Why Use a Meat Thermometer?
The top performers in our review are the ThermoWorks Super-Fast Thermapen, the Gold Award winner; the ThermoWorks Thermopop, the Silver Award winner; and the Lavatools Javelin, the Bronze Award winner. Here is more information on choosing a meat thermometer, along with information on how we arrived at our ranking of 10 thermometers.
A meal is a sure way to bring both friends and family together, but dry or overcooked meat can detract from your enjoyment of the meal, and undercooked food can even lead to foodborne illness. While experienced chefs seem to intuitively know when meat is ready, getting the prefect doneness can involve a lot of guesswork for the rest of us. Checking the clarity of the juices or the color or crispness of the meat often feels like guesswork, and gauging doneness based on the cooking duration alone is a recipe for disaster.
However, with a meat thermometer, the majority of the guesswork disappears. By determining the internal temperature of foods, you can better gauge how well the meat is cooked and achieve the right level of doneness without making a large cut in the meat to see inside. Using a thermometer is the only certain way to tell when your meat is done, and our articles on meat thermometers can help you choose one that works for you.
Types of Meat Thermometers: Instant-Read vs. In-Probe
Meat thermometers come in two varieties: instant-read and in-probe. Instant-read meat thermometers consist of a single probe that provides an immediate, one-time readout of the temperature within the meat. They don’t monitor changes in temperatures over time, but rather provide a single glimpse at the meat's doneness. An in-probe thermometer, on the other hand, consists of a probe attached to a heat-resistant wire, connecting the probe to a digital display. These devices are intended for continuous monitoring of internal temperatures for a single item of food, but shouldn’t be confused with digital grill thermometers.
Meat thermometers vary from digital grill thermometers both in purpose and design. Whereas a meat thermometer is typified by its portable size, grill thermometers are much larger. Likewise, while meat thermometers are designed to provide information on one piece of meat at a time, grill thermometers are connected to multiple probes to actively monitor an entire grill of cooking food and determine where temperature variances might be. Grill thermometers must remain inserted into food throughout the duration of the cooking process.
Meat thermometers, while usable on a grill, can only measure the temperature of a single item at a time. This means they’re better suited to use in a kitchen to test the internal temperature of a turkey or roast in the oven or food cooking on the stovetop.
Meat Thermometers: How We Tested; What We Found
We tested these meat thermometers while baking chicken breasts of similar thickness levels in a gas oven set to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Because the internal temperature for poultry should reach 165 degrees Fahrenheit to be considered fully cooked, this was our target temperature for our testing. The testing environment, a medium sized kitchen, had a stable room temperature.
Of the meat thermometers we tested, two have built-in temperature presets and doneness levels for several types of meat. These presets included ideal temperatures and doneness levels for poultry, beef, fish, lamb and multiple other meats. On these two devices, we used the poultry settings to determine their accuracy.
We evaluated each meat thermometer we reviewed based on its performance and convenience, as well as on the help and support offered by the manufacturer. Here's what we found as we tested the thermometers.
Accuracy and Response Time Vary
The most ideal food thermometers are those that measure the widest range of temperatures and obtain accurate readouts quickly. No meat thermometer is 100-percent accurate, and each will have a slight variance from the actual internal temperature of food. Based on manufacturing specifications, the accuracy of these devices range from being within 0.7 to 2 degrees Fahrenheit of the readout, with the most common deviation being plus-or-minus 2 degrees. The better thermometers we reviewed generally have a smaller variance.
Most manufacturers provide their own specifications and data for response time, as well. Response time is a measurement of how quickly the thermometer calculates 62.3 percent of the temperature. This means it actually takes longer to get a true, full reading than the response time the manufacturers advertise. To get an accurate measure of temperature, you'll have to wait a little longer than the manufacturer's advertised response time.
To determine an average reading time – or how long it takes to get a full temperature readout rather than simply an initial response – we used a stopwatch to time how long it took each thermometer to register a full temperature reading and averaged the results of multiple attempts. We found that the best meat thermometers determine a full reading in less than 10 seconds. On average, it takes around 14 seconds, but the slowest thermometers will take upwards of 20 seconds to display a full reading.
Advertised response times are much faster than full readings – typically under five seconds, with the slowest being only eight seconds. For example, the Javelin by Lavatools took at least nine seconds to display a full reading in our testing, which is longer than the advertised four seconds it takes to obtain an initial readout. Thermometers with shorter response times tend to be more accurate.
Additional Features Add Convenience and Ease
Although meat thermometers serve a very simple purpose, additional features designed for convenience can increase a model's usefulness in the kitchen. For example, devices last longer with an automatic shutoff that prolongs its battery life.
While long probes, included batteries and water resistance are rather typical convenience features in the industry, some devices offer unique perks. For example, the iDevices Kitchen Thermometer has a downloadable app and pairs with your smartphone or tablet via a Bluetooth connection. We installed the app on an iPhone 5S and analyzed it for readout features, reliability and ease of use.
Models with temperatures presets make it easy to get the right temperature for whatever meat you're cooking. For example, the Supreme Home Cook Touchscreen Thermometer has built-in temperature presets with ideal temperatures for chicken, turkey, veal, lamb, ham, beef and pork. This model also has audible alarms to let know when your food reaches a specific temperature, and you can set your own timers and alarms, too.
We also determined an ease of use score for each thermometer we tested. This score is based on our overall experience in using each thermometer. We took into consideration the difficulty in powering the thermometer on, getting readings, changing settings and enabling alarms. For example, folding probe thermometers like the Lavatools Javelin and EatSmart Precision Elite Thermocouple power on automatically after you unfold them, so you can measure your food's temperature immediately without having to fiddle with buttons or settings. Another thermometer, the iDevices Kitchen Thermometer Mini, requires you to pair the thermometer with your smartphone over Bluetooth. Its setup isn't as fast when comparing it with others since you have to use your smartphone and an app to get temperature readings.
Another standout thermometer in this category is the ThermoWorks Thermopop. It has an adjustable display that can rotate 90 degrees after pushing a button. This makes it easier to read when you are taking measurements at awkward angles. We liked the Polder Stable-Read thermometer for its single-button simplicity: just push it to turn it on, insert it into the food and wait a moment to get a readout.
Help & Support: Warranty Length Matters
The manufacturers that sell the meat thermometers we reviewed all offer basic lines of communication, including telephone, email and website FAQs. These are useful resources in case you have a problem with or question about your meat thermometer. In evaluating the devices, we factored in the length of the warranty, which typically ranges between one and five years. The most common is a one-year warranty. Longer warranties received higher scores in this area as this prolongs the potential value of your purchase in the event you need a replacement device.
Top Ten Reviews seeks, whenever possible, to evaluate and test all products and services to simulate the consumer experience as closely as possible. The manufacturers had no input or influence over our test methodology, nor was the methodology provided to any of them in more detail than is available through reading our reviews. The results of our tests were not provided to the companies in advance of publication.
Meat Thermometers: Our Verdict and Recommendations
Based on our research, we've ranked the ThermoWorks Super-Fast Thermapen, ThermoWorks Thermopop TX-3100 and the Lavatools Javelin as the best meat thermometers for their accuracy, speedy readouts and ability to measure a wide temperature range. However, other models also deserve a mention. If you are looking for an instant-read thermometer on a budget, consider the Polder Stable-Read THM-389-90. It's a compact and easy-to-use device that is less expensive than other models. It also beeps when it determines a full reading; surprisingly, this audible cue wasn't a common feature among the meat thermometers we tested. For an unusual in-probe meat thermometer, consider the iDevices Kitchen Thermometer mini, which pairs with your smartphone via an app that reports its temperature readings.