Getting an immediate, accurate read on the temperature of cooking surfaces is important, especially when searing steaks or burgers or using equipment that needs to reach a specific temperature, such as a grill or a pizza stone. Instead of trying to guess the temperature, consider investing in an infrared thermometer that can provide an accurate reading.
The best infrared thermometer allows grillers and chefs to check the temperature of their grill, smoker, griddle, or water, as well as their food’s external temperature, without physically touching it. This can go a long way toward cooking with more accurate temperatures and ultimately making better food.
- BEST OVERALL: Klein Tools IR5 Dual Laser 12:1 Infrared Thermometer
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Etekcity Infrared Thermometer 774 Temperature Gun
- BEST FOR GRILLING: Taylor Precision Products Dual Temperature
- BEST FOR THE KITCHEN: Cuisinart CSG-625 Infrared Surface Thermometer
- BEST FOR ACCURACY: Fluke 62 Max+ Infrared Thermometer
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Infrared Thermometer
Equipping yourself with the best infrared thermometer is a sure way to step up your barbecue game. But, knowing what to look for in an infrared thermometer is key. These little tools can be complex, so be sure to give each point some thought while shopping.
Thermocouple Probes vs. Noncontact
Before deciding on an infrared thermometer, it’s important to understand what it can and cannot do as well as what tools to use when the infrared falls short.
Infrared thermometers will only display the surface temperature of an object. They’re useful for checking grates on grills, cast-iron pans, or even freezer temperatures. Every object emits a particular amount of radiation, which the infrared thermometer collects and converts to electricity and then provides a reading based on the electricity. However, they cannot provide an internal reading.
Internal readings are the function of thermocouple probes, such as a typical oven thermometer or meat thermometer. These probes insert directly into the meat, soup, sauce, or other food item, providing an accurate reading from inside. They work best when the probe is inside the item, which is why they don’t function well for surface temperature readings.
Infrared thermometers are tools. As tools, there are different infrared thermometers for different situations. There are standard infrared thermometers, which can be used in cooking or mechanical applications, and then there are infrared temporal scanners used in the medical field.
Temporal scanners aren’t useful for cooking applications, because their temperature windows are too small to be useful. Standard infrared thermometers can sense a much larger temperature range than a temporal scanner. These devices provide readings far beyond the scope of a typical chef’s cooking range (both hot and cold).
An infrared thermometer is helpful for myriad uses in the kitchen, such as determining the temperature of a freezer, a refrigerator, a cooking surface, an oven’s internal temperature, and more.
This multifunctionality requires a working range that will encompass all of those temperatures. Generally speaking, an infrared thermometer with a range of roughly -20 to 700 degrees Fahrenheit should provide plenty of range for checking anything from a deep-freeze freezer to a commercial kitchen fryer. Most infrared thermometers will display their working range in plain sight on the side of the thermometer.
Emissivity sounds complicated, but in this context, it really boils down to just one thing: how easily an infrared thermometer can read the temperature of certain materials. For a more scientific explanation, it refers to the efficiency with which a surface emits thermal energy.
Certain cooking surfaces, like copper or polished stainless steel, can be difficult for an infrared thermometer to measure. Models with adjustable emissivity capability can be useful, as you can adjust the thermometer until you can get an accurate reading.
Without an adjustable emissivity rating, an infrared thermometer might struggle to detect temperatures on stainless steel, copper, anodized aluminum, and other typical cooking surfaces.
Controlling the temperature of the surface on which food is being prepared is important. For example, achieving the perfect sear on an expensive steak requires a specific surface temperature that you simply can’t judge with an inaccurate thermometer.
The best infrared thermometers focus on accuracy. The manufacturer will typically list the accuracy—described as a plus-or-minus percentage—on the unit. A thermometer with an accuracy of around 2 percent can be considered very accurate. If a recipe calls for a surface temperature of 350 degrees Fahrenheit, an accurate thermometer will only be off by a possibility of 7 degrees, plus or minus. That’s plenty accurate for the purpose of cooking or grilling.
Manufacturers often use a ratio to describe the area size a thermometer will measure from a specific distance. For instance, 12:1 means an infrared thermometer can test a 1-inch diameter circle of a surface from a 12-inch distance. When it comes to cooking and grilling, this 12:1 distance is usually more than sufficient.
Ease of Use
One of the most desirable facets of owning an infrared thermometer is how easy they are to use. In most cases, all they require is a somewhat steady hand and a squeeze of the trigger. Simply lift the grill cover or open the oven, point it at your food, and take note of the reading.
Most infrared thermometers have the ability to switch between Fahrenheit and Celsius, which can be toggled between with the press of a button. Others even have features that temporarily save the previous temperature on the screen, providing an easily accessible reference.
Our Top Picks
The following is a list of some of the best infrared thermometers on the market. Be sure to keep these shopping considerations in mind while comparing them.
Home chefs and grill masters on the hunt for a high-quality infrared thermometer should consider this durable option from Klein Tools. With an accuracy rating of plus-or-minus 2 percent, a 12:1 measurement distance, and adjustable emissivity for materials that are difficult to measure, this thermometer carries on the company’s tradition of high-quality tools.
Thanks to a wide temperature range—between -22 degrees and 752 degrees Fahrenheit—this thermometer offers plenty of flexibility for all kinds of cooking, grilling, and smoking needs. An easy-to-read backlit display and dual laser targeting provides a reliable user experience. The auto-off function promotes a long battery life; the included 9-volt battery should last for up to 10 hours of continuous use.
Etekcity’s Infrared Thermometer 774 Temperature Gun has impressive features usually reserved for more expensive models. An extensive temperature range between -58 degrees and 716 degrees Fahrenheit is suitable for just about anyone’s cooking needs. The 12:1 measurement distance is comparable to higher-end models, as is the plus-or-minus 2 percent accuracy reading. Its built-in laser helps pinpoint the user’s aim, offering even more accuracy.
Other high-end features on this wallet-friendly model include an easy-to-read backlit LCD display, hold feature, low battery indicator, and adjustable emissivity. A 9-volt battery is included with purchase.
With the Taylor Precision Products Dual Temperature Thermometer, grilling aficionados won’t have to worry about tossing their meat on the grill before it’s hot enough—or guess when their steaks are done. This model has an infrared thermometer as well as a thermocouple probe, providing accurate temperature measurements for both the food and the cooking surface within seconds.
The infrared thermometer checks temperatures between -67 degrees and 482 degrees Fahrenheit, while the thermocouple can measure temperatures between -67 degrees and 626 degrees Fahrenheit. Food safety is top of mind here, thanks to a pass/fail function that sets off an alert if the food temperature isn’t safe for consumption. Other key features include a hold function and an auto-off display that helps preserve battery life. A 9-volt battery and nylon storage case are also included.
Many busy chefs and home cooks prefer streamlined tools that get the job done without a lot of hassle. The Cuisinart CSG-625 Infrared Surface Thermometer fits that bill, offering quick and simple measurement checks with just a trigger pull. This infrared thermometer measures temperatures on surfaces as low as -58 degrees and up to 716 degrees Fahrenheit, making it useful for checking grill grates, cast-iron cookware, pizza ovens or stones, and griddles.
A built-in laser helps users target exactly where they’d like to measure, and a backlit display makes reading the temperature easy. It also comes with the required 9-volt battery, and an automatic shut-off feature helps preserve battery life.
When it comes to accuracy, the Fluke 62 Max Plus is in a class of its own. This thermometer features a measurement range between -22 degrees and 1,202 degrees Fahrenheit, with an accuracy rating of 1 percent. With its 12:1 measurement distance, adjustable emissivity, and dual laser, achieving an accurate measurement is easy.
In addition to its wide measurement range and accurate readings, the Fluke 62 Max Plus features a large backlit display for easy reading. It quickly swaps between Celsius and Fahrenheit, and it can withstand a drop from 3 meters, or about 9.8 feet.
FAQs About Infrared Thermometers
There’s a lot of information to take in about the best infrared thermometers. Below is a collection of common questions about how to choose the right infrared thermometer, so check to see if there’s an answer to your query below.
Q. What should I look for when buying an infrared thermometer?
There are a few things to look for when buying an infrared thermometer. They include:
- Adjustable emissivity to combat shiny cooking surfaces.
- An accuracy of 2 percent or less.
- A range up to at least 700 degrees Fahrenheit (though you might have to sacrifice a bit of range for additional features like a thermocouple probe).
Q. Are infrared thermometers safe?
There are no proven risks involved with using an infrared thermometer. It is advised not to expose anyone’s eyesight to built-in lasers, however.
Q. How accurate are infrared thermometers?
The best infrared thermometers are accurate to within 2 percent or less of the measurement. So, for a 400-degree reading, the actual temperature will be between 392 and 408 degrees.
Q. How do I calibrate an infrared thermometer?
Most infrared thermometers cannot be calibrated. However, it’s easy to check a thermometer’s accuracy:
- Fill a glass with ice and then top it off with water
- Let it sit for five minutes
- Hold the thermometer directly over the ice bath and take a measurement
The measurement should read 32 degrees. If it doesn’t, contact the manufacturer.