Inexpensive Digital Thermometers

From Cook's Country | April/May 2016
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Overview:

The axiom “knowledge is power” holds especially true in the kitchen—the more you know about what’s going on inside your food as it cooks, the more you can control the result. That’s why we’re so gung ho about using an instant-read thermometer in the kitchen, as more control means less stress and better results.

In fact, the test kitchen might be described as fanatical when it comes to thermometers. Over the years we’ve learned that it pays to monitor the temperature not only of meat but also of pies, cakes, breads, poaching water, butter, tea, coffee, caramel, custards, and even baked potatoes. And if you’re going to use a thermometer, it should be a digital instant-read model (old dial thermometers are slow and inaccurate in comparison). Our go-to is the Thermapen from ThermoWorks, which is unquestionably the best digital kitchen thermometer on the market.

But at $79 for the basic Thermapen model and $99 for the deluxe, it is an investment. In search of a cheaper alternative, we set out to test inexpensive digital thermometers… read more

The axiom “knowledge is power” holds especially true in the kitchen—the more you know about what’s going on inside your food as it cooks, the more you can control the result. That’s why we’re so gung ho about using an instant-read thermometer in the kitchen, as more control means less stress and better results.

In fact, the test kitchen might be described as fanatical when it comes to thermometers. Over the years we’ve learned that it pays to monitor the temperature not only of meat but also of pies, cakes, breads, poaching water, butter, tea, coffee, caramel, custards, and even baked potatoes. And if you’re going to use a thermometer, it should be a digital instant-read model (old dial thermometers are slow and inaccurate in comparison). Our go-to is the Thermapen from ThermoWorks, which is unquestionably the best digital kitchen thermometer on the market.

But at $79 for the basic Thermapen model and $99 for the deluxe, it is an investment. In search of a cheaper alternative, we set out to test inexpensive digital thermometers and find out which model reigns supreme. In selecting our lineup, we capped the price at $35. But as we were narrowing our testing field, we found many thermometers that only read up to about 300 degrees—fine for meat but not much else. So we added another qualifier to our selection process: Each thermometer had to read up to around 400 degrees so that it could be used when making candy, caramel, and other foods requiring high temperatures.

We ran the thermometers through a battery of tests, including taking the temperature of ice water, boiling water, roasted chicken thighs, and bubbling caramel. Through each test we evaluated every model’s accuracy, speed, usability, visibility, comfort, and durability with a mix of lefties, righties, small- and large-handed testers, professional chefs, and lay cooks.

A good digital thermometer needs to be accurate—otherwise, what’s the point? Aside from a few buggy models, most thermometers in our lineup were indeed accurate. We next turned to speed and were pleased to find that three-quarters of the thermometers gave accurate readings in under 10 seconds, with the fastest ones clocking in at just over 6 seconds. Most of the thermometers were accurate and reasonably fast, but that doesn’t mean they were always easy to use.

Our testers found three major factors that impacted how user-friendly the thermometers were: length, grip, and visibility. Regarding length, the eight thermometers ranged from 5.75 to 8.75 inches long, and we found that longer was better—otherwise, our hands were too close to the heat, and we had to fumble with bulky potholders.

Next up was grip. All of the thermometers have two basic parts, a long metal probe and a head with a digital screen, but only some felt ergonomic and secure in our hands. A few only allowed for dainty two-fingered grips, like a damsel waving a hanky, which simply won’t do when you’re spearing a chicken thigh that’s spitting hot fat.

Lastly, visibility. Larger and clearer displays were best. Testers also preferred screens situated on the side of the thermometer’s head as opposed to on top, because they were easier to read from different angles. The best thermometer was lollipop-shaped and had a display that was visible at any angle for both lefties and righties. Said model was also fast, accurate, and easy to use. Manufactured by the same company as the Thermapen, the ThermoWorks ThermoPop ($29) is our top pick for the budget-conscious cook.

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  • Product Tested

    Results Key:

    Good ★ ★ ★ Fair ★ ★ Poor
  • Recommended - Winner

    Thermoworks ThermoPop

    This thermometer was fast, accurate, and easy to hold. It had a few cushy extra features, including a rotating display and a backlight, which came in handy for grilling. The ThermoPop is an excellent inexpensive alternative to the Thermapen.

    • Speed ★★★
    • Comfort ★★½
    • Accuracy ★★★
    • Durability ★★★
    • Visibility ★★★
    • Ease of Use ★★★

    $29.00

    BUY NOW Thermoworks
  • Recommended

    Polder Stable-Read Instant Read Thermometer

    Testers loved this long thermometer’s audible beep when it registered the temperature. It was fast, accurate, and had a handy loop on its end and plenty of room to grip. Our only quibble: It melted when we accidentally rested it on the lip of a saucepan for a moment.

    • Speed ★★★
    • Comfort ★★½
    • Accuracy ★★★
    • Durability ★★½
    • Visibility ★★★
    • Ease of Use ★★★

    $18.42

    BUY NOW Amazon
  • Recommended

    Le Creuset Digital Instant-Read Thermometer

    This bright thermometer was quick, accurate, and easy to use. We liked the small loop on the end, but its slim head was a bit small for larger-handed testers to comfortably grip over heat.

    • Speed ★★½
    • Comfort ★★½
    • Accuracy ★★★
    • Durability ★★★
    • Visibility ★★½
    • Ease of Use ★★★

    $34.95

    BUY NOW Amazon
  • Recommended with Reservations

    Acurite Digital Instant Read Meat Thermometer

    This quick, accurate, and straightforward thermometer had a clear, legible display, but its screen was on top of its head, meaning it was only visible from one often-prohibitive angle. It was also a bit short, and it melted slightly during testing.

    • Speed ★★½
    • Comfort ★½
    • Accuracy ★★★
    • Durability ★★½
    • Visibility ★★½
    • Ease of Use ★★★

    $12.70

  • Recommended with Reservations

    CDN ProAccurate Thermometer

    This thermometer was accurate and fast, but it was too short. Its face had lots of little buttons that were easy to accidentally press, and we never felt like we had a secure grip on its smooth, round metal head.

    • Speed ★★½
    • Comfort ★½
    • Accuracy ★★★
    • Durability ★★★
    • Visibility ★★
    • Ease of Use ★★½

    $17.90

  • Not Recommended

    Weber Original Instant-Read Thermometer

    Of our two copies of this thermometer, one was accurate and one was wildly erratic, reporting –7 degrees in a 32-degree ice bath and 153 degrees in a 212-degree pot of boiling water. It was also too short, and its tilting head felt a bit unstable.

    • Speed ★½
    • Comfort ★★
    • Accuracy ★½
    • Durability ★★★
    • Visibility ★★★
    • Ease of Use ★★½

    $9.99

  • Not Recommended

    Taylor Pro LED Digital Thermometer

    This relatively slow thermometer was accurate, but both our testing and backup copies went dark right before they were about the read the final temperature in several tests. This is because this thermometer has a “power save” function that turns off the display after about 15 seconds (it often turned off a few seconds sooner for us); the thermometer is still actively working, but you need to push a button to get the display to turn back on—an inconvenience that doesn’t exist with higher-rated models.

    • Speed
    • Comfort ★½
    • Accuracy ★★★
    • Durability ★★★
    • Visibility ★★★
    • Ease of Use ★½

    $13.79

  • Not Recommended

    Farberware Protek Instant Read Thermometer

    Both copies we tested of this thermometer had faulty battery chambers. The small plastic circle that’s supposed to lock in place over the lithium battery was loose and would never securely screw in place—one dove right into a boiling pot of water.

    • Speed ★½
    • Comfort ★★
    • Accuracy
    • Durability
    • Visibility ★★
    • Ease of Use ★½

    $13.92

  • All products reviewed by America’s Test Kitchen are independently chosen, researched, and reviewed by our editors. We buy products for testing at retail locations and do not accept unsolicited samples for testing. We list suggested sources for recommended products as a convenience to our readers but do not endorse specific retailers. When you choose to purchase our editorial recommendations from the links we provide, we may earn an affiliate commission. Prices are subject to change.
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