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The 7 Best Instant-Read Thermometers for Precision Cooking

If you own a pot or a pan, you should definitely have an instant-read thermometer.

oxo hand held themometer measuring temp of steak
Oxo

Everyone who cooks needs an instant-read thermometer, full stop. These handy little gadgets aren't just about making sure your steak is cooked to your liking; they ensure that your steak — or whatever you're cooking — isn't raw and poses a threat to your wellbeing. In the past, you might've used a manual, dial-faced thermometer to check your food's doneness. Helpful as they were, they took a long time to get a reading, and you never really knew when the temperature had stabilities. Um, is this turkey really at 170 degrees? Instant-read thermometers do all of that in an instant, hence the name. (Though an "instant" can mean a lot depending on the brand.) So instead of cooking your chicken until it's bone-dry to make sure the salmonella is out, get one of these instant-read thermometers to get perfectly cooked food every time.

    What to Look For in an Instant-Read Thermometer

    Tip #1: Slow and steady does not apply

    You want your instant-read thermometer to get you a reading in a literal instant. We only found one thermometer that can do that — giving a read-out in one second — but anything faster than three to five seconds is ideal. Why? For one, you don't want to expose your hand to high heats for a long time, and those couple seconds can save you from some singed arm hairs. And if you're checking something that's in the oven, keeping your oven door open for just a second or two can significantly drop the oven temperature.

    Tip #2: It's OK to be a little off

    Every brand will tout its instant-read thermometer as being super accurate. They'll even offer up a margin of error so you know what to expect. In reality, most instant-read thermometers, even the dirt-cheap ones, will be very good at getting a good reading. Most thermometers have a margin of error less than two degrees, plus or minus, while more expensive ones will have a margin of error in the decimal place. Those tiny margins of error will have little to no impact on your food, so there's no need to get too obsessive over brands' estimations for margins of error.

    Tip #3: Going for a splash or a full-on dip?

    Not all instant-read thermometers are waterproof, with some being splash-proof. (And when it comes to water- or splash-proof ratings, they're going to apply strictly to the thermometer's handle.) If you want to make sure you can fully submerge your thermometer in water, say for cleaning, make sure to look for a waterproof rating. Otherwise, a splash-proof option can take on an excessive beating from water, steam or other liquids.

    The Best Instant-Read Thermometers of 2021

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    Best Overall Instant-Read Thermometer
    ThermoWorks Thermapen Mk4

    Almost every professional chef calls the Thermapen Mk4 their go-to instant-read thermometer, and it's ours, too. While ThermoWorks has discontinued the Mk4 for the new Thermapen One, the former is still an exceptional instant-read thermometer with temperature readings in two to three seconds, with a margin of error of 0.7 degrees. Throw in extra features like an auto-rotating screen, motion-sensing sleep and wake mode and an IP67 waterproof rating, and you have yourself a winning pick. Because the Mk4 is on closeout, the 30-percent discount makes this an even more enticing purchase.

    • Fast readings
    • Waterproof unlike other options

    • On closeout, so while it's a good price, it could be sold out for good soon
    • Suited for right-handed people
    Best Splurge Instant-Read Thermometer
    ThermoWorks Thermapen One

    Eventually the Mk4 will be gone for good, and the One will reign supreme. The biggest improvement from the Mk4 to the One, is the latter's ability to get a temperature reading in an actual instant — just one second. It's also more accurate than its predecessor — with only 0.5 degrees of potential deviation — and more brightly lit. It also retains all of the good stuff the Mk4 has like its waterproof rating, auto-rotating and auto-off functions and a comfortable-to-hold handle. While this has nothing to do with overall performance, the number of color options is also nice to find something that best suits you.

    • Super-fast readings
    • Long handle keeps your hands away from heat sources

    • Expensive, especially if you're not cooking often
    Best Budget Instant-Read Thermometer
    ThermoPro TP-02S Instant-Read Thermometer

    Don't get this brand, ThermoPro, confused with ThermoWorks. ThermoPro is seen as a more budget-friendly option in the thermometers field, and its TP-02S is a worth-while pick for an instant-read thermometer. It clocks temperatures anywhere between four and seven seconds, with an accuracy within 0.9 degrees. It has an extra-long probe, and while it doesn't fold up, the TP-02S comes with a sheath to protect you from accidental stabbings.

    • Extremely cheap with accurate readings
    • Extra-long probe to keep your hands away from heat

    • Not waterproof
    • Probe is fixed
    Best Instant-Read Thermometer for Left-Handed People
    Oxo Good Grips Thermocouple Thermometer

    A major qualm people have with some instant-read thermometers is that, while they're comfortable to hold, they're designed to be comfortable for just right-handed people. Take the Thermapen Mk4 and One, for example, which is ridged on one side. On the other hand, the Oxo Good Grips Thermocouple Thermometer is flat on both sides so it's easier to use for all people. It has an easy-to-read display that gives readings in about three seconds. It's accurate within 0.9 degrees and has a splash-proof rating of IP66. The design of the rotating dial means you can whip out the probe without touching it, and you don't need to fully extend it for more ergonomic uses. 

    Best Magnetic Instant-Read Thermometer
    Lavatools Javelin Pro Duo

    When it comes to cooking gadgets, it's the little things that count. For the Lavatools Javelin Pro Duo, its standout feature is its integrated magnet, which makes for easy storage. It's a tiny detail that's only made better by what an overall excellent instant-read thermometer this is. It looks a lot like the Thermapen Mk4 and One, and similarly has fast read times between one to three seconds. It has a large, legible display that rotates 360 degrees, while also having an IP65 waterproof rating. One added feature of the Pro Duo is its stabilization alert, which beeps to tell you that the temperature has stabilized.

    • Magnetic backing
    • Fast readings
    • Stabilization alert ensures you're getting the right reading

    • Not for induction stovetops, which can interfere with readings
    Best Pocket-Sized Instant-Read Thermometer
    ThermoWorks ThermoPop

    Peeping out of many chef's pockets is the ThermoWorks ThermoPop. The tiny little thermometer is a handy tool to have, especially thanks to its fast readings — give it three to four seconds — and accuracy within two degrees. The display takes up most of the handle, so you have to be particular about how you hold it, otherwise you'll cover the reading. However, the numbers are legible, and you can rotate the reading and turn on the backlight with the touch of a button.

    • Has a wider margin of error than other thermometers
    • Doesn't auto-rotate and backlight isn't automatic
    Best Instant-Read Thermometer with Infrared
    Taylor Precision Thermocouple Thermometer

    Taylor Precision's Thermocouple Thermometer is a two-in-one thermometer that uses a probe to clock internal temperature and infrared to clock surface temperature. The Thermocouple has one of the widest range of temperatures it can read, and its probe is also on the longer side, another bonus. 

    • Wide range for readings
    • Long probe

    • No backlight
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