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Best Meat Thermometers
Why Use a Meat Thermometer?
We spent 80 hours testing meat thermometers from different manufacturers to find the best models. We baked similar-sized chicken breasts in a controlled environment, checked the internal temperature of each and used a stopwatch to see how long it took for each thermometer to provide a readout. Our favorite pick is the ThermoWorks Classic Super-Fast Thermapen, which typically gives you an accurate temperature readout in less than four seconds. It is easy to use since you simply plunge the probe into food and press a button, and it is water-resistant to boot.
We were also impressed with the lollipop-shaped ThermoWorks Thermopop TX-3100 that can display correct food temperatures in eight seconds and offers conveniences like backlighting and stand-out numerals for easy reading.
Another great choice was the Lavatools Javelin that is not only extremely accurate and fast as a meat thermometer, but also lets you fold it in half, which makes it easy to carry. It even has a magnet so you can stick it on the refrigerator until you need it again.
How to Choose the Best Meat Thermometer
It’s a good idea to get a meat thermometer that yields a full temperature reading quickly, and we found the best thermometers give you a complete reading – not simply an initial response – in less than 10 seconds.
During our testing to find an average reading time for the thermometers we were investigating, we used a stopwatch to time how long it took each thermometer to register a full temperature reading and then we averaged the results of multiple attempts. Top-notch thermometers give you a full temperature reading in less than 10 seconds, while the slowest take as much as 20 seconds. Of course, 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 ranges from being within 0.7 to 2 degrees Fahrenheit of the readout, with the most common deviation being plus-or-minus 2 degrees.
Most manufacturers provide their own specifications and data for response time, and it’s always good to take note of these 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 time, but this shouldn’t be too much trouble since it typically means just seconds.
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.
Other Things to Look For in a Meat Thermometer
Although meat thermometers serve a very simple purpose, extra features can add convenience. For example, automatic shutoff can prolong battery life so you don’t have to buy batteries so often.
While long probes, included batteries and water resistance are rather typical features in the industry, some devices offer unique perks you might like. 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.
No matter what meat you’re cooking, a model with temperature presets makes 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. In addition, 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.
No matter how much or little you spend, it’s great to get a meat thermometer that offers a good warranty, and most meat thermometers come with warranties ranging from one to five years. It’s also nice to have easy access to customer service if you need help. The thermometers we tested all offer basic lines of communication, including telephone, email and website FAQs.
With a good-quality meat thermometer, even an inexperienced cook can take on that Thanksgiving turkey or prime rib, get it cooked to perfection and not worry about the risks of food-borne illnesses. Using a thermometer is the only certain way to tell when your meat is done.
Contributing Reviewer: Linda Thomson