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A good instant read thermometer is an essential tool in any home kitchen, and not just because it can mean the difference between a sunken pastry or overcooked steak and the perfect fluffy dessert or juicy entree. This device also helps make sure that what you're about to eat or serve was cooked at a temperature that makes it safe enough to eat (protecting you and your loved ones from foodborne illnesses like salmonella).
Instant read thermometers, which measure your food's temperature and show it on displays that are often digital, also have the edge over older, analog-style thermometers in that the former can give an accurate readout in mere seconds (the latter can take up to a minute and tend to give less accurate readings).
Here, a list of the top instant read thermometers on the market to help you choose which one's best for your needs.
Infrared setting allows for surface temperature readings
Display isn’t backlit
Display is upside down when fully extended
This two-in-one thermometer measures internal temperatures with its probe, and it also measures surface temperatures using infrared. The probe measures temperatures up to 626 degrees, so you can use it for checking your roast, monitoring hot sugar for candy, or checking your frying oil. The probe is five inches long, so you can reach deep into a roast, and it folds for safe storage.
The infrared can measure -67 to 482 degrees Fahrenheit, so you can use it for checking the surface temperature of a hot pan or checking food temperature in the freezer. Our reviewer also found it helpful that the thermometer came with an extra feature: it tells her when her food is at the proper cold or hot holding temperature, or when it is at a temperature unsafe to eat.
The thermometer works well on dark surfaces, but can have trouble with light-colored shiny surfaces because of the reflectivity. It has an auto-shutoff and runs on two AAA batteries. It is splashproof but not waterproof, so it shouldn’t be submerged in water.
"From the step-down tip of the probe to the large display, the Taylor Splash-Proof Infrared Thermometer is well designed." — Rebekah Joan, Product Tester
Wide temperature range (-58°F to 572°F)
Included probe sheath with hook
Auto shut-off feature
Display isn’t backlit
While most people use cooking thermometers for meat, thermometers are also quite handy for baking. Rather than relying on thumping a loaf of bread to decide if it sounds done, checking the internal temperature is a more reliable way to determine exactly when the loaf is done.
But that’s not all. From measuring the temperature of the water used for proofing yeast to checking the doneness of a batch of muffins or testing your homemade yogurt, you’ll reach for this thermometer often. Our reviewer especially likes the extra-long probe: at 4.7 inches, she can get right to the center of a large loaf of bread. Furthermore, the probe is thin, so "it barely left a mark in my meat while giving me an accurate temperature reading within a few seconds," she says. It can read temperatures from -58 to 572 degrees, so you can use it for all of your cooking.
This thermometer an on/off switch that makes it simple to operate, but if you leave it on after using it, the auto-shutoff will save the battery life by switching it off after 10 minutes. A sheath is included to protect the probe in storage, so it will be safe in your gadget drawer.
Display is back-lit
Not actually an instant-read thermometer
Serious grillers know that there are plenty of reasons to be grilling after dark, and this thermometer makes it a little easier with a backlight that makes the thermometer easy to read in any light. Simple to use, the thermometer turns on as soon as you unfold the probe, so you don’t need to fumble for a switch, and it turns off when you fold the probe down again.
The ability to hold the displayed temperature means you won’t have to lean over a hot grill to see it, while you can also set the thermometer to display either the minimum or maximum temperature that you’ve read. Our reviewer does note, however, that it takes anywhere from four to seven seconds to get a steady reading. "[While] this isn’t a big deal for most grillers, keep this in mind if you’re looking for a split-second reading," she says.
The body of the probe is waterproof, so you don’t need to worry about steam, splashing, or cooking in the rain. A handy cooking guide on the thermometer reminds you of the proper cooking temperatures for most meats, so you won’t have to remember the exact temperature of rare or medium-well. This reads from -58 to 572 degrees, so you can use it for all of your cooking.
"Given its accuracy and the fact that it comes with a lifetime money-back guarantee, it’s a very low-risk purchase." — Rebekah Joan, Product Tester
Auto-rotating, back-lit display
Faster read than others
Mixed reviews on strength of magnet
The Lavatools Javelin PRO Duo features a 2-inch, auto-rotating, "ambidextrous" display, making it easy to see the temperature no matter what angle you insert it (also perfect for lefties!). Even better, there's a stabilization feature to alert you once the reading has settled. Plus, it's quick: The Javelin PRO Duo boasts a 3-second readout to within 1 degree of the final temperature in moving boiling water—a feature that's earned the thermometer top marks in many customer reviews.
In terms of safety, it's certified to meet strict international food-safety guidelines and is free from lead, mercury, cadmium. It's even suitable for commercial use. You can use this thermometer in the oven, on the grill, for home brewing, coffee, candy making, and more. You can also choose from a wide variety of colors, and there's a convenient magnet to make storage simple.
Audible temperature readings
Quite large compared to some others
If you do a lot of grilling at night or your oven light is dim, this thermometer speaks the temperature, so you don’t need to bring a flashlight or squint at the numbers. It also has an LED night option to help you see the numbers—a feature many reviewers who wear glasses appreciate.
It takes about four seconds to get an accurate temperature, and the thermometer has an auto-shutoff feature so you won’t drain the battery. This can read from -58 degrees Fahrenheit to 572 degrees Fahrenheit.
No setup required
Preset temperatures for different meat types
You know it’s annoying to stand over a hot oven or grill to read a thermometer, right? Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to check the temperature from across the room? You can do that with this wireless meat thermometer. It has a 300-foot range, so you can’t wander to the neighbor’s house, but it’s far enough to keep you away from the heat. Many reviewers also say that the remote feature has helped them avoid overcooking their meats.
The transmitter and receiver are synched when they arrive, so there’s no setup or pairing required. Just put in the included batteries, and the thermometer is ready to use. It reads temperature from 32 to 572 degrees with an accuracy of +/- 1.5 degrees, and has a backlit screen for easy reading. The screen also changes color based on the temperature. The probe is 6.5 inches long to reach into the center of a large roast and has a step-down tip for quick temperature checks if you don’t want to leave the probe in place.
The thermometer has preset temperatures for different types of meat, poultry, and fish, so you don’t need to look them up if you don’t remember. You can also reset the temperatures, to suit your personal preference. It also has a timer function.
The failing point for thermometers like this is usually the probe, but this company has you covered since they will replace the probe for free if it fails.
No batteries required
Easy to use
Not as fast as many digital models
If you prefer analog over digital, this dial-style instant-read meat thermometer can read from 0 degrees Fahrenheit to 220 degrees Fahrenheit. The shaded surface on the stem indicates the proper depth the probe should be inserted in the meat, and the probe cover lists proper cooking temperatures for different types of meat.
While this is much quicker than older thermometers, it’s not quite as fast as digital models—it can take up to seven seconds for the hand to stop moving on the dial. However, many reviewers claim that it reads temperatures more quickly than older analog models they've owned. This should not be left in the oven during cooking. It has a silicone ring around the dial for a firm grip for inserting and removing the thermometer.
Because this doesn’t require batteries for operation and it’s not expensive, this is a good thermometer to keep on hand as a backup.
Wide temperature range
Easy to hold and use
Instructions could be more comprehensive
For times when surface temperature is more important than internal temperature, an infrared surface thermometer is exactly what you need. It can measure the temperature of your grill grates, pizza stone, cast iron frying pan, oven walls, or check the exterior temperature of your grill to see if it’s safe to touch without mitts. The thermometer has even proved useful to some reviewers for non-traditional uses, including melting wax, making soap, and measuring room temperatures.
You can also use it to check the interior of your refrigerator or freezer, or make sure that your chilled foods are still cold.
A visible laser light lets you target the point you want to check, and an LCD readout with a backlight makes it easy to read the results. This thermometer can read from -58 degrees Fahrenheit to 716 degrees Fahrenheit.
Easy to use and store
Display is a bit small
This slim thermometer has many features as larger models but is not much bigger than a pen. It can measure temperatures from -58F to 572F with an accuracy of .9F between 32 and 212F, and display temperatures in C or F. Its wide temperature range has allowed many reviewers to not only avoid overcooking their meats but also to fine-tune the temperatures of their fridge and freezer, among other uses. To save battery life, it switches off automatically after 10 minutes.
There are just two buttons on the back of the thermometer to control it. One turns the thermometer on and off, and the other switches between C and F. A split ring on the handle lets you hang the thermometer on a hook, and the included sheath protects the probe in storage. The handle is plastic with a stainless steel finish. The battery is included.
Color touchscreen display
Includes spare probe
Batteries not included
Smoking is all about long, low, and slow cooking, so it’s best not to open the smoker during cooking since that lets out flavorful smoke along with the heat that will take some time to recover. This thermometer lets you constantly monitor the meat temperature from outside of the grill, so you can keep an eye on it without disturbing the cooking process. The probe’s wire is designed to withstand temperatures from 32 to 482 degrees, so it won’t be damaged from the smoker’s heat.
The thermometer has a color touchscreen display that’s easy to read in any light, a boon for glasses-wearing reviewers or those who sometimes cook outdoors in the evenings. It also offers presets for a variety of foods, and it has the option to set your own preferred temperature. It can stand on its own on a table, and it also has a magnetic back so you can attach it to your smoker, grill, or oven. An alarm announces when the set temperature is reached, and you can also set a timer to remind you when to baste or turn the food.
A spare probe is included with this thermometer, so you’ll always have an extra on hand. While you can’t plug in both probes at once, users have found that they can use both probes by leaving them in the meat and disconnecting and reconnecting them from the thermometer to read the temperatures one at a time.
The Taylor Precision Products Splash-Proof Infrared Thermometer earns our top spot because of its accuracy and convenient design. Plus, it's splash-resistant. If you're looking for something cheaper and simpler, try the Habor Instant Read Thermometer. Not only is it affordable and effective, but it's also great for bread-baking.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
The Spruce Eats writer Donna Currie knows her way around kitchen gadgets. Even before she started writing about food, she grew up curiously tinkering with everything from garlic presses to food processors. Donna has written countless roundups and reviews for The Spruce Eats, including the best wireless grill thermometers, Thanksgiving gadgets, and more.
Leave-in or leave-out: Some thermometers are meant to be left in the food during cooking. They’re convenient for roasts or poultry, but would not be as useful for quickly checking a steak. Other thermometers are meant to be inserted into the food just long enough to read the temperature. They’re great for steaks, but you can’t constantly monitor a roast as it cooks.
Temperature range: There’s a relatively small range of temperatures you’ll need for cooking meats, but if you want to use the thermometer for making candy or checking the temperature of oil for frying, a wider range is necessary. Thermometers with a wide temperature range tend to be more reliable, in general.
Digital vs. analog: The choice between a digital or analog readout is mostly a matter of personal preference, although it might be slightly easier to see that the needle on a dial is still moving. Digital thermometers tend to have larger numbers that are easier to read.