ThermoWorks Thermapen Mk4
ThermoWorks Thermapen Mk4

Best digital, instant-read meat thermometer

The ThermoWorks Thermapen Mk4 is the undisputed king of the instant-read meat thermometer hill, thanks to a thermocouple sensor that returns highly accurate readings in two to four seconds -- almost twice as fast as the nearest competition. Together, the 4.5-inch probe and folding handle keep your hand about 10 inches away from anything hot. A solid, durable build and great usability features like a rotating display, automatic backlight and auto sleep/wake function make this thermometer well worth its asking price.

Est. $99 Estimated Price
Lavatools Javelin
Lavatools Javelin

Cheap digital meat thermometer

The Lavatools Javelin is a great bargain for the price. Best for occasional users, it returns reliable results in about four to six seconds and measures temperatures up to 482 degrees Fahrenheit. A built-in magnet and hanging hook make it easy to keep track of, and the Javelin folds in half for easy storage. The Lavatools Javelin also turns itself on and off automatically as you fold or unfold it, and has a large, easy-to-read readout display.

ThermoWorks ChefAlarm TX-1100-XX
ThermoWorks ChefAlarm TX-1100-XX

Best leave-in meat thermometer

The ThermoWorks ChefAlarm TX-1100-XX's usability features are comprehensive without being too fiddly. It also has tough probe cables that can stand up to a lot of abuse and even splashing liquids, whether from hot grease or a cold rain. The thermometer remembers most settings even when it's turned off, and the alarm has four volume settings. Replacement probes are inexpensive with several options to choose from, some of which return results quickly enough to double as an instant-read thermometer.

Est. $52 Estimated Price
Taylor Gourmet Digital Cooking Thermometer 1478-21
Taylor Gourmet Digital Cooking Thermometer 1478-21

Cheap leave-in meat thermometer

Best for occasional use with oven cooking -- no grills -- the leave-in Taylor Gourmet Digital Cooking Thermometer earns high praise for its accuracy and places near the top in one comparative test. User feedback is a little more mixed, mainly due to problems with water getting into the probe cables, but when this thermometer works owners are thrilled with the bargain they're getting. Taylor customer service proactively reaches out to support anyone who mentions having a problem.

iDevices Kitchen Thermometer
iDevices Kitchen Thermometer

Best wireless meat thermometer

The dual-probe iDevices Kitchen Thermometer has a well-lit, easy-to-read display and does consistently well in tests of its accuracy and repeatability. But its most attention-getting feature, by far, is the ability to pair with your iOS or Android smartphone and send push notifications when your meat reaches whatever target temperature (or temperature range) you set. The base display also beeps an alarm, albeit quietly, and the app displays temperature graphs and lets you select or create preprogrammed temperature settings.

Oregon Scientific AW131
Oregon Scientific AW131

Cheap wireless meat thermometer

The Oregon Scientific AW131 leave-in thermometer nabs great scores for accuracy and repeatability, plus a coveted recommendation from a major consumer research lab. It registers temperatures up to 572 degrees Fahrenheit, so you can use it anywhere as long as you're careful not to get the probes' braided metal cable wet. The AW131 also has a talking alarm/reminder feature that's very useful for the vision-impaired. If you have trouble syncing this device, reset the receiver first, then the transmitter.

See a side-by-side comparison of key features, product specs, and prices.

Meat thermometers are more than "just" the key to a perfect roast

Meat thermometers might seem like an unnecessary accessory -- after all, can't you tell when a piece of meat is done by cutting into it, or poking it with a finger? For home cooks, the answer is no. As clever as some of the guesswork methods of estimating when meat is done may be, they're just that -- guesswork.

In fact, many of us are reaping the consequences of all that guesswork without realizing it. Often, what we call the "stomach flu" is not related to the influenza virus at all, but instead a reaction to improperly cooked food. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that every year about 1 in 6 Americans gets sick from foodborne diseases. That's 48 million people -- and of that group, some 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die.

Even the old methods that once worked -- for example, waiting until a cooked chicken's juices run clear to call it done -- don't necessarily work today, because the way we've raised our meat animals has changed. Things get especially tricky when you're dealing with a big roast, ham or turkey, because different parts of the meat may heat at different rates, and you need to be sure the entire cut is done all the way through.

Having a meat thermometer in hand is the only way to be sure the meat you're cooking is safe. As a bonus, it'll also make it easy for you to produce perfectly cooked cuts of meat every time, even if your grill or oven has hot spots that make separate cuts of meat heat unevenly.

Types of meat thermometers

An instant-read thermometer is meant to be poked into the meat to check its doneness, then removed. However, don't let the "instant" part of the name fool you. If your instant-read thermometer costs less than $100, it probably uses a thermistor sensor, which can take up to 30 seconds to give you an accurate reading -- although the best thermistors can manage it in five to seven seconds.

If you use your thermometer a lot, consider investing in a thermometer with a thermocouple sensor. Thermocouples usually drive the thermometer's cost up to $100 or more, but they also give you accurate readings within two to four seconds -- which in turn means you spend less time with your hands near hot surfaces, or with the oven or grill door open, leaching heat. Although a $100 thermometer might sound unreasonably expensive, it's actually a very good investment because you'll get fast, accurate readings and exceptional durability that can outlast several cheaper thermometers. Also, these high-end thermometers can register such a broad range of temperatures that you can use them for anything, from testing homemade yogurt to boiling sugar for candy making.

Even the fastest and most accurate instant-read thermometer requires you to open the oven or grill, causing a fluctuation in temperature and potentially altering your cooking time. Leave-in thermometers (also called probe thermometers) have one or more probes that are designed to be inserted into the meat and left there as you cook, or clipped to the oven or grill rack to monitor ambient temperature. Numerous experts warn that you shouldn't trust the dial thermometer on your grill to do this -- it might be as much as 100 degrees off.

The probes on leave-in thermometers are connected to a base station which displays the temperature and sounds an alarm when your meat reaches the desired temperature. Some leave-in thermometers can also be programmed to display maximum and minimum temperatures, and some sound an alarm if the temperature exceeds a set temperature range in either direction.

Most probes remain connected to the thermometer display base by cables, but wireless probe thermometers -- most of which use Bluetooth technology to communicate with the display base -- are becoming more common. One of the leave-in thermometer probes we evaluated can even communicate with your smartphone.

Where to put the thermometer

Any meat thermometer you choose only as effective as your placement. You should measure a large cut of meat in several places, because variations in the grill or oven temperature and the meat itself can cause it to cook at uneven rates.

If you're using a thermocouple thermometer that gives quick readings, you can insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the meat, pushing just past the center, then pull the thermometer out slowly and take the lowest (coldest) reading. Contrary to popular belief, you don't want to position the thermometer against the bone, because bone heats at a different rate than the meat of the muscle. If you're cooking a thick steak or a burger or other similarly slim cut, you might try inserting the meat thermometer from the side.

If you're using a thermistor thermometer that requires up to 30 seconds to give an accurate reading, aim as close to the center of the cut of meat as possible and leave the thermometer in place until you get a stable reading. Then you can pull it slowly out to check for cold spots.

Calibrating a meat thermometer

Although all meat thermometers should be calibrated when they come out of the box, some thermometers can be calibrated at home to fine-tune their accuracy. Experts recommend doing this about once a year, or any time the thermometer has been dropped or possibly damaged.

Check your thermometer's accuracy by inserting the probe into a glass of ice water, just below the level of the ice; it should read within a few degrees of 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Test another extreme with boiling water: The thermometer should read 212 degrees, or a little less if you live above sea level. For most purposes, being within 2 or 3 degrees of those goals is good enough; if your thermometer needs to be calibrated, consult the owner's manual for specific directions.

How we chose the best meat thermometers

No matter what sort of thermometer you purchase, accuracy and consistency are its most important attributes. A few thermometers do come with nifty bells and whistles like spoken alerts, temperature charts and wireless capability, but consistent performance and easy-to-use controls remain the number one priority.

In order to find the best meat thermometers, we consulted reviews from expert foodie and tech sites such as Cook's Illustrated,, Good Housekeeping, and We also evaluated hundreds of user reviews from retail websites, although one notable brand, ThermoWorks, is usually available only from the manufacturer.

Elsewhere in this report:

Best Digital Meat Thermometers | Best Wireless Meat Thermometers | Buying Guide | Our Sources

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