We stabbed 19 instant-read digital thermometers into baked chicken, ice water, and boiling tea kettles to find the quickest temperature readings inside food, frying oil, or liquids. For a low price, the ThermoWorks ThermoPop gets you within three degrees of most food temperatures in less than five seconds. It has a big display that you can read at any angle and a long, thin probe that gets into anything you’re cooking, making it the most versatile and convenient instant-read thermometer we’ve found for less than $100.
The one true fault of the ThermoPop is that it’s a long thermometer you will probably have to store in a drawer (versus ones that fold in half for more compact storage). A relatively new name to thermometers, the Lavatools Javelin (formerly the Thermowand), is smaller and easier to store, whether using its hook or its built-in magnet. It is also available on Amazon Prime, should you want to toss it into an existing order or need two-day shipping. The Javelin consistently hit its temperature within one second of the ThermoPop―sometimes faster, sometimes slower. That’s essentially a negligible difference. The Javelin also has a larger display than the ThermoPop. And while the shorter probe and lack of a backlight keep it just behind the ThermoPop in our overall regard, the Javelin is still a worthy recommendation.
If you’re looking for more precision in your cooking, you should upgrade to the Thermapen Mk4. Like the “classic” Thermapen, the new model hits a close temperature in two seconds, then a precise temperature in about three seconds. It has a long fold-out probe and large display, and it’ll last a very long time with only rare calibrations. The few features added were smart: an automatic backlight, screen rotation, and motion-based sleep and wake-up. It’s also more waterproof than the prior model, and it switched from drawing power from a coin battery (that you never have on hand) to a single AAA battery.
Every home kitchen should have a reliable thermometer for food safety and better cooking. If you only have a slow, analog thermometer, you need to upgrade.1
Digital thermometers tell you what’s going on inside of your food. With their needle-like probes, they can tell you when meats are cooked just enough to be safe, or when steak has reached optimal doneness without having to cut it open.
If you’ve been cooking a long time and you have great instincts, you don’t need an instant-read thermometer for most of your meals. But even professional chefs like taking the guesswork out of their work on occasion. For beginners in the kitchen, a good thermometer is a necessity to avoid overcooking steaks, undercooking chicken, and learning the feel and timing of those boundaries. And though it may technically work, the best analog thermometer scored about as well as the worst instant-read thermometer in Consumer Reports’ tests (subscription required). Analog thermometers are harder to read accurately and contain mercury, which is harmful to you and the environment.
If you want a thermometer you can leave inside your roast in the oven or attached to your grill or smoker, you’re looking for a probe thermometer. We recommend the ThermoWorks ChefAlarm in our 2014 guide to party gear.
Any working thermometer will eventually report the right temperature (or at least catch it as it rises or falls). What matters most in a good kitchen thermometer is speed: how quickly can you turn it on, get it into the right spot in your food, and have it show you the temperature so that you can quickly decide what you need to do next.
That means a digital thermometer should get near its final temperature quickly, rather than slowly jump through huge changes and leave you guessing (and let your food overcook or thaw). It should be very easy to get the thermometer’s probe into food, and long enough to ensure it can reach the center. A good thermometer covers the whole temperature range of home cooking, whether simple or fancy, from below ice water (32 degrees Fahrenheit) up past hot frying oil (400 degrees Fahrenheit). The temperature should be readable at different angles. A good thermometer is durable, feels good in your hand, and won’t get ruined by a little liquid.
Based on research, home kitchen experience, and expert interviews, this is what we looked for in an instant-read digital thermometer: speed (both overall and in reaching a close-enough temperature), then probe action, temperature range, versatility, and durability. Everything else―calibration, button feel, dishwasher safety, audible beeps, carrying cases, or clips―is a thoughtful extra but not a dealbreaker.
To find the thermometers worth testing, we looked at what was highly-rated on Amazon and a few other online stores. We turned to publications that test and rate products: Consumer Reports, America’s Test Kitchen (both require subscriptions), and a selection of cooking and product review blogs. Nearly 100 thermometers have been considered in three distinct updates to this guide. We tossed out thermometers whose range prevented them from checking most frying oil temperatures (400 degrees Fahrenheit or below). Other models had dealbreaking flaws, terrible reviews, poor availability, or seemingly no warranty or support.
With some exceptions, we found that thermometers retailing for $20 and less were slow, felt cheap, and were often barely distinguishable copies of one another. Thermometers with faster-reading thermocouples and accuracy-adjusting electronics cost more than thermometers based on smaller, cheaper thermistors. Since our first tests in 2014, many more thermometers have filled in the space between $20 and $100, which is a good thing.
We put our second and third batches of contenders through tests that thermometer makers ThermoWorks, Polder, and CDN all suggest for calibration (PDF links: ThermoWorks, Polder, CDN): ice cubes in a thick, heavy container with just enough water not to cover the cubes and a pot of boiling water made as stable as possible. In 2014, I tested each thermometer five times in ice water and boiling water, timing how long it took each thermometer to either stabilize or arrive within one degree of the ideal frozen/boiling target temperatures (32 or 212 degrees Fahrenheit). For the boiling water test, thermometers started in ice water—not a typical scenario, but a good test of adaptability.
In our third batch of tests, I also noted each thermometers’ reading in ice water when first removed from its package, and then again after a few weeks of intermittent testing. None strayed noticeably from their initial readings, but we will continue testing our picks over time to see if they require recalibration.
In 2015, we tested our thermometers in another way, closer to the everyday use of a thermometer in a home kitchen: bone-in chicken pieces, baked to at least 150 degrees.
Using a borrowed “classic” Thermapen, not tested this round, to provide a neutral-but-trusted base temperature, I took a reading with each thermometer close to the chicken’s bone but not touching. Each thermometer was then timed in how quickly it could arrive within three degrees of that reference temperature in that exact same spot of the chicken, starting from room temperature (about 80 degrees on a warm summer night, with the stove running). The three-degree range is when many digital thermometers, especially those reading to a decimal-point tenth of a degree, start to slow down and hone in on a precise temperature.
All readings were taken at least three times in each chicken test. The fastest thermometers that were close in speed were given a second test with different chicken thighs. One thing we found during testing is that seemingly far-off results, or outliers, are a common occurrence in thermometer readings regardless of model. Sometimes your probe slips and hits another pocket of your meat that is quite a few degrees off. Sometimes the electronics just seem to have the wrong idea about when their reading is close to the final temperature. As a result, we tossed out the strangest outliers in our tests, but it’s worth noting that no thermometer can avoid the quirks of heat pockets, bones, and air inside your food.
After two batches of tests, the ThermoWorks ThermoPop remains our pick. The ThermoPop gets you within three degrees of your final temperature in three to four seconds (often just one second slower than the Thermapen that costs three times its price). The large, rotating, backlight-capable display is very easy to read from almost any angle. Its long and thin probe gets farther into roasts and pots full of liquids without endangering your hands. In addition, the ThermoPop has a huge reading range (-58 to 572 degree Fahrenheit), a splash-proof body, one-button switching between Fahrenheit and Celsius, and an easy-to-access battery compartment.
In two different rounds of ice-water and boiling water tests, the ThermoPop tied for first with two other thermometers in reading very hot and cold temperatures, within a human-running-a-stopwatch margin of error. The ThermoPop hit within three degrees of a chicken thigh’s known temperature in averages of 3.2 to 4.5 seconds in two rounds of testing. That’s close enough to our upgrade-pick Thermapen Mk4 (2.7 and 3.6 seconds in those same tests) to spare most people the difference in cost. It must be said that the ThermoPop did not truly “win” the chicken or boiling water tests; it came so close as to be essentially tied.
The screen of the ThermoPop is perhaps its most visible selling point. The unit’s numbers are big because it doesn’t cram in a decimal point. The number rotates 90 degrees at the push of a button on the back, which helps with side-sticking fish, top-reading hot liquids, and reading down the length of the ThermoPop when it is inserted into deep dishes. Because of this rotation, the ThermoPop is equally easy for left- and right-handed use—not so with side-reading units that favor the right-handed (like our runner-up and upgrade picks).
The backlight on the screen is activated with a soft button on the top-front of the ThermoPop. A backlight is a handy thing to have when you’re grilling in the evening or taking a reading in a darker region of the stove. The whole thermometer is rated IP66 resistant: completely impervious to dust and withstanding “high-pressure water jets from any direction.” The automatic shut-offs on the backlight and the thermometer itself are handy. Compared to most cheap thermometers, battery replacement on the ThermoPop is a cinch: twist a regular-size screwdriver into the back, pop in a new watch battery (CR2032), and go.
The probe on the ThermoPop is 4½ inches long, relatively long compared to most of the thermometers we tested. The round head unit also lets you get a few fingers firmly around it. You can firmly stab the ThermoPop into many sections of a roast or dish and never worry about getting your fingertips or knuckles singed or steam-burned.
The ThermoPop’s probe is toothpick-thin (down to 0.08 inches, roughly two millimeters, at its tip), and won’t leave much of a noticeable puncture on most meats. The probe cover is nothing special, but the clip and the bulb-head design of the whole unit make the ThermoPop less susceptible to bump or drop damage when clipped to a pocket or apron.
ThermoWorks offers a one-year warranty on its digital thermometers (PDF link) against inherent defects and failures. That seems to be an industry standard, as it’s supported by Taylor, AcuRite, and Polder. Outlier CDN offers a five-year warranty on its thermometers, while the Javelin gets a limited lifetime guarantee.
The ThermoPop covers temperatures from -58 to 572°F (-50 to 300°C). It has the widest range of any thermometer below $50 that we’ve found. While that only really helps if you have home cooking project that takes you beyond frying oil—checking the temperature inside an ultra-hot outdoor grill, perhaps—it could be handy for some people.
One nice bonus that comes with the ThermoPop is a laminated guide to cooking temperatures. The guide covers not only food safety temperatures but weekend projects like rich dough baking (170° Fahrenheit), “Hard Ball” candy (250° to 266°), and every level of doneness for beef and pork (you can grab the PDF at ThermoWorks’ site).
Finally, the ThermoPop comes in nine different colors, which are nice choices to have.
We’re not alone in digging the ThermoPop’s small-package skills. J. Kenji López-Alt, managing culinary director of food site Serious Eats, is effusive in his love for the Thermapen, but after a few months of ThermoPop use, he wrote it up as “the best inexpensive thermometer on the market.” A Newsweek reviewer in love with Thermapens found the ThermoPop “no sloppy seconds” and “a bargain at that price.” Good Housekeeping references Research Institute tests in recommending the ThermoPop in a travel cooking gear roundup, citing it as “super accurate.” Many specialty cooking blogs favor the ThermoPop, though most were also provided free models as part of an outreach program. Among the positive takes: Grilling with Rich, BBQ Sauce Reviews, The Coffee Compass, Stoked On Smoke/BBQ Bros, and Nibble Me This.
What’s wrong with the ThermoPop? Mostly what ThermoWorks chose not to include in their inexpensive model.
Chief on our wish-it-could list: an optional beep to indicate it has reached, or is close to, a stabilized reading. If you know that the ThermoPop generally takes three to five seconds to hit its temperature, you learn to wait just long enough before pulling the probe out. But an auditory cue would be handy during a busy cooking session.
As we mentioned earlier, the ThermoPop reads in whole numbers, not to the tenth of the degree, as most of the competition does. This level of accuracy should be sufficient for most cooks, and it’s a trade-off for clear screen digits.
The ThermoPop also lacks a calibration option. Thermometers with calibration buttons (or screw heads) offer a hedge against a gradually drifting reading over time. The ThermoPop is covered by warranty (PDF link) against defects for one year. After more than a year of regular use, our ThermoPop showed it was still properly calibrated during an ice-water test.
On the device itself, the water-resistant buttons are a little small and require deeper pressing, especially for big fingertips. Every so often, I wasn’t sure if a switch had been activated; sometimes I would have to press a button twice.
A review of instant-read thermometers by WIRED dinged the ThermoPop for a “placement of the readout … (that) makes it difficult to read no matter how you’re using it,” and particularly, the post claims, in the oven. We mostly disagree, especially given that the post gets the number of buttons wrong and does not note the rotation feature on the ThermoPop’s screen. Still, there are certain angles where a bent, side-sticking thermometer might be more useful, like meat directly under a broiler. Luckily, we think their top pick, our runner-up, suits those with odd-angled needs just fine.
The Lavatools Javelin is the second-best fold-out thermometer we’ve seen, other than the Thermapen Mk4, which is our upgrade pick. This model is at least as fast as the ThermoPop, has an even larger display (though not backlit), has a similarly wide temperature range, and is nearly as splashproof. It carries a strong lifetime warranty and customer review history. It’s not our pick, essentially, because we think its 2¾-inch probe is too short to cover a wide range of cooking tasks, and its display not as easy to read in some situations. If you value a small size and easy storage over a longer probe, however, you can confidently buy this thermometer.
The Javelin (sold as the Thermowand until early 2015) was faster than the ThermoPop in two different 2015 chicken tests, getting within three degrees of the temperature in averages of 3.18 and 3.99 seconds—about a half-second slower than the Thermapen, but a half-second faster than the ThermoPop, give or take some stopwatch error. The Javelin was more than a second slower than the ThermoPop in adjusting from ice water to boiling water but more than three seconds faster of all the cheaper thermometers tested. WIRED’s instant-read roundup generally confirms our numbers, citing four to six seconds to stabilize.
The Javelin’s display is large and high-contrast. It refreshes quickly as it races up or down. There is no backlight, but you should still be able to see the display in most indoor cooking situations. The switch from Fahrenheit to Celsius is inside the easy-to-pull battery cover; if you often switch between the two, stick with the ThermoPop.
Like the Thermapen, unfolding the Javelin’s probe turns the thermometer on and folding it back in shuts it off. It automatically turns off after 60 minutes if you forget. The compact design makes the Javelin easy to store in a drawer or stash in a pocket (with a loop for hanging or attaching to a strap). There’s a magnet inside the Javelin so you can stick it to your fridge or attach it to a vent if you’d like. Lavatools offers a lifetime warranty against inherent defects and flaws (i.e not wear, tear, and your damage).
The Javelin has one major flaw: its probe is short. Not too short to be used in a good deal of cooking, but for some meals, you’re going to have to hunt for an angle that keeps you away from steam, oil spatter, or broiler heat. And given that the Javelin is a fold-out model with a display that does not rotate, your angle choices are more limited than with the ThermoPop. The Javelin also heavily favors the right-handed.
The Javelin’s probe is 2¾ inches; the ThermoPop, our pick, has a 4½-inch probe, while the upgrade pick Thermapen is 4.3 inches. The only way to get your hands farther away from hot foods is to extend the Javelin fully and grip the thermometer by its looped end. It’s not a confident grip. By comparison, the bulb head on the ThermoPop lets you firmly pinch a few fingers around it and stay out of the way of the heat.
The Javelin certainly works for most cooking since most temperature readings are on meats that aren’t so hot as to be uncomfortable a couple inches away. While the Javelin is a bit faster than the ThermoPop, we pick the ThermoPop over the Javelin for its longer probe, backlight, and rotating display. If you value speed and a smaller form over those other matters, the Javelin is a good pick.
What makes the Thermapen Mk4 worth its price tag? The Thermapen is faster: faster at displaying its final temperature, but also faster at getting close to that final temperature. What’s more, the Thermapen’s relatively long and thin probe can go deep into the thinnest of fish filets or pounded chicken breasts. It feels sturdy in your hand when fully extended, and it can show readings from many angles. With the newest Mk4 model, the Thermapen rounds out its core appeal with automatic display rotation, a backlight, and motion-based, battery-saving shut-off. It’s a strong core technology that’s made even stronger by smart supporting features. It is not necessary for everyone, but it’s an indispensable tool for those who love the science of cooking or the pursuit of kitchen perfection. It’s hard to quantify outside of seeing it for yourself, but what’s most impressive about the Thermapen is how much closer it gets to the final temperature in the early stages of its reading. After about one second, it knows that your 160-degree chicken is at least 140 degrees. At the two-second mark, you know it’s at least 155 degrees. Around the three-second mark, the Thermapen is either on its final temperature or one to two degrees away. Knowing “at least” what temperature your food has hit means knowing that you can yank the steak off the grill faster, or turn down the oil temperature right away. This kind of quick relative accuracy isn’t reflected in raw speed tests; even there, though, the Thermapen shines.
The Mk4 hit the inside temperature of chicken thighs in averages of 2.7 and 3.6 seconds; only the Javelin beat it on two occasions, and only within 0.3 seconds. It never seems to get “stuck” ramping up or down to a temperature, while most other thermometers have their occasional mishaps. Its range is -58.0 to 572.0°F (-49.9 to 299.9°C), which is the same as the ThermoPop’s; it’s just faster at the extremes.
The Thermapen is at least twice as fast as other thermometers over great temperature differences. In our most recent ice-water-to-boiling-water test, the Thermapen got within three degrees of the 212-degree water in a tea kettle in an average of 3.6 seconds. The next three fastest thermometers, including the ThermoPop, needed at least twice as much time, or around eight seconds. After that, it was nine to 16 seconds for the remaining five models. This makes the Thermapen the tool of choice for measuring coffee or tea water, frying oil, or, say, tailgating in the winter.
The Thermapen’s probe is 4½ inches long and one mm thinner than the ThermoPop’s three-mm probe tip; when fully extended, it puts you a good 10.5 inches from anything hot. The matte plastic and the rubber-edged notch at the end of the body makes it comfortable to hold, even when extended as far as it will go. Even if you slip, the Thermapen can survive a dunk in water up to 39 inches for up to 30 minutes so long as you don’t twist it around in that water. It can certainly survive some barbecue sauce or spilled drinks.
The biggest changes in the newest Thermapen have to do with the display. It now has motion and light sensors sensors that backlight, rotate, and shut off the display when needed. The battery also changed: rather than a coin (watch) battery that you can never find when you need it, the MK4 now takes a single AAA battery. You can turn off the automatic shut-off, switch to Celsius, or make the Thermapen show decimal points with two buttons inside the Thermapen. Each Thermapen ships with a calibration test certification. You can calibrate the Thermapen yourself or have Thermoworks’ NIST-traceable lab do it for a fee. One flaw is that the Thermapen, like our runner-up, heavily favors the right-handed.
The major technology difference between the Thermapen and its cheaper competitors has to do with its thermocouple sensor. Most instant-read thermometers use a thermistor, a small, relatively cheap-but-accurate resistor bundle stored in the tip of the probe. The Thermapen’s thermocouple has just a thin sensor wire running down the probe, while keeping a more extensive set of reading and calibration electronics inside the sizable body. Because the wire has less mass than the thermistor nodule, it registers changes in temperature more quickly. That thin wire also allows for a thinner probe, helpful for thin fish filets and reducing the size of juice-releasing punctures.
It’s not hard to find praise for the Thermapen. Consumer Reports gave the Thermapen a second-place finish in its September 2014 ratings (updated since we first published this post) behind a slightly cheaper CDN model that is certainly modeled on it (more on that in The competition). Cook’s Illustrated rates it “highly recommended” (subscription required), and they keep it in their test kitchen at all times. The New York Times, Serious Eats, WIRED, Alton Brown, Cooking for Engineers, Kevin Kelly’s Cool Tools blog, PC Magazine, and many, many cookbooks and guides all vouch for the Thermapen.
If you wanted to save around $20, you could buy the “classic” Thermapen. It has the same core technologies as the Mk4, but it lacks the automatic display upgrades and it sticks to a coin battery. We think those conveniences are worth the full cost.
After more than six months of regular duty in a home kitchen, the ThermoPop, the Javelin, and the Thermapen Mk4 all continue to function well and make cooking to proper levels more certain. We are also testing the Javelin Pro and comparing it with the Thermapen, meal by meal.
Most of the thermometers we looked at—culled from Amazon reviews and purchases and published writeups—were dismissed at the start due to limited temperature range (often with a top range around 300°F). Not everybody cooks with frying oil or makes candy, but we believe a good thermometer should be able to check that your grill is ready for steaks or that your bread yeast is in the right proofing range. Other thermometers that were hard to find or buy were also set aside. Analog (speed-gauge-style dial) models, too, are quite slow, sometimes giving readings that are open to interpretation.
Consumer Reports (subscription required) gave the CDN TCT572-W ProAccurate Folding Thermocouple Thermometer its highest rating for speed and “repeatability” (consistent results). We found the CDN’s Thermapen-style model to be fast in our first chicken test but still half a second behind the Thermapen. In a second test, the CDN finished behind all our picks. It was more than twice as slow to move from ice water to boiling water. The five surface buttons provide quick access to temperature alerts and Celsius/Fahrenheit switching, but they are hard to distinguish, mushy to press, and all of them beep in annoying fashion. Most of all, for its price, you are not getting twice the performance of the ThermoPop, and you can now buy the “classic” Thermapen, our prior upgrade pick, for a few dollars more.
Taylor’s Five Star Commercial Thermocouple Thermometer has an interesting design, folding out from its face rather than from the side. And its price suggested a new halfway point between high-end and middle-grade. In our tests, though, it landed in the middle between our main picks and the cheaper models, taking a bit more time with chicken (about one second) than any of our picks or the CDN Thermocouple. Its display is bright, and its probe tip is thinner than the Thermapen’s (1.5 mm). It’s not a bad thermometer; it’s just priced a bit higher than it should be.
Our prior runner-up pick, the Polder Stable-Read, kept pace with the Therma/Thermo/Pop/Pen/Wand crew in speed. It issued a helpful beep when it (thought it had) reached a stable reading and it was a bit cheaper than the ThermoPop. But it got bumped out of the running by the faster, better-designed, and more widely available Javelin. If you can find the Stable-Read cheap, it’s not a bad starter thermometer.
Our first pick for the best instant-read thermometer, the CDN DTQ450X or ProAccurate Quick-Read Thermometer, remains an accurate thermometer with a wide range; it has the thinnest probe at 1.5 mm, a calibration option, and a number of handy holding and temperature alert functions for a relatively low price. But it seems to have slowed quite a bit since my first tests, even after calibration. Newer thermometers in a reasonably close price range do the job much faster. For a direct comparison to our Javelin runner-up, see a remarkably detailed Amazon review by Adam Dexter.
The ThermoWorks RT600C was our runner-up among the affordable picks in our previous post. It came recommended by, among others, Buffalo chef James D. Roberts, who bumps things and can’t afford to break a $100 thermometer; serious barbecue nerd Chuck Falzone; and Cook’s Illustrated. Its thin probe is useful, as are the splash-proof buttons, and it’s made by the same firm as two of our picks. The cons: The range is only to 302° Fahrenheit, the automatic shut-off is at one hour, and it lacks a clip to protect or pocket the probe. Not bad, but it’s not a winner over our picks.
The EatSmart Precision Elite costs more than the ThermoPop and Javelin, but it operates a good bit slower, and, according to WIRED, consistently measures a bit off. It has a few of the features we wish our picks had, like a beep at preset levels, but the stick design, price, and slowness don’t add up to best our picks.
The Palermo Digital Electronic Barbecue Meat Thermometer is the most affordable fold-out-style thermometer we found, and it averages 4.6 out of five stars on Amazon. It has a very wide range (up to 572 degrees Fahrenheit), and a stated 0.9-degree accuracy. It does not, however, reach within one degree of boiling water in four to five seconds, as stated; it took at least 12 seconds in three different trials. It did perform better than three other thermometers in our most recent tests, and it was close to the Taylor in chicken readings. Unless you love the fold-out style, you’re better off with the ThermoWorks RT600C.
The CDN DTW450L ProAccurate Waterproof Thermometer says right on its Amazon page that it has a six-second response time, and it averaged 6.13 seconds in our first chicken test. It has an eight-inch probe, which is so long it made us constantly fear it snapping. It can also be placed in the dishwasher, according to CDN, and it did survive two trips through the normal cycle in our testing. If you need a really long thermometer to stick into thick slabs of raw meat or a deep barrel, this is your model.
Epica’s Instant Read Digital Meat Thermometer has a money-back guarantee, and it claims to be the most accurate thermometer on Amazon. The Epica was dead-last in ice-to-boiling tests at 16 seconds, and second-to-last in chicken testing, averaging 8.3 seconds. Amazon customers like it, but it’s hard to tell why, besides the price. It did live up to its claim to be dishwasher-proof after two regular cycles.
The Weber 6492 Original Instant-Read Thermometer was last in our chicken tests, taking 8.3 seconds on average to get within three degrees. One time, it needed 13 seconds.
The Grill Beast Beastometer has the exact same face, dimensions, temperature range, stainless steel body, and features as our very first pick, the CDN DTQ450X. It is either a licensed rebranding or daring appropriation of the CDN model. It costs a bit more, its face and clip holder are red, and its instruction manual promotes a lot of other Grill Beast products.
We originally set aside the Taylor 9842 Commercial Waterproof Digital Thermometer for a lack of reviews and history in our prior post. It now has 940 Amazon reviews and comes reasonably recommended by Consumer Reports. It has a good range (-40 degrees to 450 degrees Fahrenheit), essentially mediocre speed ratings (although notably slower on ice water), and a calibration screw. It is the best thermometer you can get for around $10 (at the time of writing), but for a bit more more, you save a lot of reading time, get a bigger display, and have a bit more leeway in how you can read the dial.
The Taylor Ultra Thin/Ultra Slim Thermometer (9831 model) was the slowest with ice water and the slowest with boiling water. If you leave the oven open or the stovetop heating for 20 seconds while waiting for a reading, the temperature of your food will definitely have changed. Skip this one.
The Acu-Rite Digital Instant Read Kitchen Thermometer is an inexpensive thermometer in the fold-out style of the Thermapen. It feels cheap to use. The buttons feel like you need to mash them, and the probe is not particularly thin. There is no calibration nor other advanced features, aside from beeping when it stabilizes. It always took at least 10 seconds to get hot or cold temperatures—sometimes up to 19 seconds.
I kept my Taylor TruTemp pen-style thermometer around as a control for the tests. I bought it when I got my first sizable kitchen a few years back. It tied for the slowest at ice readings, and then it broke and refused to turn back on for the boiling tests.
The ThermoPop is the best buy among instant-read kitchen thermometers. It offers great speed and accurate temperatures in an easy-to-read form. We liked our runner-up, the Javelin, quite a bit except for its shorter probe and lack of a backlight. For serious cooks, your choice is easy: Get a Thermapen Mk4. Nothing beats the widely-beloved Thermapen’s lab-like accuracy and easy-to-handle design.
Originally published: November 6, 2015