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Best Meat Thermometers for More Precise Cooking

Using a Meat Thermometer
A dial thermometer measures the internal temperature of poultry.

Meat thermometers  

  • Before cooking, test a thermometer by placing it in boiling water and confirm that it reaches a temperature of 100 degrees Celsius or 212 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Near the end of your cooking time, insert the probe into the thickest part of the meat. Avoid touching the bone, which conducts temperature differently. 
  • Look for an internal temperature of about five degrees below the goal, as the meat will continue to cook on residual heat after removed from heat source. 
  • Wash with hot soapy water after use. 

Tip: An infrared thermometer conveniently provides temperature readings without touching the food, but only measures surface temperatures and is not recommended for determining the doneness of meat.

Analog Meat Thermometers
A dial cooking thermometer measures the temperature of meat.
  • Analog dial thermometers are more old-fashioned than the newer digital models, making them mechanically simpler and free from reliance on batteries. Their faces may not be as easy to reaed as digital thermometers.
  • They can be calibrated fairly easily but seldom have the additional features of digital meat thermometers. 
  • To ensure an accurate reading, analog thermometers need to have their stem inserted at least two inches into the food for 10 to15 seconds. Most digital thermometers can be inserted less than an inch for 10 seconds.
Leave-In Digital Meat Thermometers
A leave-in digital meat thermometer shows the temperature of poultry with an external display.

The best digital meat thermometers tend to be faster and offer a more accurate temperature than analog ones. Their measurements often can be more easy to read than dial thermometers. 

  • When using a leave-in meat thermometers, the probe should be inserted in the meat and left for the duration of cooking. Most leave-in digital thermometers have heat-resistant cables that lead out of the oven or grill and into a base unit to provide the measurements and controls. 
  • Some leave-in thermometers come with multiple probes, but a single probe should be sufficient for most cooking tasks. 
Instant-Read Digital Meat Thermometers
An instant-read digital thermometer measures the temperature of chicken on a grill.

The best instant read thermometer will use a stainless steel stem to provide an accurate measurement within three seconds. 

  • Insert in the thickest part of the meat and at least one other location, in case the cut of meat or design of the grill causes it to cook at uneven rates. 
  • With a burger, thin steak and other flat-shaped piece of meat, insert into the side, not from the top.
Wireless Meat Thermometers
A wireless digital meat thermometer displays the temperature of grilled meat on a smart phone.

The best wireless meat thermometer will use Bluetooth, Wifi or comparable technology so you can measure the temperature from a distance or receive notifications when it’s ready. Compared to Bluetooth thermometers, some use radio frequency signals that can have greater range.

Special Features
A digital meat thermometer has a programmable display screen.

Increasingly meat thermometers, like other kitchen gadgets, offer more sophisticated special features: 

  • A thermocouple thermometer includes more than one stainless steel probe to allow you to check the temperature in multiples parts of the meat at once. This can be particularly helpful when roasting a turkey.
  • Pre-set meat temperatures, especially when set to USDA guidelines, take the guesswork out of checking the cooking time. 
  • An audible alarm can notify you when meats have reached the ideal cooking temperatures. 
  • Automatic shut-off will power down the thermometer when not in use, extending the battery life. 
  • Back-light readouts make it easier to read thermometer displays in dark rooms, when grilling outdoors at night or even in poorly-lit ovens. 
  • “Temperature Hold” displays the measurement for an extended period – such as several minutes – so you don’t have to rush to check.

Choose the best food thermometer for your home based on the kinds of meals you plan to prepare. If you'll be making mostly baked goods and vegetables, an inexpensive cooking thermometer that provides an accurate reading should be fine. If you'll frequently grilling or cooking meat or poultry, spend a little more for an accurate and reliable device. Check meat thermometer reviews from outlets such as America's Test Kitchen and take the guesswork out of great flavors for a job well done.