Our testers chose the Cuisinart CSG-200 Infrared and Folding Grilling Thermometer as their top choice because of its speed, accuracy, and dual functionality, all at an excellent price. For the absolute best in accuracy, instant reading, and assortment of extra features, splurge on the Taylor Dual Temp Thermometer with Thermocouple Probe.
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.
Best Overall: Cuisinart CSG-200 Infrared and Folding Grilling Thermometer
Fast and accurate
Backlit digital screen
Screen is upside-down if used left-handed
This thermometer performed much better in our Lab than its price tag might indicate. It's really two thermometers in one, with an infrared mode that can read surface temperatures from a few inches away and a flip-out probe than can measure the interior temp of meats, sugar temp for candy-making, or oil temp for deep-frying. Either way, it reads extremely accurately and quickly, with a design that's compact and comfortable to hold but big enough that it won't get lost in the drawer. The screen has a backlight, but testers found it easy to read even with the light turned off.
The Cuisinart CSG-200 aced all our tests and blew the Lab away. The only negative we found is that the screen doesn't rotate, which means it's upside down if you're using the thermometer with your left hand.
Price at time of publish: $39.99
Dimensions: 10 x 1.5 x 1.5 inches | Temperature Range: Up to 932 degrees Fahrenheit (infrared), up to 572 degrees Fahrenheit (probe) | Battery: AAA
"For the accuracy and speed, I expected this thermometer to fall at a much higher price point. It's an easy win."
Best for Baking: ThermoWorks ThermoPop Thermometer
Wide color selection
Small size is easy to drop
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 it's ready to come out of the oven.
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. It's simple to just stick into whatever you want to measure and reads the temperature accurately, and it's available in a whole rainbow of fun colors. The Lab liked that the screen rotates to be usable right-side-up by lefties or righties, but noted that its weak backlight doesn't make much difference to readability.
Price at time of publish: $35
Dimensions: 7 x 1.8 x 0.8 inches | Temperature Range: -58 to 572 degrees Fahrenheit | Battery: CR2032
"If you are looking for an accurate and compact digital thermometer, this is a great one. It would slip into the pocket of an apron of chef's coat easily."
Best Splurge: Taylor Dual Temp Infrared Thermometer With Thermocouple Probe
Combines infrared and probe thermometers
If you were a culinary school professor or a safety inspector at a food factory, this is the kind of thermometer you might use. It's a two-in-one thermometer, with a touchless infrared sensor to measure surface temperatures and a probe to measure interior temperatures. The Taylor has a slightly wider temperature range than similar models, going down to negative 67 degrees to ensure frozen foods stay frozen, and all the way up to 626 degrees to check the temperature of, say, a pizza oven. The probe is 5 inches long, so you can reach deep into the middle of a roast, and it folds for safe storage.
In the Lab, the Taylor was perhaps the most accurate and fastest-reading of the thermometers we tested, always landing within one degree of the exact temperature, within a second or so. You'll need to read the manual to get full use of all this model's features, but they include indicator lights for items below, in, or above the food-safety "danger zone" of 40 to 140 degrees. It also has a rubber gasket to render it splash-proof (not waterproof, so don't immerse it in liquid). Of course, professional-level performance comes at a professional-level price; this is one of the more expensive instant-read thermometers out there.
Price at time of publish: $97.99
Dimensions: 6.4 x 5.1 x 1 inches | Temperature Range: -67 to 432 degrees Fahrenheit (infrared) -67 to 626 degrees Fahrenheit (probe) | Batteries: AAA (2 required)
"It’s splash-proof, works quickly, and can read internal and surface temperatures with a probe and infrared feature." — Rebekah Joan, Product Tester
Best for Grilling: Alpha Grillers Instant Read Thermometer
Takes a long time to read temperature
Serious grillers know that there are plenty of reasons to be grilling after dark, and this thermometer makes it a little easier with a bright backlight, as well as huge numbers that make it easy to read in any light. The thermometer automatically turns on when you extend the probe and off when you close it again, which is a nice battery-saving feature. It's also water-resistant enough to rinse the whole thing off in the sink to clean it.
Despite the name, the Alpha Grillers Instant Read Thermometer isn't just for grilling; its temperature range of negative 58 to 572 degrees means you can take it from deep-freeze to deep-fry easily. The only area where our Lab found this model wanting is in the "instant" part of "instant read." It was able to measure temperatures extremely accurately, but it took the probe a while to come up to temperature and stabilize at a final, correct reading—as long as 12 seconds, which is a long time to hold a thermometer over a hot grill.
Price at time of publish: $19.99
Dimensions: 6.3 x 2 x 1.6 inches | Temperature Range: -58 to 572 degrees Fahrenheit | Battery: CR2032
"Alpha Grillers has printed a handy temperature guide right onto the thermometer, giving you easy access to the proper temperatures for poultry, fish, ground meat, and more." — Rebekah Joan, Product Tester
Best Features: Venigo Digital Meat and Food Thermometer
Turns on and off automatically
Bulky to hold
Hard to read without backlight
This thermometer is dirt-cheap, but it nonetheless offers impressive performance and accuracy. The Lab was especially impressed with its super-bright backlight, which makes it readable under just about any condition. (With the backlight off, however, the dark-colored screen background makes the LED display hard to read.) Another convenient feature is that the thermometer turns on when you flip out the probe and off when you stow it away, so you don't have to worry about accidentally leaving the light on in the drawer and running down the battery. It also ships with an extra battery included, which means you've got a few years of temperature-measuring all set.
Price at time of publish: $10.99
Dimensions: 6.8 x 1.7 x 1.1 inches | Temperature Range: Up to 572 degrees Fahrenheit | Battery: Lithium
"At this amazingly low, low price, you can't go wrong. It is priced fantastically!!"
Best Talking: Surround Point Digital Talking Instant Thermometer
Audible temperature readings
Quite large compared to some others
If you do a lot of grilling at night or your oven is dim, you know it's hard to make out readings in the dark, even when a thermometer is backlit. To get around that, 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.
One caveat our Lab testing found was that it took a long time to reach a final (albeit accurate) temperature, which is not optimal if you're holding the thermometer over a hot grill or pot of boiling water. We'd recommend wearing protective mitts when using this to ensure your hands don't get too hot. The swivel-out, 4.7-inch probe takes about 13 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 negative 58 degrees to 572 degrees, and can switch to Celsius with the push of a button.
Price at time of publish: $16.99
Dimensions: 4.72 inches | Temperature Range: -58 to 572 degrees Fahrenheit | Batteries: 2 AAA
"The thermometer is comfortable to hold. it is slightly curved which fits nicely in your grip."
Best Analog: OXO Good Grips Chef's Precision Instant Read Thermometer
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 to 220 degrees. 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 7 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.
Since this doesn’t require batteries for operation and it’s not expensive, this is a good thermometer to keep on hand as a backup.
Price at time of publish: $12.99
Dimensions: 4 x 9.5 inches | Temperature range: 0 to 220 degrees Fahrenheit
Best Infrared: Cuisinart Infrared Surface Thermometer
Wide temperature range
Easy to hold and use
Instructions could be more comprehensive
For when the 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, and oven walls, or check the exterior temperature of your grill to see if it’s safe to touch without mitts.
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. 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 ensure that your chilled foods are still cold. This thermometer can read from negative 58 degrees to 716 degrees.
Price at time of publish: $13
Dimensions: 6.6 x 3.5 x 1.8 inches | Temperature Range: -58 to 716 degrees Fahrenheit | Batteries: 9-volt
The Cuisinart CSG-200 Infrared and Folding Grilling Thermometer combines a touchless infrared thermometer with a probe and earns our top spot by combining accuracy with convenient design and a great price. For a hardcore baker, griller, or other temperature-obsessed cook, the Taylor Dual Temp Infrared Thermometer With Thermocouple Probe is a feature-packed, perfectly accurate luxury pick.
How We Tested
Our Lab purchased and tested 23 instant read thermometers of all different styles and put their accuracy and speed to the test. Using a sous vide cooker, we heated a water bath to exactly 135 degrees Fahrenheit and noted how long it took each thermometer to register a final reading, as well as how close the reading was to 135. We then repeated the test using boiling water at 212 degrees Fahrenheit. To rate ease of use, we tested by measuring the internal temperature of baked chicken thighs, both inside the hot oven and on the countertop immediately after taking the dish out.
Other Options We Tested
- ThermoWorks Thermapen ONE: This thermometer is known as a favorite of professional chefs and competitive barbecue pitmasters, and it is indeed extremely fast and extremely accurate. It's also extremely expensive, and we found equal or better performance in other, cheaper models.
- Taylor Precision Products Folding Food Thermometer: Taylor's combination infrared and probe thermometer was our top pick for a high-end thermometer, but its low-priced probe-only thermometer did...less well in our tests. It took more than 20 seconds to come to a final reading in some cases, and it doesn't offer anything by way of special features, not even a backlight.
- ThermoPro TPS-02S (2 Pack) Instant Read Meat Thermometer: If you want a digital thermometer in the kitchen, another next to the grill, a third for the smoker, and maybe a spare just in case, you can buy these in bulk. It performed accurately in our tests but took several seconds to deliver a final reading, and it's a very basic design that's not particularly easy to use, but it's a decent thermometer at a very low price.
What to Look for in an Instant Read Thermometer
When looking into instant read thermometers, it’s important to know what range of temperatures the thermometer can read. When it comes to cooking meat, there’s a pretty narrow range of temperatures you’ll need to worry about for doneness: 115 to 165 degrees or so, but if you’re planning to use the thermometer for making candy (up to 300 degrees) or regulating frying oil temperatures (up to 375), a wider range is necessary. A general rule of thumb is that thermometers with a wide temperature range tend to be more reliable but also more expensive.
Digital vs. Analog
Ultimately, this consideration boils down to personal preference. While some cooks like to see the needle on the analog moving, others prefer to see the numbers spelled out (and they’re oftentimes quite large, making them extremely easy to see). One downside to analog thermometers is that they’re typically a dated technology. This means that their probe is often a little bit thicker, which means that every time you probe the meat, you’ll lose more juice to the incision.
Not all instant read thermometers are completely waterproof, so definitely consider if this feature is important to you. If you’re worried about excessive splashing, heavy steam, or outdoor cooking (i.e. rain), making sure to buy a more completely water-resistant thermometer is important. Obviously the thermometer probe itself can be submerged with any model, but check your manual for the rules about how wet you can get the body of the thermometer. No matter what, it's a bad idea to put the body of the thermometer—or any other piece of electronics—completely underwater.
Like most tools that you can buy for your kitchen, there’s a pretty significant range of prices for instant read thermometers. If you think you’ll be cooking a lot of protein and want to ensure that it’s food-safe and cooked to your desired doneness, or doing a lot of deep-frying, candy-making, or baking, it’s probably worth splurging a little so that you know you’re buying a reliable tool. The topmost thermometers we found in price run around $100, with very, very high-quality ones available for quite a bit less than that.
On the other hand, if you’re simply in need of a tool that will confirm that your Thanksgiving turkey and an occasional roast here and there are fully cooked through, you can get a perfectly good digital instant read thermometer for ten bucks or so.
Types of Instant Read Thermometers
As the name suggests, a probe thermometer uses a probe—usually a long, narrow tube with a sharp tip—that's inserted directly into the food to measure its temperature. It's perfect for making sure a steak or roast is the exactly correct level of doneness but not very good at measuring surface temperature on a grill or pan, or the ambient temperature in the oven. Because the food has to heat up the probe itself to get a final measurement, some probe thermometers can take longer to deliver a correct reading, though this is not true of all models.
Also known as no-contact or thermal radiation thermometers, infrared thermometers analyze the infrared waves emitted by foods, pans, or any other object to gauge their temperature without making any physical contact. Infrared measurements are highly accurate and can be taken essentially instantly, but they can only measure the temperature of surfaces, not the interior of a chicken thigh, ribeye, or thick cut of fish to check doneness. Infrared thermometers are more expensive than probes, but many models combine both types of thermometer in one.
Maintenance & Safety
Calibration is essential to ensure that the temperature readings from your instant read thermometer are accurate. To calibrate your device, place the probe in an ice water bath and make sure that it reads 32°F. Similarly, it should read 212°F in boiling water. If the calibration is off, simply turn off the device or put it back in its case and try again until the reading is correct. If this doesn’t fix the problem, you should double-check the user manual, or you can alternatively have your thermometer serviced (oftentimes by the brand) for a fee. Oftentimes, it is more expensive to service a thermometer than to buy a new one. If the readings are only a few degrees off, you can simply consider this when you are reading the temperatures and adjust accordingly. How precise you need your readings to be will affect how seriously you need to take the calibration.
It’s also important not to subject a thermometer to temperatures over its rated maximum. (This varies by brand but is usually well over 500 degrees.) This can cause digital components to melt and break the thermometer. Because they don't actually touch the hot surface, infrared thermometers can measure much higher temperatures, but the thermometer itself should not be subjected to high heat. If you're measuring temperatures over a hot grill or boiling pot, make sure to use an oven mitt or pot holder to hold the thermometer so you don't burn your hands.
How do you use an instant read thermometer?
While instant read thermometers give the results quickly, they’re not quite instant. Still, they’re fast enough to be inserted into the food, produce a reading, and then quickly be removed. They can be used to read the internal temperature of meats, bread, and other foods, and they can be used to check the temperature of liquids, as well. The thermometer simply needs to be inserted into the food to the proper depth, and then there’s a short wait until the temperature stabilizes. Better-quality thermometers stabilize more quickly, while the less-expensive versions may require a longer wait.
How do you clean an instant read thermometer?
It's important to fully clean the thermometer probe after every use. A simple wipe with hot, soapy water is all it takes, but it's important to be careful with the "body" of the thermometer where the screen and electronics are. Many thermometers call themselves "water-resistant," but it's important to check the manual to see exactly how much water your thermometer can hold up to. Some should only be wiped down with a damp cloth, while others can be rinsed under running water. It's generaly a bad idea to immerse the thermometer electronics completely in water, as any that gets inside the case will destroy the circuitry.
How do you test an instant read thermometer?
Instant read thermometers can go out of calibration, meaning they won’t be accurate when checking the food’s temperature. Fortunately, they’re easy to test and it doesn’t require any special equipment. The only tools needed are some ice water and some boiling water. At sea level, the thermometer should read 32 degrees Fahrenheit in the ice water and 212 degrees Fahrenheit in the boiling water. For those who live in places that are not at sea level—and even for people who live in high-rise buildings—the boiling water temperature will be lower by 1 degree for every 500 feet. Some thermometers can be recalibrated, but inexpensive ones may not have that feature and should be discarded.
Where is the best place to insert an instant read thermometer in meat?
The point of insertion is less important than where the tip of the thermometer will land. It should be centered in the thickest part of the meat, but not touching bone or thick veins of fat. Some thermometers need to be inserted an inch or two into the meat to read correctly, so they may need to be inserted through the side of a thin piece of meat, or at an angle, so the tip is fully inserted and also in the thickest part of the food.
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.
Jason Horn, commerce writer for The Spruce Eats, updated this story with insights from our Lab tests. He's been writing about food and drinks for more than 15 years and is proud to have the formulas for converting between Fahrenheit and Celcius memorized.