This $7 Tool Is So Essential, I Have Two in My Kitchen at All Times

updated Jun 20, 2023
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homemade lasagna from the oven holding hands with a checkered towel
Credit: Leonid Sneg/Getty Images

As a recipe developer who has tested more than a thousand recipes in my career, I’m well-stocked with tools that help me measure. I use timers, scales, and measuring cups and spoons, and even pull out a ruler on occasion. I also have thermometers to measure the temperature of meat and oil when I’m deep-frying. In fact, there’s one particular thermometer I love so much and use so often that I have two of them in my kitchen at all times: an oven thermometer.

The oven thermometer is a humble kitchen gadget, but one I can’t live without. And this simple, inexpensive $7 version with a large display from Taylor is a must-have to make sure I’m testing recipes at the right temperature.

What’s So Great About an Oven Thermometer?

When you’re using an oven, an accurate temperature is really key to make sure baked goods rise properly, and meats and casseroles brown and cook in the expected amount of time. While ovens have built-in thermometers that tell it when to turn the heating element on and off, it isn’t always accurate. My oven has always been a bit finicky and tends to run on the cooler side, so having a stand-alone oven thermometer has been great to determine what the actual temperature is inside. I usually then set my oven a little higher than the temperature called for in a recipe, as I know that it runs cool.

Here are some other reasons you should get an oven thermometer.

  • You can figure out hot spots. If you suspect some parts of your oven run hotter than others, use the oven thermometer to take the temperature in a few spots to see what’s really happening.
  • It can tell you when your oven needs repairs. The ignitor in my gas oven needs replacing every few years, and when it’s not working properly, the oven turns on but doesn’t heat much past 300ºF. When I suspect this is happening, all I need to do is check my stand-alone thermometer to see if I need to call the repairman.
  • You can tell when your oven is properly preheated. My oven doesn’t have a digital display and only has a little light on the control panel to tell me when it reaches the right temperature. Even then, the light goes off before the oven is fully preheated. A quick glance at my stand-alone will tell me if I’m at the right temperature to start baking.

There’s a whole range of oven thermometers out there you can buy, but I find that simple is best — especially because they do need to be replaced often. At three inches wide, Taylor’s large dial one is about twice as large as most oven thermometers, so the display is big enough that I don’t need to get too close to read the temperature. It can hang from an oven rack or be placed directly on a rack or the bottom of the oven so that you have some options on placement. The Taylor thermometer can measure temps of 100ºF to 600ºF, which is great if you like to get your oven rip-roaring hot for baking things like pizzas.

Although I have an oven thermometer in the oven at all times (even when the oven is not on), my appliance repair person actually advised me to always have two of them on hand. These thermometers don’t have a long life, about 6 to 8 months with fairly regular use, and either stop working or the display darkens too much to read, so having two means there’s always at least one working one around.