Undercook a steak, and you expose your guests to bacteria; overcook it, and you expose yourself as a bad chef. While everyone has hit-or-miss days in the kitchen, meat thermometers make it a cinch to properly cook meats and poultry. However, there are hundreds of meat thermometers on the market today -- and even more kinds of thermometers used in the kitchen. With so many options available, choosing one model requires analyzing your cooking habits and budget.
First, let's consider budget. Most consumer-level meat thermometers cost $70 or less, a notable exception being our top-rated thermometer, the ThermoWorks Super-Fast Thermapen (Est. $95) . This instant-read thermometer is manufactured in the U.K., reads temperatures in just three seconds and has many endorsements from professional chefs.
Midrange meat thermometers usually cost between $25 and $70, depending on the complexity of the device and added features like timers, alarms and extra probes. Oven-safe thermometers such as the Polder Classic Digital Thermometer/Timer (Est. $25) , and oven-safe thermometers with wireless remotes like the Brookstone Grill Alert Talking Remote Meat Thermometer (Est. $70) will typically require replacement probes after a season or so of use, so consider the associated long-term costs.
For cooks with less dough to spare, there's a host of instant-read thermometers that ring up at $20 or less. Our favorite in this price range is the CDN ProAccurate Thermometer DTQ450X (Est. $20) , which has earned attention from several expert reviewers of cooking gear for its accuracy and speedy temperature readings.
To determine which of these meat thermometers is best for your needs, first consider how often you plan to use the device and what kind of cooking you will need it for. People who only cook meat occasionally may be satisfied with one of the lower-priced instant-read thermometers, while avid grillers, meat smokers and chefs will probably want to splurge on the Thermapen or purchase an oven-safe thermometer along with a cheaper instant-read backup. Those who spend hours during the warmer months barbecuing will find investing in a wireless meat thermometer like the Grill Alert helps achieve perfection on larger cuts of meat, while an instant-read like the Thermapen is handy for checking individual steaks, chicken breasts and wings or fish fillets.
To select our favorite meat thermometers, ConsumerSearch considers the overall performance of models that receive positive reviews from experts and users. High-performing meat thermometers like the Thermapen, Grill Alert, Polder Classic and CDN ProAccurate are reliably accurate within a few degrees, consistent in their measurements over time and generally quick in measuring temperatures. Instant-read thermometers register temperatures in as little as three seconds.
We also considered the thermometers' ease of use. Digital models often come with preset temperatures, timers, alarms and other functions. The best models are easy to use right out of the box and have intuitive user interfaces and large displays. It's also preferable if the thermometer can be calibrated by the user (things heat faster at higher altitudes) and have user-replaceable probes and batteries.
With these criteria in mind, ConsumerSearch consulted expert reviews from cooking and home magazines such as Good Housekeeping, Cook's Country and Bon Appétit and on food-related websites such as AmazingRibs.com, CookingforEngineers.com and ReluctantGourmet.com. We also sorted through hundreds of owner reviews at retail sites like Amazon.com, CrateandBarrel.com, and Epicurious.com. Editors also considered model specifications and relative pricing to determine which thermometers are best.