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The Best Meat Thermometers to Buy Right Now

updated Nov 6, 2023
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A graphic featuring instant read meat thermometers from different brands.
Credit: Kitchn

I was at my parents’ house for dinner one night and my dad made grilled chicken thighs that looked great — crisp, bronzed skin and TV-worthy grill marks. But when I cut into them, they were wildly undercooked. My dad showed me the thermometer he used to temp it, which was oh, about 20-plus years old. He used the same thermometer every Thanksgiving while I was growing up — obviously, it was time for a more accurate upgrade. 

My go-to instant-read thermometer, for years, was the ThermoWorks Thermapen Mk4, but the company phased it out for an even faster thermometer in its place: the Thermapen ONE.

Of course, this upgrade meant it was time to do some testing. I wanted to try out the new model (and as many other options as I could get my hands on) to find the best instant-read thermometers. After extensive testing and lots of temperature-taking, here’s what I found out. First, let’s start with a quick rundown of the winners. 

Credit: Riddley Gemperlein-Schirm

Best Overall Instant-Read Thermometer: ThermoWorks Thermapen ONE

ThermoWorks’ thermometer (which replaced the long-standing Thermapen Mk4) is everything the company promises it to be: lightning-fast, incredibly accurate, and a joy to use. It is the quickest of all the thermometers I tested and gave readings in, often, just ONE second (get the name, now?), which makes it the “first true one-second instant-read thermometer.”

It has motion-activated auto-wake and -sleep features, an auto-rotating screen for left- and right-handed folks, a large display, and a bright backlight. If you want a top-notch thermometer that does its job perfectly, this is a no-brainer. You can read our full ThermoWorks Thermapen ONE review here.

Specifications

  • Range: -58.0 to 572.0°F 

Rating Criteria

  • Accuracy: 5
  • Speed: 5
  • Ease of Use: 5

Who it’s best for: Anyone who wants an incredibly accurate, incredibly fast instant-read thermometer. It’s worth the investment — even if you don’t cook meat all that often.

Good to know: It comes with a five-year warranty and is waterproof. There are 10 fun color options. It can also be recalibrated for accuracy, a service ThermoWorks offers under its warranty.


Best Budget Instant-Read Thermometer: ThermoWorks ThermoPop2

For anyone who’s not ready or able to invest in the Thermapen ONE, the Thermoworks ThermoPop2 is the best budget-friendly instant-read thermometer. The ThermoPop2 is brand new, and an upgrade to their original ThermoPop model. While we haven’t physically tested the Thermopop2, we tested the original and we trust the brand, so we can assume that the 2 is even better. During our testing, the ThermoPop was incredibly accurate and, while it was slower than the Thermapen ONE, it was still speedy, averaging 3 seconds a reading — which isn’t very long in real life! It even boasted some of the features of its pricier sibling, like motion-activated rotating display and two probe lengths (6 inches and 8 inches).

It has an easy-to-read display and a cap that can hook onto your pocket, chef’s coat, or apron. Most importantly, it works incredibly well. For the price and accuracy, you can’t go wrong with a ThermoPop2. The Lavatools Javelin PRO Duo is another good budget-friendly option, but I would consider it to be more mid-priced and think the ThermoPop2 provides a better value.

Specifications

  • Range: -58.0 to 572.0°F 

Rating Criteria

  • Accuracy: 5
  • Speed: 5
  • Ease of Use: 4

Who it’s best for: Anyone who wants a fantastic instant-read thermometer that won’t break the bank.
Good to know: It’s “splash-proof” and comes in nine colors, just like the more expensive Thermapen ONE.


Best Instant-Read Thermometer for Left-Handed People: OXO Good Grips Thermocouple Thermometer

This OXO thermometer is wildly accurate and almost as fast as the ThermoPop2, with readings in 3 to 4 seconds. It also has lots of helpful features: a large display, an auto-rotating screen, an auto-backlight, and automatic sleep and wake functions when the probe is opened or closed. I also like that it comes with a carrying/storage case. But the reason why this thermometer is so good for those who are left-handed is because it has straight sides (the Thermapen has ridges) that make it comfy to hold with either hand.

Its temperature probe also opens 225 degrees (versus the Thermapen’s 180), so you can read it at more angles. Two small quibbles? The exterior is a bit slippery, and while OXO claims you can open the probe without touching it via the large dial, the dial is stiff and much harder to use than if you just pulled the probe out yourself. Overall, though, it’s still a fantastic instant-read thermometer.

Specifications

  • Range: -58.0 to 572.0°F 

Rating Criteria:

  • Accuracy: 5
  • Speed: 4.5
  • Ease of Use: 4

Who it’s best for: Those who are left-handed or just want a thermometer probe that rotates more for a comfortable reading.
Good to know: It’s water-resistant.

Credit: Riddley Gemperlein-Schirm
The sous vide water bath was an easy way to gauge the thermometers' accuracy.

How We Tested the Best Instant-Read Thermometers

  • Use each thermometer to check the temperature of ice water (a cup filled with crushed ice and topped off with water) three times.
  • Use each thermometer to check the temperature of a sous vide water bath set to 130°F (the temperature used to cook steak medium-rare) three times.
  • Use each thermometer to check the temperature of boiling water three times.
  • Use each thermometer to check the temperature of baked salmon.

How We Evaluated the Best Instant-Read Thermometers 

I rated all of the thermometers on the following criteria, on a scale of 1 to 5 (1 being the worst and 5 being the best):

  • Accuracy: How accurate is the thermometer?
  • Speed: How long does it take for the thermometer to reach its temperature reading?
  • Ease of Use: How easy is the thermometer to use? 

Why Do You Need an Instant-Read Thermometer?

Serving or eating undercooked meat is one of my biggest culinary fears, so I’m never without my instant-read thermometer. And I don’t think anyone should cook without one either — my father included!

While these kinds of thermometers are often called “meat thermometers,” they’re good for more than just chicken, steak, or pork: A great instant-read thermometer will help you bake bread, make caramel sauce, check the temperature of an ice cream base before churning, and so much more.

What to Consider When Buying an Instant-Read Thermometer

How accurate (and fast) is the thermometer? 

If a thermometer’s not accurate or speedy, I don’t want it. I performed a few baseline accuracy tests, with different temperatures of water, repeating each test three times to check the thermometers’ consistency.

For my first test, I filled a cup with crushed ice and topped it off with water, letting the whole thing sit for a couple of minutes, as per these ThermoWorks instructions— at which point the water would be 32°F. Then, I took the temperature of the ice bath, noting that the thermometers started out around 70°F (my kitchen’s room temperature). The most accurate thermometers read 32°F in about 5 seconds, with the fastest one clocking in at about 2 seconds, and showed the same reading each time. The slowest models took upwards of 44 seconds and read different temperatures after every use.

I also took the temperatures of boiling water and sous vide water bath set at 130°F. All of the thermometers fared better compared to the ice water test, but there were still big differences among them. I used this sous vide circulator with a large pot of water, so no matter where I stuck the thermometers’ probes, the water would be at the same temperature. The best models read 130°F every single time and took the temperature in 3 seconds or less. My favorite model reached 130°F in a blisteringly fast second. Yes, one second.

With with the boiling water, I looked for temperatures of about 212°F, or the boiling point of water. The best thermometers hit that mark quickly — but, again, the worst models took upwards of 21 seconds, which was extremely uncomfortable for my hand.

I also used each thermometer to take the temperature of baked salmon to help me narrow down which models were the easiest to use in real-world situations.

Credit: Riddley Gemperlein-Schirm
Instant-read thermometers with larger displays were much easier to read.

How easy is it to use? 

There are some key features that differentiate the models. For starters, the temperature probe has to release or be able to be pulled out from its rest position easily. Some models have probes that have to be tugged open quite harshly.

I also appreciate a large display that’s easy to read, has an auto-wake and -sleep feature (turning it on and off when you pull the probe out and put it back down), and has a backlight. The latter was immensely helpful for reading temperatures when hunched down and checking on the salmon in a shadowy oven or if you’re grilling outside at dusk or night. My favorite models also have rotating screens, making them suitable for both right- and left-handed cooks.


Why You Should Trust Us 

I’m a professional kitchen equipment tester and former tools editor here at The Kitchn. I previously worked at America’s Test Kitchen and my reviews on topics like stand mixers, induction burners, toaster ovens, and multicookers have been published in Cook’s Illustrated, Cook’s Country, and on the America’s Test Kitchen website. My work has also been featured on America’s Test Kitchen’s and Cook’s Country’s television programs. 

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