Everybody in the test kitchen fights over our favorite instant-read thermometer, but its near three-digit price tag ($96) demands a cheaper alternative. However, our Best Buy isn't up to speed with its 47-second read time. To find a replacement, we ran core tests on seven new $35-and-under models—temping ice water, boiling water, and pan-seared chicken breasts—to assess their accuracy, response time, and design.
When the last readout flashed on the screen, we had a tie. One model read temperatures accurately in 14 seconds. Its long, narrow probe easily slipped horizontally inside chicken breasts; its head felt comfortable and was easy to grip; and the sturdy buttons impressed testers. However, three flaws must be noted: This thermometer cannot be calibrated, does not automatically shut off, and only reads temperatures up to 302—so no deep-frying with this model. The other winner maxes out at 450 degrees and turns off after 11 minutes. While neither can compete with the speed and design of the Thermapen, both offer a fine alternative at a much lower cost. (Plus, their response times leave the Redi-Chek in the dust.)
An extra-thin probe that allowed for easy temperature checks, even inserted horizontally into chicken breasts, and relatively fast readout times put this model at the top of the rankings. We also liked the location of the readout screen at the side of the wand (as opposed to the end) and the simplicity of its controls. Its few drawbacks are a low maximum temperature, the fact that it can’t be calibrated (reset when accuracy seems off), and its lack of an automatic shutoff.
Although this bulb-shaped thermometer felt awkward and cheaply made, and testers found it was too easy to hit the small buttons accidentally while gripping the head, it received top marks for speed, accuracy, and temperature range. An automatic shutoff preserved battery life.
While just as fast as the other ThermoWorks model, one of our two winners, this model lost points for a bulb-shaped head that was awkward to handle and whose screen was harder to read than one positioned on the side. The slightly longer probe was an advantage when reaching into the oven. Unlike the other ThermoWorks model, this one has an automatic shutoff feature.
An extremely slow performer that felt flimsy in comparison with other models tested. Another major complaint: It is constantly set to Celsius, regardless of the previous setting, meaning that you need to press a button to switch back to Fahrenheit. It also lacks an automatic shutoff, so unless the probe is fully closed, the battery wears down quickly.