After spending 12 hours testing probe thermometers and speaking with experts—including cookbook authors, chefs, butchers, and a New York City Department of Health employee—we think most cooks just need a regular meat thermometer. But if you’re set on getting a probe thermometer to measure the temperature of food while it cooks, we recommend the ThermoWorks Dot. In our tests, the Dot was the fastest and most accurate at reading temperatures. Its simple design and straightforward controls made it easier to use than the competition.
If you want more features, such as a backlit screen and volume adjustment, we recommend two other models by ThermoWorks, the ChefAlarm and the Smoke. Both thermometers were very accurate in our tests, and both have longer probes than our main pick, but we found that they were slightly slower at reading temperatures. They both offer the same impressive temperature range as the Dot, from -58 °F to 572 °F for the probe and up to 700 °F for the cable.
In our tests the ChefAlarm took a couple of seconds longer than the Dot to read temperatures, but it was just as accurate. The timer on this model is a nice addition (it can handle countdowns as long as 99 hours, 59 minutes), and the backlit screen is handy for outdoor grilling at night. The ChefAlarm also allows you to set the minimum and maximum temperatures, which have corresponding alarms to alert you when they’ve been reached. The two strong magnets on the back of the unit keep it in place when attached to the side of an oven or grill; the digital unit is also hinged, so you can lay it flat or adjust it to a specific angle. Our testers liked that the ChefAlarm thermometer comes with a case to hold both the probe and the digital unit. This model is Cook’s Illustrated’s favorite probe thermometer, too. However, in spite of the ChefAlarm’s various benefits, we think most people will be fine with our pick.
Like the ChefAlarm, the Smoke has a backlit screen and volume control. But in contrast to our other picks, the Smoke can operate via a wireless receiver and has two channels to accommodate multiple probes: one probe to take the internal temperature of the meat, and an air probe for measuring the ambient temperature of the oven, grill, or smoker. The Smoke also allows you to set the minimum and maximum temperatures for each probe, which sound corresponding alarms when the set temperatures have been reached. In our tests, the Smoke maintained its wireless connection for an unobstructed distance of 350 feet, more than double the distance of the Weber iGrill 2. As we stated earlier, we don’t think you need these features, but if you really want them, the Smoke was the best model we tested that offers them. Considering that this thermometer is also $60 more than the Dot, we think it makes sense only for grill and smoker enthusiasts.
Coincidentally, all of our picks are manufactured by ThermoWorks. They were far and away the best thermometers we tested. None of the other models compared to our picks in terms of speed, accuracy, and ease of use.
Care and maintenance
Before you use any thermometer, “you should ALWAYS make sure they are calibrated,” said chef Janet Crandall. “A thermometer should read 32 °F in ice water, and 212 °F in boiling water.” Most probe thermometers come calibrated, but it’s still good to double-check before using.
It goes without saying, but never put the digital unit in an oven, grill, or smoker, or attach it to the lid of a grill, which can exceed 700 °F and melt it. Though the ThermoWorks cables are heat resistant to 700 °F, avoid placing them directly on a grill grate or oven rack, as doing so could damage their inner insulation. Also, straighten any kinks in the cable, which can break the inner wires if left alone. And never place a probe tip directly into hot coals or fire.
Always use a hot pad or oven mitt when retrieving a probe thermometer from the oven or grill. To prevent cross-contamination, be sure to properly sanitize the probe after each use.
We found the receiver of the ThermoPro TP20 difficult to read because it alternated the display of both probe temperatures, which we found confusing. The membrane-sealed push button on the receiver also became worn after only a few uses.
Since the ThermoPro TP16 is so light and the cable is so stiff, the unit moved around the counter when we opened and closed the oven door. We also found that the stand put the digital screen at an awkward angle for reading.
In our tests, when we placed the Maverick ET-732 in a pot of boiling water, it took 21 seconds to reach 212 °F, a considerably slower result than we got from our main pick. This model’s digital unit also lacks magnets for keeping it secure on an oven or grill.
The Maverick ET-733 suffered notable delays in reading temperatures. In one instance, the thermometer jumped from 73 °F to 214 °F, showing no temperatures in between. This model is also covered by a paltry 90-day warranty.
Although the Taylor 1478-21 Digital Cooking Thermometer has intuitive buttons and a simple design, it’s slow at reading temperatures. It also can’t work on a hot grill because the cable and probe are heat resistant to only 392 °F.
In our tests the Polder THM-362-86 Classic Digital Thermometer/Timer was quick to respond to temperature adjustments, but the probe and cable are heat resistant to only 392 °F, making this model unsuitable for high-temperature cooking.
The Weber iGrill 2 was very slow to read temperatures and had the shortest probes of all the models we tested. We found that it began to lose its wireless connection at around 125 feet.
Designed specifically for the Weber Genesis II and Genesis II LX gas grills, the Weber iGrill 3 is not appropriate for most people. Also, since this model lacks a digital display on the unit, you can view the thermometer’s temperature readings only via an app on your phone.