Not only does the iDevices Kitchen Thermometer (Est. $65) have an undeniable "neato" factor going for it, it's also our top pick for best wireless meat thermometer. The one caveat is that you need a smartphone running the free iDevices app to operate it. Any fairly new iOS or Android device should do, and you can download the app to check compatibility before you buy the actual thermometer.
The thermometer itself comes with two probes with 4-foot cords that can withstand temperatures up to 620 degrees Fahrenheit; the probes can measure from -22 to 572 degrees. The probes plug into the iDevice's base, which also displays a temperature readout; reviewers say it's well-lit and easy to read. But the real star feature is this thermometer's ability to send Bluetooth push notifications and audible alarms to your mobile device, as long as you stay within its 100 to 150-foot range. And, be warned, that range may diminish markedly if you go behind a brick wall or other substantial barrier.
You can use the iDevices app to access a number of preset temperature settings or program (and store) your own; the app will alert you once the probes register your target peak temperature, or when they register temperatures outside a set minimum/maximum range. The base also beeps to alert you, but reviewers say it's not very loud, so you may not hear it unless you're standing quite close.
Most user reviewers love the way the iDevices' smartphone capability sets them free to wander the house, even though they say the app could use a few interface improvements. The iDevice Kitchen Thermometer even took top honors from one of the nation's most prominent test kitchens, and Megan Wollerton, writing for CNET, found that its readings were always within two to four degrees of the professional-grade thermocouple thermometers she used as controls.
Users also like that the iDevice can monitor two probes at once, a feature that comes in especially handy when cooking turkeys, roasts and other large cuts of meat. The spools come in handy to help keep the 4-foot probe cables contained, but don't put the spools in the oven -- they'll melt. Replacement probes range from about $20 to $30 depending on the type, and a tougher Kitchen Thermometer Pro Meat Probe (Est. $25) is available if you don't want to worry about babying the stock probes.
Our runner-up for best wireless meat thermometer, the Maverick ET-732 (Est. $60) also has two probes, each with a 3-foot cord. One is designed to go into the meat while the second clips to your grill to monitor the air temperature, although the two probes are basically interchangeable. The Maverick ET-732 is a favorite of "Meathead" Goldwyn at AmazingRibs.com; it's also recommended by a prominent test kitchen, although they do express some reservations because it took their testers a while to figure out the interface.
Many reviewers like that the Maverick ET-732 bucks the wireless thermometer trend toward requiring smartphones. The transmitter and display unit communicate using radio frequency (RF) transmissions, which has significantly better range than the Bluetooth technology used to pair with smartphones; in theory, the RF signal can reach 300 feet -- double a smartphone's Bluetooth range -- although that decreases sharply once you put walls and other obstacles between the transmitter and receiver. The receiver will let you know if you wander out of range.
There are a few mixed user reviews about the Maverick ET-732's performance, mostly complaints about the probes failing; but Goldwyn points out that those failures are often due to people either not reading the instructions (an absolute must-do with this device) or not handling the probes correctly, which starts with pressing hard enough on the connector to make sure it really snaps into place, then being careful not to get liquid on the braided steel cable that connects the probe to the transmitter. Replacement food probes for the Maverick ET732 are available for about $19 each.
If you're an occasional user whose first priority is finding a good deal, the best cheap wireless meat thermometer we found was the Oregon Scientific AW131 (Est. $41). It's one of just three leave-in thermometers to be recommended by an independent consumer research lab, nabbing very good accuracy ratings and excellent repeatability ratings after extensive hands-on testing. With a temperature range of 32 to 572 degrees Fahrenheit, it's perfect for use with meats on the grill or in the oven, as long as you're careful about the point where the probe cable meets the wireless transmitter.
Owners tend to love the Oregon Scientific AW131 too -- as long as it works. Several users have posted helpful troubleshooting instructions for one of this thermometer's most common problems, which is getting the base and transmitter to sync: They say you need to remove the batteries and reset both units, reinstalling the battery in the larger base unit first. Reviews of Oregon Scientific's customer service for this unit are mixed, with the biggest complaint being that they're hard to get in touch with, despite offering a 1-year manufacturer warranty.
This Oregon Scientific thermometer talks, issuing verbal warnings every 30 seconds once your meat is within 5 degrees of being done. Although this is a great feature for the easily distracted or the vision-impaired, those who don't love it wish it could be turned off. There's also a nifty menu of preprogrammed temperatures, based on meat entree and desired level of doneness, although not every level of doneness can be applied to every type of meat -- for example, the only option for fish is "well done.")
Overall, the Oregon Scientific AW131 has done better in testing than in home kitchens, but still has the most potential of the cheap wireless thermometers we evaluated. Just keep in mind that if you're not prepared to baby the probe cables and occasionally reset the base/transmitter connection, you'll probably be happier if you invest in one of the next models up; the relatively minor bump up in cost gives you a significant boost in performance.
Elsewhere in this report: