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Best Meat Thermometers

By: Lisa Maloney on November 07, 2017

Editor's note:
The ThermoWorks Thermapen and ChefAlarm hold onto their top spots for another year, thanks to their excellent speed, accuracy, ease of use, durability and excellent customer service. But we have a new top pick in the wireless category -- the Maverick ET-732 -- and a couple of new runners up from ThermoPro, Lavatools and Polder.

ThermoWorks Thermapen Mk4
Best Reviewed
Specs that Matter Temp range: -58 to 572 F Probe length: 4.5" Speed: 2-4 seconds

Best digital meat thermometer

The ThermoWorks Thermapen Mk4 is the undisputed king of instant-read meat thermometers, thanks to a thermocouple sensor that returns highly accurate readings in two to four seconds -- almost twice as fast as the nearest competition. Together, the 4.5-inch probe and folding handle keep your hand about 10 inches away from anything hot. A solid, durable build and great usability features like a rotating display, automatic backlight and auto sleep/wake function make this thermometer well worth its asking price.

Lavatools Javelin Review
Best Reviewed
Specs that Matter Temp range: -40 to 482 F Probe length: 2.75" Speed: 4-6 seconds

Cheap digital meat thermometer

The Lavatools Javelin is a great bargain for the price. Best for occasional users, it returns accurate results in about four to six seconds and measures temperatures up to 482 degrees Fahrenheit. A built-in magnet and hanging hook make it easy to keep track of, and the Javelin folds in half for easy storage. The Lavatools Javelin also turns itself on and off automatically as you fold or unfold it, and has a large, easy-to-read display.

Buy for $25.00
ThermoWorks ChefAlarm TX-1100-XX
Best Reviewed
Specs that Matter Temp range: -58 to 572 F Probe length: 4.5" to 12" Speed: 5 seconds

Best leave-in meat thermometer

The ThermoWorks ChefAlarm's usability features are comprehensive without being too fiddly. It also has tough probe cables that can stand up to a lot of abuse and even splashing liquids, whether from hot grease or a cold rain. The thermometer remembers most settings even when it's turned off, and the alarm has four volume settings. Replacement probes are inexpensive with several options to choose from, some of which return results quickly enough to double as an instant-read thermometer.

Maverick ET-732 Review
Best Reviewed
Specs that Matter Temp range: 32 to 572 F Probe length: 6 inches Speed: 24 to 36 seconds

Best wireless meat thermometer

The Maverick ET-732 may be designed for use in a barbecue, but users say it's also wonderfully suited for use in the kitchen oven or a smoker. Its RF signal has better range than Bluetooth and means you don't have to fiddle with a smartphone to use this thermometer. The Maverick ET-732 can monitor two temperature probes at once and also comes with a count-up/count-down timer, dropped signal alert, and customizable temperature alarms that are both visual and audible.

Buy for $69.99

Meat thermometers are a crucial kitchen tool

Meat thermometers might seem like an unnecessary accessory -- after all, can't you tell when a piece of meat is done by cutting into it, or poking it with a finger? For home cooks, the answer is no. As clever as some of the guesswork methods of estimating when meat is done may be, they're just that -- guesswork.

In fact, many of us are reaping the consequences of all that guesswork without realizing it. Often, what we call the "stomach flu" is not related to the influenza virus at all, but instead a reaction to improperly cooked food. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that every year, about 1 in 6 Americans gets sick from foodborne diseases. That's 48 million people -- and of that group, some 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die.

Even the old methods that once worked -- for example, waiting until a cooked chicken's juices run clear to call it done -- don't necessarily work today, because the way we've raised our meat animals has changed. Things get especially tricky when you're dealing with a big roast, ham or turkey, because different parts of the meat may heat at different rates, and you need to be sure the entire cut is done all the way through.

Having a meat thermometer on hand is the only way to be sure the meat you're cooking is safe. As a bonus, it'll also make it easy for you to produce perfectly cooked cuts of meat every time, even if your grill or oven has hot spots that make separate cuts of meat heat unevenly.

Types of Meat Thermometers

Digital Instant Read Thermometers

An instant-read thermometer is poked into the meat to check its doneness, then removed. "Instant-read" thermometers can have two types of sensors: thermistors, which are less expensive but can take 5 to 7 seconds -- or more -- to provide an accurate temperature, or thermocouples, which are more expensive but give accurate readings within 2 to 4 seconds.

Leave-In Thermometers

Leave-in thermometers (also called probe thermometers) have one or more probes that are inserted into the meat and left there as you cook, or can be clipped to the oven or grill rack to monitor ambient temperature. The probes are connected to a base station which displays the temperature and sounds an alarm when your meat reaches the desired temperature. Some leave-in thermometers can also be programmed to chart the meat's temperature over time or sound an alarm if it exceeds a set minimum or maximum temperature.

Wireless Thermometers

Most probes remain connected to the thermometer display base by cables, but wireless probe thermometers -- most of which use Bluetooth technology to communicate with the display base -- are becoming more common. One of the leave-in thermometer probes we evaluated can even communicate with your smartphone.

Where to put the thermometer

You should measure the temperature of a large cut of meat in several places, because variations in the grill or oven temperature and the meat itself can cause it to cook at uneven rates.

If you're using a thermocouple thermometer that gives quick readings, insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the meat, pushing just past the center, then pull the thermometer out slowly and take the lowest (coldest) reading. Don't position the thermometer against the bone, because bone heats at a different rate than the meat of the muscle. If you're cooking a steak, a burger or other slim cuts of meat, try inserting the meat thermometer from the side.

If you're using a thermistor thermometer that can take up to 30 seconds to give an accurate reading, aim as close to the center of the cut of meat as possible and leave the thermometer in place until you get a stable reading. Then pull it slowly out to check for cold spots.

Calibrating a meat thermometer

Although all meat thermometers are calibrated when they come out of the box, some thermometers can be calibrated at home to fine-tune their accuracy. Experts recommend doing this once a year, or any time the thermometer has been dropped or possibly damaged.

Check your thermometer's accuracy by inserting the probe into a glass of ice water, just below the level of the ice; it should read within a few degrees of 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Test another extreme with boiling water: The thermometer should read 212 degrees, or a little less if you live above sea level. For most purposes, being within 2 or 3 degrees of those goals is good enough. If your thermometer needs to be calibrated, consult the owner's manual for specific directions.

Finding The Best Meat Thermometers
Our Sources
"Meat Thermometer Ratings"
"Instant-Read Digital Thermometers"
"Our Favorite Thermometers For Food, Cooking, Ovens, Grills, And Smokers, As Well As Ratings And Reviews Of More Than 100 Devices"

In order to find the best meat thermometers, we consulted comparative reviews from expert foodie and tech sites such as Cook's Illustrated, ConsumerReports.org, Good Housekeeping, AmazingRibs.com, YourBestDigs.com and TheSweethome.com.

But finding out how meat thermometers perform under laboratory conditions is only part of the puzzle. To determine how well they hold up in real-world use by real people in real kitchens, we also evaluated hundreds of user reviews from retail websites including Amazon.com, where the most popular meat thermometers have amassed up to a thousand or more user comments.

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