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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.
Best Overall: Taylor Precision Products Splash-Proof Dual Temperature Infrared/Thermocouple Thermometer
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 5 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 you when your food is at the proper cold or hot holding temperature, or when it is at a temperature that's 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
Best for Baking: Habor Instant Read Thermometer
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, you can get right to the center of a large loaf of bread. Furthermore, the probe is thin: "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 has 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.
"We placed the probe in a pot of boiling water and were pleased when it read 212° F, exactly as it should." — Rebekah Joan, Product Tester
Best for Grilling: Alpha Grillers Instant Read Thermometer
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 4-7 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
Best Features: Lavatools Javelin PRO Duo Ultra Fast Meat Thermometer
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.
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 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 4 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.
Best Bluetooth: ThermoPro TP-07S Digital Wireless Meat Thermometer
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.
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 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 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.
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.
Best Infrared: Cuisinart Infrared Surface Thermometer
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, and 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.
Best Compact: ThermoPro TP-02S Digital Instant-Read Thermometer
Easy to use and store
Display is a bit small
This slim thermometer has as many features as larger models but is not much bigger than a pen. It can measure temperatures from -58 to 572 Fahrenheit with an accuracy of .9 degrees between 32 and 212, and display temperatures in C or F. Its wide temperature range has helped many reviewers not only avoid overcooking their meats but also 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.
Best for Smoking: SMARTRO ST59 Digital Meat Thermometer
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 Fahrenheit, 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 cooks 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.
What to Look for in an Instant Read Thermometer
By Sara Tane
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 (115-165 degrees Fahrenheit), but if you’re planning to use the thermometer for making candy or regulating frying oil temperatures (300-375 degrees Fahrenheit), a wider range is necessary. A general rule of thumb is that thermometers with a wide temperature range tend to be more reliable.
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 it 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 (rain), making sure to buy a completely waterproof thermometer is important. Of course, the probes can withstand water, but if the body of the thermometer is not waterproof and you accidentally drop it, that can be the end for a lot of thermometers.
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, it’s probably worth splurging a little so that you know you’re buying a reliable tool. For something like the ThermoPen, $100 might seem like a big investment for such a simple tool, but for a chef who's frequently cooking temperature-sensitive foods, this might make sense.
Deep frying and candy making is also much easier if you have the proper thermometer, so if this is something that you’re doing a lot, it’s definitely worth spending a few extra bucks for a thermometer with the proper temperature range. 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, a $100 instant read thermometer might be a bit excessive. Rather than doling out that kind of money, there are so many other great options at a much lower price point for the job that you need it to do.
Types of Instant Read Thermometers
While not exactly instant read thermometers, it's worth pointing out the difference between the two types. Probe thermometers slightly differ from instant read thermometers in the sense that they remain in the food during the cooking process and monitor the temperature. They are not ideal for quick-cooking foods, like steak or smaller cuts of poultry, but they can be extremely useful for longer cooking foods, like whole roasts. They usually only take the temperature in one part of the product, unless it’s a dual probe, which can also take the temperature of the surface or ambient cooking temperature.
Most come with a timer feature that allows you to set the temperature you want your product cooked to, you just need to keep in mind that this temperature is likely not uniform throughout the entire product. A probe thermometer allows you to keep the door of your oven closed or your grill covered because you’re not constantly checking the temperature, but it is only ideal for long, large roasts.
Dual-Channel Probe vs. Remote Probe
To dive a bit deeper into probe thermometers, it’s important to clarify the difference between dual channel and remote. Dual-channel thermometers have two probes, one for taking the internal temperature of the meat and the other for taking the temperature of the surface or ambient cooking temperature. Remote probe thermometers offer a wireless feature (that can often be read via Bluetooth or smartphone apps) that give you a wide range, allowing you to check the temperature of whatever you’re cooking from far away.
Also known as thermal radiation thermometers, infrared or no-contact thermometers are highly accurate, although they’re not making any physical contact with the product. Infrared thermometers can be handy because they have a huge range of temperatures and they allow you to stay back from super hot areas, while still allowing you to gauge the temperature. Say for instance you wanted to see how hot the grates on your grill were—simply point the thermometer at the grates to get a better understanding of just how hot every spot on your cooking surface is. These are also a great way to see the hot spots in your oven or smoker, which is a useful piece of knowledge when trying to cook meat to your desired liking.
With a variety of classic and instant read thermometers, Taylor offers products at reasonable price points for a wide range of cooks. Its products are sleek, practical, reliable, and very popular. Some thermometers offer a feature that lets you know if what you’re cooking is not safe to eat, making it a great starting point for beginner cooks.
If baking is a priority in your kitchen, Habor’s thermometers are definitely favorable. A longer than average probe makes them a great option for taking the temperature of cakes, breads, candy, and yogurt. The wide temperature ranges make them suitable for bakers of all levels.
Revered by home cooks everywhere, OXO makes a line of humble, analog, and digital thermometers. Perfect for a novice cook who wants to ensure that their food is safe to eat and cooked to their desired doneness, this brand makes approachable equipment for cooks of all levels.
A great budget option, Cuisinart makes a basic instant read thermometer. While these thermometers might be lacking the bells and whistles of other thermometers, it’s a super practical option for a beginner cook. Cuisinart also offers a basic infrared thermometer if that type of thermometer is of interest to you.
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 the thermometers to over 700°F. This is way too hot for their digital components and can lead to melting and breaking. Never put a probe directly into fire or hot coals, as this will melt the product. When handling these thermometers, make sure to use proper protection (oven mitts) as the probes are subjected to extremely hot substances and can burn you if you come into direct contact.
Sanitizing your probe after each use is essential to avoid cross-contamination. Even if the meat is fully cooked according to your temperature reading, you must always make it a point to wipe down the probe with hot, soapy water to avoid any chance of contamination. There is no need to buy multiple thermometers and designate certain ones to certain categories of food (meat, fish, poultry) because a simple wash down after each use will protect you against any risk of contamination.
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 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.