An instant-read meat thermometer lets cooks spot-check meat's cooking progress, and they are typically portable, versatile and easy to use. They usually take between 10 to 30 seconds to record a temperature when inserted in a cut of cooking meat and should be consistent so users can judge cooking progress.
The ThermoWorks Thermapen is widely recognized by professional chefs and serious home cooks as setting the industry standard for instant-reads because of its three-second-response time, accurate thermocouple sensor and top-notch after-sales service from the manufacturer. According to barbecue and grilling interest website AmazingRibs.com, it's often seen on the competitive barbecue circuit as well. This allows pitmasters to make sure their entrees are ready for judging on a plate-by-plate basis.
The most common complaints about thermometers concern durability, sensitivity and consistency of readings. However, complaints and questions about the Thermapen all center on its price, an estimated $95; professional-quality tools available for consumer use often come with pro-worthy price tags. When analog stick thermometers from reputable brands such as Taylor can be found online for less than $5 and claim to also be "instant-read" devices, users need to ask themselves if the Thermapen's high price is really worth the money -- do their cooking habits require such scientific precision. If you cook meat frequently, the answer is yes, as AmazingRibs.com's editor Craig Goldwyn explains, "Spend the money for good thermometers or you will spend the money on ruined food later."
If you can't stomach the high price tag, the Taylor Connoisseur Digital Cooking Thermometer with Folding Probe 518 ($30) is worth a look. As our runner-up pick, this folding probe meat thermometer receives kudos from Good Housekeeping for its easy-to-use temperature settings and backlit display. At an estimated $30, the Taylor Connoisseur 518 is certainly cheaper than the Thermapen, but it suffers in speed, ease of use and accuracy over time.