Whether you plan on grilling steaks on a propane barbecue, smoking chicken wings in an egg-shaped grill, or roasting a full turkey in the oven for Thanksgiving, a good meat thermometer will help you get the job done right.
Cooking is both an art and a science, and even if you don’t consider yourself on par with a Michelin-star chef, you can be certain that your meals are safe to eat with the right kitchen and grilling tools. To ensure that the meat on your plate is fully cooked through, use the best meat thermometer for the meal at hand.
- BEST OVERALL: ThermoPro TP16 Large LCD Digital Thermometer
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Char-Broil Instant-Read Digital Thermometer
- BEST FOR GRILLING: Grille Perfect Digital Meat Thermometer
- BEST FOR SMOKING: ThermoPro TP20 Wireless Remote Digital Thermometer
- BEST THERMOCOUPLE: ThermoPro TP18 Ultra Fast Thermocouple
- BEST LEAVE-IN: CDN ProAccurate Oven Thermometer
- BEST DIAL: SINARDO Roasting Meat Thermometer T731
- BEST SMART: ThermoPro TP25 500ft Wireless Bluetooth Thermometer
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Meat Thermometer
Different thermometers will operate, gauge, and display information in various ways, digitally or using a dial. Some thermometers remain in the meat during the entire cooking period, while others require insertion at specific times. Some have innovative display designs, some come with remote handheld monitors, and some will relay necessary data to a smartphone. Here are the major categories to keep in mind when looking to purchase the best meat thermometer.
There are two major types of digital thermometers: thermocouple and thermistors. Thermocouples work by connecting (or “coupling”) two thin wires composed of different metals. The connection generates a tiny amount of voltage, and a higher temperature will cause the voltage to increase.
Thermistors determine the temperature based on how easily electrons move in a semiconductor material. Thermocouples are faster and have a more comprehensive range of temperatures, but tend not to be as accurate as thermistors.
Analog (or dial) thermometers have a rod that contains two different metals bonded together. One metal expands at a lower temperature than the other, causing the two to twist to varying degrees. The twisted metal moves the dial and gives the reading of the internal temperature. Most dial thermometers can remain in the oven while the meat is cooking, while some digital models have a probe that can stay in.
The traditional design for a meat thermometer is a single-point-ended rod with an analog dial on the opposite end. This form was developed for cooking primarily on the stovetop or in the oven. In the past 30 years, the need for barbecue gauges and the invention of digital models have enabled much more variety in thermometers.
Fork-style thermometers have the added functionality of a double-pronged spear to move and arrange meat on the grill, but they are not particularly suited for oven cooking. Many newer models have separate probes that can pierce the meat and stay in the oven or grill the entire time food is cooking. The probe attaches to a monitor via an insulated cord that can often withstand temperatures of over 700 degrees.
Of the two types of display—digital and analog—digital thermometers are more accurate and generally faster than analog versions. Digital displays require batteries, and if you have a dead digital thermometer and no spare batteries, it will delay getting your meal ready. So plan to keep a few spare batteries on hand. Some models can relay the temperature directly to your phone via a Bluetooth connection.
Most analog dial thermometers have a range of 120 to 220 degrees Fahrenheit, which should be sufficient for almost all your meat-cooking needs. Many digital thermometers have a far wider range of accuracy, from 32 to 572 degrees (0 to 300 degrees Celsius), which is useful for measuring temperatures for foods beyond just meats.
A digital display gives a more accurate reading than an analog/dial thermometer. A digital thermometer will generally have an accuracy of plus or minus 1 degree Celsius (1.8 F). Knowing the general range of the internal temperature, with an accuracy of plus or minus a few degrees, is most likely going to be sufficient for most home-cooking needs.
According to the CDC, an estimated 48 million Americans get sick because of foodborne diseases each year, resulting in 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths every year. In all cooked foods—not just meats and poultry—a safe minimum internal temperature must be attained to avoid food poisoning. If perishable foods remain at between 40 and 140 degrees for more than two hours, they are considered no longer safe to eat.
A food thermometer is an easy and effective way to ensure the temperature doesn’t fall into dangerous territory. Always thoroughly clean the thermometer with hot, soapy water after each use to avoid cross-contamination and bacterial growth.
It’s especially helpful when engineers find ways to connect popular technology—namely, smartphones—to meet the typical consumer’s daily needs. Reading a meal’s internal temperature is a straightforward science measurement, the sort of thing a handheld computer like a smartphone is perfect for.
Some manufacturers have created their own dedicated handheld devices for the job, while others have bypassed them to go right to the smartphone market. People look at their phones frequently, so why not use them when cooking as well? Integrated smartphone technology is a versatile way to connect to kitchen technology.
Any thermometer should be relatively easy to clean; this avoids cross-contamination and reduces the chance of bacterial growth. An advantage of analog versions is that they are usually waterproof, which makes cleaning even more straightforward. Digital versions frequently include nice add-ons like countdown timers, alerts to let the cook know when food reaches the desired temperature, and adjustable meat settings to calibrate the thermometer to match the type of meal that’s cooking. Many even have language settings that are ideal for multilingual households or get-togethers.
Our Top Picks
To find the best meat thermometer, consider the criteria above. These criteria led to the following recommendations, based on eight different cooking situations and thermometer types.
The multipurpose ThermoPro TP16 Large LCD Digital Thermometer works for smoker, oven, and stovetop cooking. It has a programmable alert for preset temperatures calibrated to specific foods, and the presets are adjustable according to desired tastes. The countdown timer appears especially useful when using the grill, particularly when a phone-timer app is not handy. The accurate (within 1 degree) thermometer displays temperatures ranging from 32 to 572 degrees.
The probe can stay in the meat the entire cooking time, eliminating the need to open the oven or grill to check and let the heat out. The probe connects to the thermometer base via a stainless steel mesh cable that can withstand temperatures up to 716 degrees. The thermometer base has a magnetic back that can attach to any metal surface near the oven or grill. It also can hang on a hook or lanyard, or be left standing on a tabletop near the oven or grill.
With the Char-Broil Instant-Read Digital Thermometer, an accurate reading of the meat’s internal temperature comes easy—without spending a lot of money. The thermometer gives an accurate reading of the internal temperature in under 10 seconds.
Its features include an auto shutoff, seven language settings, an alarm to know when it’s done, and a choice from among seven different meat types, along with the “doneness” level for each one. Storage is easy: just fold the stainless steel probe to make it more compact. The simple, handheld design makes it a snap to operate without having to learn any complicated settings or instructions.
When using a barbeque grill, it helps to know the precise moment when the meat reaches its perfect temperature, and the Grille Perfect Digital Meat Thermometer can help. It includes a flashing taste/doneness indicator to let grillers know that the ribs, steaks, or burgers are ready to move to the plate.
The large handle (16 inches) and stainless steel prongs make this fork/thermometer easy to use and safer to maneuver meats over a flame. Temperature checks are simple, thanks to the large, lighted screen that can check a meat or dish’s internal temperature. This thermometer is made specifically for the grill, and it measures nearly 16 inches long to keep the cook’s hands well above the heat.
The ThermoPro TP20 Wireless Remote Digital Thermometer relies on dedicated technology, so there are no cell phone apps or Bluetooth connections to configure for wireless use. The setup for this high-tech device is smooth: the stay-in probe connects to a base display model that relays information to a handheld monitor.
This setup frees the cook from having to check the food in the smoker or barbecue constantly, which is helpful since smoking a brisket, for example, can take eight hours or more. Freedom from repeatedly attending to the smoker creates time for mingling, watching the game, or performing other tasks like setting the table. The TP20 costs more than some thermometers, but it makes smoking foods safe with less work.
With the ThermoPro TP18 Ultra Fast Thermocouple thermometer, temperature readings can display in less than three seconds. It has an accuracy rate of plus or minus just 0.9 degrees, with a wide temperature range of 14 to 572 degrees. A lighted display makes this model easier to read in low light, such as on a patio at dusk or at night. Other features include the ability to lock in the temperature before removing the probe; that way, the cook doesn’t have to get too close to a hot oven to read it.
Because the 4-inch probe can fold down for storage, users can pocket the 6-inch thermometer, freeing their hands to baste, rotate, or otherwise tend to the oven’s items. It also has a magnetic back for attaching to the refrigerator or other metal surfaces.
The CDN ProAccurate Oven Thermometer is designed to stay in food while it cooks, saving time for the home chef. With a single puncture, fewer juices escape meat, and cooks can open the oven less often, saving some heat inside. The analog dial has an extra-large, 2-inch face, which glows in the dark for easy reading inside a dark oven. It is composed of 304-grade stainless steel. Since it is analog, it never needs battery changes or recharging.
This leave-in thermometer measures from 120 to 200 degrees, which is fine for cooking meat and poultry, but not a broad enough range for some foods. The laboratory-quality lens glass is waterproof for easy cleaning.
Made from BPA-free stainless steel, the SINARDO T731 is a large, 2-inch-faced classic design model on a compact probe. It is oven safe and can read temperatures from 120 to 220 degrees. This dishwasher-safe thermometer is easy to clean by hand, ensuring cooking that’s free from bacterial growth and cross-contamination.
The SINARDO is compact and practical for the kitchen, patio, and for taking on camping trips as well. When cooking in the rough, it’s important to make sure meals cook all the way through to avoid food poisoning while miles from medical help. The SINARDO is appropriate for inclement weather, as it requires no batteries and is waterproof. This classic dial thermometer offers few bells and whistles, but it has a sturdy, visible dial and is easy to use.
The ThermoPro TP25 500ft Wireless Bluetooth Thermometer comes equipped with Bluetooth technology, which enables the cook to follow a meal’s progress from up to 500 feet away. When out of range, the app will send an alert so the cook can move back closer. Four 8.5-inch food-grade, color-coded, stainless steel probes allow for monitoring four different food types at once. The color-coding helps avoid confusion about which probe is monitoring which type of food.
The TP25’s backlit LCD display shows an accurate reading even if it’s pitch black outside. It has a temperature range of 32 to 572 degrees, plenty sufficient for most cooking needs, and it is programmable for nine different types of meat. The internal algorithm calculates how much longer remains to achieve the ideal cooking time. Tech-wary cooks might hesitate, but anyone who uses smartphone apps should be able to handle operating the TP25.
Tips for Using a Meat Thermometer
When cooking a larger roast, start checking the temperature about 30 minutes before the expected finish time. For smaller or thinner cuts of meat, start checking the meat 5 to 10 minutes before the end. Make sure to aim for the correct temperature according to the recipe and the safe minimum temperature cooking charts.
Meat will continue to cook even after it’s removed from direct heat. If it’s a large cut, the cook may even want to take it off the grill or out of the oven when its temperature reaches 5 degrees below the desired doneness, as the meat will keep cooking for 5 to 10 minutes.
It’s always a good idea to test a thermometer’s accuracy after first opening the box. To do this, dip the tip into a bowl of ice water or boiling water. The display should read 32 degrees Fahrenheit (or 0 Celsius) or 212 F/100 C for boiling. If it doesn’t read accurately, most digital thermometers have a recalibrate or reset button. If it still shows inaccurate temperatures after that, consider returning it or contacting the manufacturer.
Avoid burns by using a good set of barbecue gloves when moving the thermometer or the meal. Begin by checking the temperature near the end of the suggested cooking time before the food is expected to be done. Stick the meat thermometer probe into the thickest part of the meat. Be sure the thermometer probe is not touching bone, gristle, or fat.
FAQs About Your New Meat Thermometer
This section covers some of the basics of how to use a new meat thermometer. First and foremost, read the instructions that come with the device and follow them precisely for better results. Below are some general guidelines for using a thermometer.
Q. How do I use a meat thermometer in the oven?
Insert the thermometer’s pointed end into the meat and wait at least 10 seconds for it to display the temperature, depending on the model.
Q. Can I leave a meat thermometer in the meat while it’s cooking?
Yes, you can leave it in if the entire thermometer or the probe is made of metal and indicated for such use.
Q. Which type of meat thermometer is the most accurate?
Digital thermistors are the most accurate, but digital thermocouples are faster and have a more comprehensive range of temperatures.
Q. How far do I insert a meat thermometer?
For most thermometers, insert the probe at least half an inch into the meat. If the cut of meat is more than 1 inch thick, push it in a little deeper to reach the center.
Q. What is the best place to insert a meat thermometer?
Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the meat, and avoid touching bone, gristle, or fat.