An instant-read thermometer is commonly used to check the internal temperature of meat, but it can be inserted into liquids and other types of food as well. This type of thermometer is not designed to be left in the oven or clipped to the edge of a pot. Rather, you insert the probe to get a quick temperature reading. Most instant-read thermometers are digital; you'll still see a few analog thermometers with dials, but experts, including those at Cook's Illustrated, don't recommend them because the digital versions are much faster and easier to read.
Instant-read thermometers are a bit more flexible than oven-safe (leave-in) meat probes; the instant-read versions can be more used easily on small cuts of meat like burgers, cut-up chicken or fish. In a pinch, some can be double as candy thermometers or deep-fry thermometers, but not all have pot clips needed for continually monitoring the temperatures of candy or fat.
Among instant-read thermometers, the ThermoWorks Super-Fast Thermapen (*Est. $85) isn't cheap, but it may last a lot longer than less expensive thermometers. One foodie magazine gives it top scores for accuracy, speed and functionality. Editors were also impressed with its wide temperature range of -58 to 572 degrees. Joe Yonan of The Washington Post, who has used the ThermoWorks Super-Fast Thermapen for years, mirrors these sentiments, saying the "speed, ease of use, accuracy and durability can't be beat." According to ThermoWorks, this thermometer registers temperatures in only three to four seconds. The sensor is very close to the tip of the probe, so it can accurately measure a thin hamburger patty or liquid that is as little as 1/8-inch deep. The plastic, 6-inch-long handle comes in nine color choices. The compact design has a 4.5-inch probe that folds against the handle so it can be slipped into a pocket. Additionally, the thermometer automatically turns on or off when the probe is unfolded or closed, or after being left on for more than six minutes.
Owners posting to Amazon.com are equally enthused about the ThermoWorks Super-Fast Thermapen. About 40 owners give it an impressive average rating of 4.9 stars. They agree it's worth the extra money because cheaper thermometers they have used can't match the Thermapen's speed and accuracy. Owners caution against using it to grill in the rain, however, because it's not waterproof. Although it doesn't have a calibration adjustment, owners say it remains accurate and doesn't seem to need one.
CDN ProAccurate Quick-Read Thermometer (*Est. $20) is the favorite budget choice in one professional review, but it's slower than the Thermapen, registering a temperature reading in about 10 seconds. The manufacturer says the temperature range is -40 to 450 degrees; a temperature-hold feature allows you to remove the probe from the meat and still read the temperature. Unlike many thermometers, the ProAccurate is waterproof and can be recalibrated. It has a power switch and automatically turns off after 10 minutes to preserve the life of the 1.5-volt battery. About 100 owners posting reviews at Amazon.com give it an average rating of 4.4 stars. A handful of owners say it quit working after a few uses, however. The five-year limited warranty is a lot longer than other thermometers covered in this report.
If you are looking for an instant-read fork thermometer (this type can double as a meat fork), Good Housekeeping magazine recommends the Taylor Weekend Warrior Digital Fork Thermometer (*Est. $25). It has a bright orange handle with a rubberized grip and two stainless-steel tines. This 14-inch thermometer keeps your hand well away from the heat source when checking the meat's temperature. It measures a temperature range from 0 to 220 degrees Fahrenheit and can also be switched to Celsius. Large digital numbers are easy to read on a bright blue backlit display and, like the CDN ProAccurate Quick-Read Thermometer, it has a temperature-hold feature. This thermometer has a power switch and automatically shuts off to preserve the life of the AAA battery. Taylor backs this thermometer with a one-year limited warranty. Only about 18 owners have reviewed this thermometer at Amazon.com, where it receives an average rating of 3.8 stars. Owners agree it's accurate, registers the temperature in just a few seconds and is sturdy enough to flip a steak. We read a few complaints from owners about defective units or slow response times.
Although digital thermometers are generally faster and easier to read, some cooks may prefer analog thermometers because they are inexpensive and can be inserted into a grill vent to check the temperature of the fire without opening the lid. One foodie magazine highly recommends the Polder Dual Sensor Thermometer 12453 (*Est. $11). Editors say the screen is easy to read and they love the ability to simultaneously check food and oven temperatures on the dual-dial face. The meat temperature range is up to 200 degrees and the oven temperature dial registers up to 550 degrees. It has a heatproof silicone finger grip under the dial so it can be safely removed from a grill vent. The Polder Dual Sensor Thermometer 12453 averages 4.4 stars from 10 owners at Cooking.com. They agree it is accurate, and it's nice to be able to verify the oven temperature; however, the oven temperature dial is quite small, some say.