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You can test your meat by pressing it slightly for doneness, but why rely on that when you can know instantly—and accurately—the exact temperature? Instant read thermometers are a necessary tool in the kitchen arsenal: They ensure a quick, reliable reading that lets you know the precise time to take the roast from the oven or pull the chicken off the grill.
There are a couple of technical specifications to keep in mind when shopping for an instant read thermometer. The Ingress Protection (IP) rating was developed to let consumers know the level of protection the product provides against physical debris, such dust and liquids. Most instant read thermometers will have a two-digit rating (e.g., IP65). The first number refers to barriers against solids; the second number refers to the resistance to liquid penetration. Most instant read thermometers will have a rating of 6 for physical debris, which means they are completely protected.
The second number is where these devices vary. The lowest you would want is 3, meaning it's resistant to water spray; what's even better (especially if you use the tool to grill outside, where it might experience rain or a drop in a pool) is a 7 or 8, meaning it can withstand immersion.
Instant read thermometers range from old-fashioned analog probes to Bluetooth versions you can read from 300 feet away. In addition to looking at customer reviews and online ratings, we had our own editors take our top picks and put them to the test in their home cooking. Our staff looked at such factors as how accurately and quickly the tools read ice water and boiling water temperatures, how easy the display was to read (for example, when taking the temperature of bone-in chicken thighs or medium-rare steak), and how convenient they are to use (such as when you're moving around when grilling).
Here, we list some of the best instant read thermometers—with some tested in our home kitchens!—for all your cooking needs.
Best Overall: Lavatools Javelin PRO Duo
This is the thermometer for lefties—its auto-rotating display makes it easy to read the temperature no matter which angle it is inserted at. The stabilization alarm alerts you once it has a consistent reading. And it is speedy: "The temperature readings were almost instantaneous," says Julia Warren, VP of Commerce, who adds that they took an average of 1 to 2 seconds.
The Javelin Pro’s back-lit display is motion-activated, and the fold-out probe makes for safe storage between readings. Not only that, but the display is large, so Julia was able to hold the thermometer and still see the reading easily. And the probe was easy to open and grip.
The design also features a loop at the end of the body, which allows you to hold on with just one finger. Plus, the integrated magnet makes for easy storage on a metal surface—no floating around in a drawer. With its wide temperature range of -40 to 482 degrees Fahrenheit, the Javelin Pro is versatile enough to go from smoker to traditional oven cookery.
There is one thing to note: When Julia did her ice water readings, which came out to 45.2, 44.4, and 45.1 degrees, "the temperature got down to 35.2 as I swirled the probe in the water for a few minutes. The manufacturer says 'no calibration needed,' so I'm not sure why I couldn't achieve the correct temperature," she explains. Still, she thinks the thermometer is a great buy overall due to its size and simplicity.
This model is rated IP65, which means it is completely protected against dust and low water jets—not waterproof, but splash-resistant. And if that wasn't enough, it comes in eight fun colors, from Blueberry to Wasabi.
"The display swivels 360 degrees, which was helpful when I took the temperature of bone-in chicken thighs." Julia Warren, VP of Commerce
Best Budget: ThermoWorks ThermoPop
There are a number of ThermoWorks products on this list, and there is a reason for that: It is a reliable brand that really understands temperature measurement from its years of product development for professional pitmasters. The ThermoPop is affordable and conveniently fits in your pocket. Its rotating backlit display is easy to read at any angle—a helpful attribute for those lefties out there. The temperature range (-58 to 572 degrees Fahrenheit) and one-button switching between Fahrenheit and Celsius add a lot of punch to this easy-to-grip probe.
Cambria Bold, our senior editor, can attest to the incredible accuracy of the thermometer. Readings were consistent, with only about 1 or 2 degrees in variation, if any. And while they weren't exactly "instant," the readings were fast enough for Cambria, who says it took on average 3 seconds.
The ThermoPop also has extra features that make it more convenient to use, she points out: "I love the rotating display! It makes it so easy to read, no matter the angle. The pocket clip is a nice touch, too, so that I can clip it on my apron, especially if I'm moving around the kitchen or back and forth from the grill."
Besides all the enviable features, the ThermoPop also comes with a lithium battery that ensures long life, a 4.5-inch needle-thin probe to keep those juices intact while temping, and large, legible numbers that don't have decimal points crowding the display. It is rated IP66, which means it can withstand high-pressure water from any direction. It is not submersible but is easy to clean. And, it comes in nine colors, from Sunny Yellow to Bubblegum Pink.
"While it's not technically an 'instant read,' at a readout time of 3 to 4 seconds, it's pretty darn close!" — Cambria Bold, Senior Editor
Best for Meat: Taylor Dual Temp Infrared Thermometer With Thermocouple Probe
With its dual reading capability, infrared surface, and internal probe, precision is the strength of the Taylor Thermocouple Thermometer. The infrared setting measures temperatures in a range of -67 to 482 degrees Fahrenheit, while the probe detects up to 626 degrees Fahrenheit. This makes it a good choice for grilling, roasting at high heat, and even candy-making. At IP65, it is splash-resistant, and the 5-inch probe makes easy work of reading a thick cut of meat.
In addition to being precise, this thermometer is quick. Both the probe and the infrared took about 1 second to read the temperature of ice water, which our editor Siobhan Wallace tested for three times. It also has a few features to make operation smooth, such as an easy grip, a flashlight for focusing the infrared, and useful notes on the face of the tool (such as distance ratio for the infrared), she adds.
The one thing to note, however, is that using this device comes with a learning curve due to its many features, Siobhan says.
"For instance, you need to hold the probe and scan buttons while it takes the temperature, and release the buttons for a reading. There are also different modes on the screen, and I'm not entirely sure what they are," she explains.
This model has a hold setting that allows the user to freeze the last read temperature. It also has an LED display that shows if food has reached the appropriate hot or cold setting, or if it is unsafe to consume. It has an automatic shut-off and runs on two AAA batteries (which are included). For added safety, the fold-in probe comes with a protective sheath.
"The final temperature is precise enough that steak came out perfectly medium-rare." — Siobhan Wallace, Editor
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Best for Grilling: ThermoPro TP15 Digital Waterproof Instant Read Thermometer
Meet the workhorse of this list. The ThermoPro TP-15 is affordable and waterproof up to 1 meter; it also accurately reads food temperatures up to 572 degrees Fahrenheit in just three to four seconds. Plus, it has a magnetic back panel that makes storage a cinch.
There is more to love though: The backlit display makes grilling at night a breeze, it switches between Fahrenheit and Celsius, it has a calibrate function for greater precision, and it automatically shuts off after 10 minutes of no use. But the best part about this nifty little thermometer is the probe. It is a long 5.4 inches, has a needle-thin width, and comes with a plastic sheath to protect the tip.
Related: The Best Grill Thermometers
Best for Baking: Habor Instant Read Thermometer
Often, thermometers are purchased for measuring meat temperatures, but they can also be useful for baking applications, such as checking water temperature for yeast proofing or measuring the internal temperature of a loaf of homemade bread. The Harbor Instant Read has a formidable temperature range of -58 to 572 degrees Fahrenheit, and an extra-long, very thin probe, making it a versatile choice for bakers.
This thermometer has an IP66 and is not waterproof. You still want to clean the probe, but do not submerge it—a simple warm, soapy cloth should take care of any food debris; dry it immediately afterward. The auto shut-off, affordable price, and probe sheath with a hook for safe storage make the Harbor Instant Read Thermometer a practical addition to your kitchen collection.
Related: The Best Oven Mitts
Best High-Tech: ThermoPro TP07S Digital Wireless Meat Thermometer
Barbeque dinners often involve back and forth trips to the kitchen, increasing the odds of overcooking. With the ThermoPro TP-07, this is a non-issue. It is Bluetooth-capable and has an impressive range of 300 feet—you could go next door and still get an accurate reading sent right to your pocket. Plus, it comes ready-to-use because the transmitter and receiver are already synched; just install the included batteries, and you are ready to go.
There are some impressive features on this model, including a backlit screen that changes color based on temperature. It reads between 32 and 572 degrees Fahrenheit and has preset temperatures for various proteins (which you can reprogram if you wish). There is a digital kitchen timer that counts up and down to ensure proper recipe execution. The probe is a hearty 6.5 inches long to pierce even the thickest cuts of meat, but also has a step-down tip for quick temperature checks. With all this technology, it is not designed to be submerged in water. Probes can be hand washed with a warm, soapy cloth and dried immediately.
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Best Analog: OXO Good Grips Chef's Precision Instant Read Thermometer
If technology is not your thing, but you still want an accurate instant read thermometer, the OXO Good Grips is a great option. Not only does it come from a trusted brand in kitchen tools; this model is also easy to use and has a serviceable temperature range (0 to 220 degrees Fahrenheit). The shaded area of the probe indicates how far to insert for an accurate reading. The face of the thermometer indicates USDA-recommended cooking temperatures for various proteins.
This analog model is bulkier than foldable probe versions, and it may not be as quick as digital models, but it also does not require any batteries—or worry over whether you left it on or not. It is affordable, dependable, and has easy-to-read markings for Fahrenheit and Celsius temperatures.
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Best Upgrade: ThermoWorks Thermapen Mk4
This is the Cadillac of instant-read thermometers. It is super fast: It takes an average of 1.8 seconds for a reading. Plus, it can be held in any orientation and the display automatically adjusts. It covers an impressive range of temperatures, from -57 to 572 degrees Fahrenheit. The Thermapen Mk4 also boasts an automatic backlit display that turns on when picked up, as well as a needle-sharp probe that deftly temps delicate fish.
Micah Dene, chef at The Studewood Grill and Studewood Cantine in Houston, Texas, raves about the ThermaPen MK4. "The ThermaPen is the fastest and most accurate one I’ve found. It has a rotating display, backlit screen, and a sleep/wake function so you don’t have to turn it on and off; when you pick it up, it just comes on," he says. "It also is water-resistant. This is the only thermometer we use on our [kitchen] line."
The design is also high-end, with a fold-out 4.5-inch probe, a built-in battery compartment that houses switches to disable automatic shutoff, switching between Fahrenheit and Celsius, and more. It is ergonomically designed with a rubber-edged notch for a comfortable grip. It's rated IP66/67—this doesn’t mean you should leave it in water, but it would be safe for up to 30 minutes.
Most instant reads have a thermistor sensor bundle stored in the tip of the probe, but the Thermapen Mk4 has a thin sensor wire running the full length of the probe. This allows for a thinner probe, which means less juice escaping your proteins while affording a quicker response to changes in temperature. And it comes in an attractive array of colors, from a bright green to a bold blue.
If you are looking for all the bells and whistles of high-tech tools, we recommend the ThermoPro TP07S Wireless (view at Amazon). It has nine preset temperatures that are customizable and hands-free capability of up to 300 feet. If you want a compact instant read thermometer that still delivers on amenities, choose the Lavatools Javelin PRO Duo (view at Amazon).
What to Look for in an Instant Read Thermometer
Infrared vs. Probe Thermometers
Infrared thermometers give cooks the ability to measure temperature without touching or penetrating the food, which is a nice feature. However, if you’re seeking the most accurate temperature reading, a probe thermometer will likely prove the better choice. An infrared thermometer produces a surface reading of the temperature, which is often accurate enough. But when you’re cooking meats, especially poultry or pork, which can be dangerous to eat if not cooked to high-enough temperatures, you can get an interior temperature reading from a probe thermometer.
Temperature ranges for instant-read thermometers vary widely. Thermometers designed for measuring the temperature of grilled and roasted meat tend to have higher ranges, with some models, like the Taylor Dual Temp Infrared Thermometer With Thermocouple Probe, detecting temperatures as high as 626 degrees Fahrenheit. However, the Taylor can only detect temperatures that high using the probe as the infrared can go up to 482 degrees Fahrenheit, which speaks to the fact that probe thermometers have wider ranges than infrared thermometers. Also, digital thermometers can detect a greater range of temperatures than analog thermometers. For example, the analog OXO Good Grips Chef's Precision Instant Read Thermometer only reads up to 220 degrees Fahrenheit.
Some pro chefs and home cooks prefer simplicity from their instant-read thermometers, eschewing “special features” in favor of streamlined models that do one job and do it well. But if you view special features as an asset, then you can find thermometers with features like pocket clips for aprons, lithium batteries, Bluetooth capability, and kitchen timers.
How accurate are instant-read thermometers?
Since instant-read thermometers are highly desirable to both home cooks and professional chefs, companies that produce these items focus carefully on accuracy. To get the best possible reading, you’ll want to calibrate your thermometer. Also, probe thermometers tend to achieve more accurate readings than infrared thermometers where meat is concerned because they can delve deeper into the cut of meat.
How do you test an instant-read thermometer?
Testing an instant-read thermometer to maximize its accuracy can be done through calibration. To calibrate your thermometer, either submerge the probe in (or hold the infrared model close to) a pot of boiling water or a container of ice water. You’ll want the reading for boiling water to come in at standard boiling temperature (212 degrees Fahrenheit) and the reading for ice water at standard freezing temperature (32 degrees Fahrenheit). If the thermometer detects those temperatures, then it’s achieving accurate readings.
Why Trust Simply Recipes?
Carrie Honaker is a food writer who knows the importance of accurate temperature readings when it comes to cooking. As a restaurateur and avid home cook, she has tried many instant-read thermometers, from simple biothermometers to digital models. She loves her ThermoPro TP15 (view at Amazon) for its slim probe that doesn’t let juices escape and its magnetic back panel. Her work has appeared in many publications, including Bon Appetit, Allrecipes, and Wine Enthusiast.
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