What the best meat thermometer has
is paramount for any meat thermometer -- after all, your health is at stake if
you eat undercooked meat, and eating overcooked meat isn't much fun either.
- Fast readings. The faster a handheld thermometer
takes its reading, the sooner you can get your hand away from hot surfaces or
close the oven or grill door, reducing temperature fluctuations in the cooking
area. Speed isn't as important for leave-in thermometers, but still comes in
handy for ensuring that the number you're looking at actually reflects what's
going on in the oven or grill.
- A wide range of temperature
wider the range of temperatures your meat thermometer can withstand (and
accurately register), the more useful it is. The best models can withstand more
than 500 degrees of heat, enough for use in an oven or grill. Many of them can
also register temperatures well below freezing, so you don't have to buy
another thermometer to monitor chilled foods.
- Automatic shut off. Most experts agree that you should
bypass analog, dial-style thermometers and go straight to digital thermometers,
which are usually powered by AA, AAA or coin-style batteries. An automatic
shut-off function helps save battery life, cutting down on the lifetime expense
of the device.
- A backlit screen. Although not an absolute must if the
digits are large enough, a backlit screen makes your thermometer easy to read
in dim lighting or within the confines of a grill or oven.
- Clearly labeled controls. Today's meat thermometers are getting
increasingly smart, with countdown or count-up timers, minimum/maximum
temperature alerts and even, in one case, graphing software for your mobile
device. But no matter how smart they get, thermometers are still only as good
as your ability to control them -- so large, easy to press buttons and clearly
labeled controls are a must. For wireless models that sync to your smartphone,
look for an intuitive, easy-to-use app.
- Durable probes. The probe on the end of a meat
thermometer is, by design, fairly delicate; most measure only a few millimeters
across. The best probes can withstand high temperatures of 500 degrees or more
and, for leave-in models, have equally tough cables that won't melt when
exposed to the heat of an oven or grill. Probes and probe cables tend to be a
weak point for most thermometers, so models with splash-resistant cables that
can withstand exposure to water are an especially good investment.
Know before you go
Do you like to hover in the kitchen? If so, you can get a great
instant-read thermometer for as little as $30. If you like to wander,
multi-task or visit with friends, though, go for a leave-in thermometer that
sounds an alarm when your meat hits the desired temperature. If you're prone to
wandering out of hearing range of the kitchen, look for a wireless model that
either talks to your smartphone or has a receiver handset you can take with you
while you roam.
What's to come
With kitchen timers getting smarter than ever, it only
makes sense that they'd want to talk to your smartphone. For example, our
best-reviewed wireless meat thermometer, the iDevice Kitchen Thermometer (Est. $65),
sends your smartphone a push alert once your meat hits the target temperature,
and can even display a graph that shows temperature readings over time. Some
users buy this type of tool for the cool tech factor, but if you're the type of
person who always has a smartphone with you anyway, it's also a very sensible
We expect to see the trend toward smartphone-compatible
wireless thermometers continue, and we're eager to see just how user-friendly
an interface manufacturers can create. With that said, we also predict that
non-smartphone models won't vanish entirely, if only because their RF
transmissions have greater range than the Bluetooth pairing usually used for a
smartphone device -- and of course, not everybody has a smartphone.