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April/May 2014

Clip-On Probe Thermometers for Meat, Deep Frying, and Candy Making

We made French fries, fried chicken, and caramel sauce, evaluating four thermometers for accuracy, functionality, and durability.

Update: November 2015
While evaluating oven thermometers, we discovered that the ThermoWorks ChefAlarm offers an alternative to the dial-face models we tested. The company sells a separate ambient temperature probe, which connects to the thermometer and tracks the temperature of the oven. The probe clipped easily to the grate and was accurate to within a single degree. We also like that the remote thermometer, with its large digital display and intuitive user interfaces, allows you to easily check the oven temperature without opening the door. If you already own a ChefAlarm, it’s a great choice.

How We Tested

In the test kitchen, we use hands-free clip-on digital thermometers to monitor temperatures when deep-frying food, making candy, and—with some models—checking food as it cooks in the oven without needing to open the oven door. We tested four models, priced from $24.99 to $59. Three have probes that clip onto a pot, with a wire that transmits readings to a small countertop receiver. The fourth is a single unit that clips on entirely.

We made French fries, fried chicken, and caramel sauce, evaluating the thermometers for accuracy, functionality, and how well they fit a variety of pots and pans, from 1-quart saucepans to Dutch ovens. To confirm accuracy, we double-checked each reading with two additional laboratory-quality calibrated thermocouples. The three models with separate wire probes can be used in the oven, too, so we put them to another test: roasting pork loins. (The fourth model is for stovetop use only.)

Our final test was aimed at durability. Sous vide cookers are designed to hold water at a specific temperature for many hours, so we inserted the probe of each thermometer into the sous vide and recorded their displayed temperatures every 30 minutes for 5 hours. Then we checked the recorded temperatures against the machine’s readout and results from an additional lab-quality thermometer.

Accuracy is paramount, as anyone with a faulty thermometer knows. A few degrees in the wrong direction can spell scorched sugar or soggy fried chicken. But our numbers were befuddling: Two models were off when we made caramel, yet in the sous vide cooker—and for one model that also works in the oven, when we did the pork loin test—they were perfectly on target. What gives?

Experts told us that a thermometer can be inaccurate for many reasons, including heat or moisture damage and poor quality control during manufacturing. Also, as with our sometimes-faulty thermometers, they may work in a consistent environment like that of a sous vide or an oven roast but aren’t responsive enough to report quickly rising or falling temperatures with accuracy.

Of our two accurate thermometers, one was a basic model with a timer, simple controls, a programmable alarm that rings when you’ve hit your goal temperature, and a probe that fits securely on a variety of pots and pans as well as in an oven roast; it’s our Best Buy. But for the Cadillac of clip-on digital thermometers, nothing beat the accuracy and user experience of our winner. Its slightly wider keyboard, with buttons for every function, was so easy to use that we didn’t even need the manual. Its high- and low-temperature alarms, with adjustable backlight and volume, were useful and well designed. It has the highest maximum temperature, 572 degrees, of all four models, which is nice for the oven and grilling. Most importantly, it's the only thermometer in our lineup that can be recalibrated so that it stays accurate over the long term, just as professional thermometers do. It’s more expensive, but its accuracy, easy interface, and promise of longevity are well worth it.

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The Results

Winner
Recommended

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

$33.31*

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

Admittedly expensive, this handsome block certainly seemed to live up to its billing as “the last knife block you ever have to buy.” The heaviest model in our testing, this block was ultrastable, and its durable bamboo exterior was a breeze to clean. Well-placed medium-strength magnets made it easy to attach all our knives, and a rotating base gave us quick access to them. One tiny quibble: The blade of our 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a little

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Done in 281 ms! 61.385 KiB - 7.5% = 56.776 KiB