy. Pricier than some, but over-delivers on performance.

For more details, please see our in-depth Maverick PT-75 instant-read thermometer review.

Thermoworks Thermopop

7

The Thermopop is another thermometer made by Thermoworks, the people that make the Thermapen, and while it’s still a great little thermometer, there are some stark differences between the two.

Right out of the gate, the Thermopop is nowhere near as accurate as the Thermapen. The Thermopop is accurate to within ±2.0 °F from -4 °F to 248 °F and ±4.0 °F thereafter.

Also, the Thermopop is just a little slower than the Thermapen and can read temps in 3 – 4 seconds.

Like most all thermometers in this list, and exactly like the Thermapen, the Thermopop has a wide temperature range of -58 °F to 572 °F.

Even with its small size, the unit is packed with features. It has a large rotating backlit display, is splash proof, and because of the round design and the rotating display, this unit can be turned on and used by either the right or left hand with ease.
Like all Thermoworks products, the Thermopop is a high-quality device designed for constant use in commercial kitchens.

There are nine colors to choose from, and it’s such a simple unit, it couldn’t be much easier to use. Put your probe into the food, and read the temp.

Pros

  • Definitely the best value in terms of getting a quality thermometer for the price.
  • We also like the ease of use and the rotating display.

Cons

  • While this unit is great and packed with features, we would really like if it was a little more accurate.

This unit is designed for constant use in a commercial kitchen, but is also great for someone who wants a quality thermometer for home use, while not wanting to spend a lot of money.

If you need to have a super accurate thermometer, or you want a large thermometer you can hold onto for an extended period of time, you may want to consider the Thermapen.

Regardless of what unit you go with, you’re going to have a quality tool to add to your grilling arsenal.

Lavatools Javelin PRO Duo

8

This is an excellent thermometer at an affordable price.

If you’ve never used a thermometer before, and you’re unsure if you want to shell out big bucks for one, this is a great choice.

The manufacturers’ website boasts great accuracy at ± 0.9 °F. You’re not going to have to worry about overcooking your steaks or serving undercooked poultry with this unit.

In addition to being super accurate, the Javelin Pro is able to read the temperature of food in as little as 2 – 3 seconds. Great if you’re looking to check your steaks quickly, and you don’t want to let too much heat escape your grill.

With a wide temperature range of -40 °F to ~482 °F (-40 °C to ~250 °C) there is very little this unit can’t be used for in the kitchen, let alone grilling. If you use a deep fryer, and you need to know the temp of your oil, this thermometer can handle this task as well.

While the manufacturer doesn’t claim that the unit is waterproof, they do state it is “splash resistant.”

All signs point to a quality thermometer that will last you a few years of regular use. And with a 3-year limited manufacturer’s’ warranty, you have the comfort of knowing the company is standing behind their product.

One of our favorite features is the “Intelligent Stabilization Alert + Temperature Hold” — in other words, the unit will beep to let you know it has completed accurate readings of the temp of the meat.

There is also a backlit display that will automatically notice when it’s too dark to read the unit and turn itself on. There’s a magnet built-into the unit, so it’s easier to store. Auto shut off if left open to conserve battery life, as well as a large auto rotating display, meaning you can use this unit with either your left or right hand with ease.

Finally, it can display temperatures in either Fahrenheit or Celsius.

Out of all the meat thermometers we looked at, we feel this one comes with the best mix of features at a great price.

Pros

  • The simplistic design.
  • Fast and accurate.
  • No confusing display.
  • Automatically turns on/off.
  • Auto backlit display.
  • A breeze to operate, requiring nothing from you but the ability to read numbers.
  • Great price point.
  • 3-year warranty.

Cons

  • It’s larger than some others
  • The hinge can be stiff to open — You’re going to need both hands to use this thermometer which isn’t a big problem, so long as you have somewhere safe to lay down your beer first.

If you’re looking for an accurate, superfast thermometer, with lots of added features at a reasonable price, this is the unit for you.

If you’re looking for a rugged unit that’s going to be built to last the rest of your days, or if you’re looking for a unit that is a little more basic, you may want to keep looking. But all in all, this is a great thermometer at a low budget.

For more in depth look at this thermometer, please check out our hands-on Lavatools Javelin Pro Duo review.

ThermoPro TP620 Instant Read Meat Thermometer

9

This is a high-end thermometer with many convenient features, and after my testing proved to be fast with high accuracy.

ThermoPro has made a reputation for itself, creating quality thermometers to fit every niche. The TP620, formerly marketed as the TP19X, takes aim at the premium instant-read market, boasting impressive statistics and well-thought-out design.

Looking at the manufacturer’s specs, the TP620 has a range of -58 °F to ~572 °F (-50 °C to ~300 °C), which is pretty typical for this type of thermometer. More importantly, ThermoPro reports an accuracy of ±0.9 °F/0.5 °C, which is at least as good as, if not better, than the majority of instant-read thermometers.

In my tests, for boiling water it measured 212 °F:

TP620 taking th measurement of boiling water in a saucepan on a hob.

And for iced water it measured 32 °F:

Thermopro TP620 taking the temperature of iced water, showing 32 degrees F

This absolutely bang on to the 1/10th of a degree, so you know you can trust this device!

The other key data point to consider is the response time. How “instant” is it? Readings happen in about 1 to 3 seconds. That’s comparable to the best on the market and faster than most lower-cost models.

Appearance-wise, the TP620 is boxier than some models, including its close cousin,  the TP19. But, with the slip-resistant handle, you’re unlikely to lose your grip.

There’s just one button on the front face of thermometer: a LOCK button that holds the displayed temperature for 5 seconds. That means you can stick the probe into your food, take a reading, press LOCK, and pull it away from the heat to view the results away from the heat safely.

A close up of the TP620 thermometer lock button

So, how does it turn on? Unfolding the 4.5” stainless steel probe from the antimicrobial-coated, waterproof base automatically turns on the display. Fold it back to the closed position to turn it off again. Don’t worry, though — if you forget, it goes into sleep mode after 90 seconds of inactivity. Any movement wakes the screen up again.

Inside the battery compartment (it runs on a single AAA for up to 3000 hours), you’ll find a recalibration button should you ever find your TP620 has lost its accuracy. Additionally, there’s a small button on the back to switch from Fahrenheit to Celsius.

Close up of the Thermopro TP620 battery compartment and calibration button

Pros

  • Auto on/off when probe is unfolded/folded
  • Digital display flips when up/down orientation changes
  • Large, bright, always-on readout
  • IP65 waterproof housing for rainy days and washing
  • Sleep mode conserves battery life
  • Built-in magnet and hook for storage

Cons

  • Probe folds out to 180 degrees, not 270 degrees, which would make it fully ambidextrous
  • It’s time to ditch the AAA; for this price, I’d like to see a rechargeable lithium battery
  • One of the pricier models of this type of thermometer

The ThermoPro TP620 is up with the category leaders for speed and accuracy. Combine these factors with the list of convenience features, and you’ll see it’s worth the extra money for anyone serious about barbecue.

For more details, read our hands-on review of the ThermoPro TP620.

Video: Instant Read Thermometer Overview

In the following video, the good people at Reviewed.com help us understand the basics of why you would want an instant-read thermometer for meat, and what to look for when purchasing one.

They also speak of the highlights of some of the units we’re going to review later in the article.

Let’s discuss things in more depth…

The Benefits of an Instant-Read Thermometer

For such a basic tool, there is little in my arsenal of cooking gadgets that outperform my instant-read thermometers when it comes to being essential.

It has easily improved my cooking skills more than any other tool by allowing my cooking to be more accurate and consistent.

With an instant-read thermometer, there is no more cutting open steaks or chicken to check if it is either safe to eat, or done to my liking. Regardless of what the recipe may tell you, the food is not cooked in five minutes, the food is cooked when it reaches the right internal temperature.

In short, an instant-read digital thermometer will quickly inform you what is going on inside your food, so you don’t ever have to guess and will rarely if ever get it wrong. No more serving undercooked unsafe to eat meat, or overcooked, dry boot leather.

Who Needs One?

The temperature of some meat on a BBQ being taken by an instant read thermometer
In my opinion, EVERYBODY who cooks, in any way, needs an instant read thermometer.

It is my firm opinion that anyone who cooks meat needs an instant-read thermometer to take accurate temperature readings. That is inclusive of both grill masters and master cooks who never venture outside.

Sure, there’s always that one guy who comes to the cookout, watches you grilling steaks, and gives lots of unsolicited advice. He swears by “this neat trick my Uncle taught me,” and proceeds to demonstrate how different parts of his hand mimic the doneness of the steak.

Don’t even get me started on this one!

Listen, this is plain false. The fact of the matter is a chubbier cook is going to have a fleshier hand than a skinnier cook. Their hands are not going to feel the same. Which brings me to my point: unless you use a quality thermometer you are guessing the internal temp of the meat.

If you’re cooking steaks to order, or you are serving meat that has to reach a specific temperature to be safe, like chicken breast or a turkey burger, you don’t want to be guessing if it’s done, do you?

For the health and safety of the people eating, you need to be sure. And the only way is to read temperatures with a thermometer. Buy one, they aren’t just for the grill, they are a kitchen thermometer too!

Digital vs. Analog

An analog thermometer taking the temp of a chicken
These old school, analog type thermometers just don’t cut it!

Thanks to digital thermometers it’s now easier than ever to know the internal temperature of the meat.

Before digital thermometers, there were only analog thermometers. Basically a probe with a dial thermometer at the end. And while they got the job done, they are no match to even the most basic of digital thermometers.

Even the best and most expensive analog thermometers take far, far longer to sense and settle into a proper reading and display it, when compared to their digital counterparts.

On top of this, anything but the most expensive analog thermometers aren’t known for being nearly as accurate as modern digital models, and don’t offer much more than an estimated temperature range.

What to Look for When Buying

An instant read thermometer being used to take the temp of a spatchcock chicken on a grill
Cook to temperature, not time, and see your results improve no end!

With so many models on the market, it can be a challenge to know what exactly to look for when you go shopping for a digital thermometer.

Before you go out and purchase the first unit you come across, here’s a quick rundown of the types of considerations you should keep in mind when shopping.

Accuracy

Before all else, you want a thermometer that’s accurate, and can either be calibrated by yourself, or comes with a guarantee of accuracy and can be calibrated by the manufacturer in the rare event it needs performing.

Accuracy is the single most important thing! It’s no good to you if it fools you into thinking your steak is medium rare when it’s the wrong side of rare or well done.

Speed of Reading

While not as important as accuracy, you want to be able to read your temperature and move on quickly.

The longer you’re standing with the lid to your grill open, the more heat is escaping, the more any charcoal or wood fire then fluctuate once the lid is closed again, and the less consistent your cook. Not to mention slower.

Temperature Range

The temp of a deep fat fryer being taken
You want a wide temperature range, so you can use your thermometer for more than just measuring the inside temperature of meat.

How high and low do you want to be able to read with your thermometer?

Obviously, if you’re going to be cooking steaks, you need to be able to read at least 145 °F, but if you’re cooking brisket or pork shoulder, you’ll want to be able to read to 205 °F.

If you want to use your thermometer to help you make candy, you’re going to want to be able to read even higher temps.

So make sure you buy a thermometer that will be able to measure all the temperatures you ever plan to test with it.

Features

Just like all modern accessories and gadgets, there are some great features available that can take a thermometer from merely good to truly great.

Most thermometers can go from Celsius to Fahrenheit with the push of a button. Many have backlit displays which make cooking outside at night easier, and some backlit displays are automatic, turning on their own when the light levels fall.

Some models have displays that auto-rotate to make it easier to read from every angle. Some display temperatures in tenths of a degree for super accuracy. And some are waterproof which means you don’t have to worry about getting them wet.

Decide which features really matter to you, but be aware that with every desirable feature you add, you generally speaking have to pay extra.

Ease of Use

The last — but still important — thing to consider is how easy it is to use.

When you’re in a hurry with a hoard of hungry family members waiting for dinner, or you’re juggling three grills, four types of meat, six sides and more, you don’t want to be fumbling with your thermometer. You want to be able to easily turn it on, use it, and put it away without any fuss.

How to Use an Instant Read Thermometer

using an instant read thermometer to measure the internal temperature of cooked meat

OK, so we’ve gone over what to look for in an instant-read thermometer, and reviewed some of the most popular models on the market, but how the heck do you use it?

According to Christine Gallary, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu and writer for Cook’s Illustrated, using a thermometer is undoubtedly not complicated, but there are some things to keep in mind.

No matter the type of meat you’re attempting to measure the temperature of, you should always place thermometer into the thickest part of the meat and keep the probe away from the bone.

If you’re trying to read the temp of a skinny piece of meat like a hamburger or thin pork chop, turn the meat sideways and place the probe in lengthwise. It’s easier to make sure you hit the center and get an accurate reading this way.

Lastly, you need to give your thermometer time to measure the temp so give it 4 or 5 seconds to finish reading the temperature.

How to Calibrate Your Thermometer

Not all thermometers can be calibrated without being returned to the manufacturer, but if you can, it would be a worthwhile practice to occasionally calibrate them to ensure if they’re always operating in tip-top shape.

Every thermometer will have a different process to calibrate them (if possible at all). You may have to simply push a button when thermometer has reached a certain temp, or you may have a small dial to turn. Consult your thermometer’s owner’s manual for more information.

You can check your thermometers calibration in one of two ways: you can insert it into boiling water and make sure it reads 212 °F, or you can place it in a bowl of ice water and make sure it reads 32 °F.

Care and Maintenance

For a thermometer to last years — or a lifetime — you must know how to care for and protect your investment. We’ll start with cleaning it.

Some thermometers are waterproof, and others are not, so you will need to be careful when cleaning.

You may only be able to simply clean the tip of the probe with a damp cloth so not to damage the unit. But regardless of thermometer type, you should clean the probe after every use for hygiene reasons. You do not want to introduce germs and bacteria into your food when taking a reading.

So, thoroughly clean your thermometer probe with soapy water after every use, but be mindful of the fact you should not get the body wet as it may malfunction.

Next, don’t leave your thermometer outside for long periods of time. If it gets either too cold in winter, or too hot if left in direct sunlight, it can easily damage the internal electronics.

Make sure the unit is turned off when stored away and be on the lookout for weak batteries. Once the batteries start to wear down, don’t hesitate to replace them with fresh ones because old batteries leak acid that damages the internals.

Conclusion

The Thermoworks Thermapen MK4 takes the top spot in our list of instant-read thermometers. With a high-quality build, super-fast and accurate temperature readings, and long list of features, it simply can’t be beaten.

Coming in a close second is the Lavatools Javelin Pro, which is almost as good and has a lot of the same features as the Thermapen, but for approximately half the price.

What do you think? Did we miss any major thermometers on the market that should be included in this guide?

Please leave us a comment below to let us know your thoughts.

Happy grilling!

I'm a self-proclaimed BBQ nut, and the founder and chief editor here at Food Fire Friends.

I love cooking outdoors over live fire and smoke whatever the weather, using various grills, smokers, and wood-fired ovens to produce epic food. My goal with this site is to help as many people as possible enjoy and be good at doing the same.

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4 Comments

  1. I started using a Meat thermometer when I realized that bacterias remain in a cooked food with the wrong temperature, finally, I have found amazing Thermometer very often and very satisfied with it.

    1. Avatar for Mark Jenner Mark Jenner says:

      I use a meat thermometer pretty much every time, for outdoor cooking and in the kitchen. Certainly food safety is a big part of that, but also because cooking to temperature guarantees the best results, better than me just going by feel and invariably overcooking things, haha.

  2. My Thermapen MK4 lasted roughly 3 years of occasional use. Costs $30 to repair. I’m going to try one of the budget ones recommended here. If it breaks, at least I won’t be wasting $100 again.

    1. Avatar for Mark Jenner Mark Jenner says:

      Oh wow, sorry to hear that Eduardo. They are usually very reliable, so I think you may have been unlucky?! Still, I feel your pain, it’s horrible to spend good money on quality products to have them fail. My latest was a top of the range Microsoft SurfaceBook laptop (not cheap!), along with a 3-year care plan. 3 years and 2 months in, the screen now has burning on the edges, with the touch screen layer peeling off, just 2 months out of the extended care plan I bought, so I cannot get it repaired. Not good. 🙁

      Anyway, I’ve had a Thermapen MK3 for about 3 years now, gets a ton of use, only had to change the battery in that time and is still going strong (the one in the pic top of this post.) I also have the Lavatools Javelin Pro, and a couple of others, they’ve all lasted really well. I always come back to the Javelin pro or Thermapen 3 though, maybe out of habit, but also because they just feel better in the hand, and work fast and well.