Critics' Pick

The Best Thermometers for Backyard Grilling Sessions

published May 29, 2020
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Checking temperature of grilled chicken with a thermometer
Credit: Mia Yakel/Kitchn

You’ve probably heard us say it before, but every home cook needs a thermometer. (Heck, even professional chefs swear by them!) And this is especially true when you’re grilling — whether it’s expensive cuts of meat or just a bunch of chicken thighs. You may think you can eyeball things or just use the thermometer that’s built into your grill’s lid, but you can’t see inside a piece of meat, and the thermometer on your lid just tells you how hot things are at the top of the dome (not in the middle of a steak). So, yes, you need a thermometer for your backyard grilling sessions. Which one, though? We looked to see what other experts and shoppers had to recommend and then we weighed in with our own thoughts. Let’s take a look.

First, though, let’s talk about the two main different types of thermometers: instant-read and probe thermometers. Instant-read thermometers give a super-accurate read-out fairly quickly (nearly instantly, actually, hence the name!). They tend to last longer than probe thermometers because they don’t have any of those exposed wires, which do eventually degrade over time. Probe thermometers have, well, probes that stick into the meat (or whatever you’re cooking) and monitor the temperature while things cook (so you don’t have to open the grill lid or oven door to take a reading). Probe thermometers either have just a simple base (that’s attached to the probe), come with a handheld monitor (and work pager-style), or connect to a smartphone app (with radio, Bluetooth, or Wi-Fi). Got it? Okay, on to the picks now!

The Best Instant-Read Thermometer, According to Wirecutter

ThermoWorks ThermoPop, $34 at ThermoWorks

The folks at Wirecutter picked this affordably priced thermometer for a few reasons. Testers were impressed with how quick it was to read temps and how accurately it read out. They said the backlit display was easy to read and they liked that it automatically rotates, depending on the thermometer’s orientation. Testers also noted that the ThermoPop has a generous reading range (–58 to 572°F) and can easily toggle from Fahrenheit to Celsius. It wasn’t the fastest (by a matter of just a few seconds), but Wirecutter decided that the price and other features made this the winner for most backyard grillers.

The Best Probe Thermometer, According to Wirecutter

ThermoWorks Dot, $43 at ThermoWorks

Wirecutter had a recommendation for a probe thermometer, too: the ThermoWorks Dot, because it was the fastest and most accurate during testing. The testers liked that using it was simple and straightforward and that it had a strong magnet on the back of the unit to keep it attached to the side of the grill. Perhaps most noteworthy, though, is the fact that the probe’s cable is heat-resistant up to 700°F, whereas most others can only go up to 400°F. It’s the most basic type of probe thermometer, meaning it only comes with a base and you have to be by the grill to check the read-out.

The Best Remote-Probe Thermometer, According to Cook’s Illustrated

ThermoWorks Smoke 2-Channel Alarm, $99 at ThermoWorks

Cook’s Illustrated tested for the best remote-probe thermometer (one that comes with a handheld monitor) and picked this one. They liked that it paired automatically with the receiver (no messing with Bluetooth and apps!) and that the base and receiver were clear to read in daylight and the dark. The receiver works within 300 feet, lets you know when you go out of range, and reconnects on its own when you’re back in range. Testers also liked that it can read up to 572 degrees and transmits temperature data from the probe to the base in 8 seconds.

The Best-Selling Grilling Thermometer on Amazon

ThermoPro TP20 Wireless Remote Digital Cooking Food Meat Thermometer, $60

The best-selling grill thermometer on Amazon has a 4.5-star rating and more than 5,800 five-star reviews. Satisfied shoppers called out the two probes, the accuracy, the range of the remote base, and that it’s surprisingly durable (just don’t go throwing it around). It also seems to be pretty popular among smokers — not just grillers.

Kitchn’s Thoughts on the Best Thermometers for Grilling

We have strong opinions on grilling thermometers. (And actually, on all thermometers; yes, we think everyone needs three.) And it’s no secret how much we love ThermoWorks — the brand really does make the most accurate and long-lasting thermometers. So of course we were glad to see the company show up so much on this list. But we’d like to nominate a different ThermoWorks option: the Thermapen Mk4, which we love for the kitchen and the grill. It’s more expensive than other instant-read ThermoWorks thermometers, but it will last. And it’s truly the fastest and most accurate of all the ones we’ve ever tested. It has a rotating, backlit display and reads up to 572°F in a matter of seconds. It’s also the upgrade pick from Wirecutter and a top choice among chefs, so we’re not the only ones who love this little guy.

Note: For safety’s sake grab a pack of these cheap wipes that let you just quickly wipe the probe down between uses, no washing needed.

Do you have a thermometer that you love to use when grilling? Tell us in the comments below!