Instant Read Thermometers Buyer’s Guide for 2020
When searching for a trusted digital instant read thermometer you’ll find the market is saturated with choices. We have reviewed 15 of the top selling instant read thermometers on the market to reveal only the top 5.
As a master griller and MeatGeek, you know just how important a meat thermometer is. There’s no way to know with any certainty when your meat is done without taking an exact temperature; color can’t be counted on, and neither can old “chef’s tricks” or “hacks” like using your thumb to see ow firm it is or whether the juices run clear. There are simply too many variables to leave your food’s safety up to chance. And while a smart thermometer can be an excellent choice if you do a lot of smoking, for simpler tasks you may just need the ease of an Instant Read Thermometer.
A good instant read thermometer has several basic features to help make life easier in the kitchen, but its main purpose is to be a reliable tool for reading food temperatures quickly and accurately. But, as with most tools worth buying, the market is overrun with cheap, unreliable thermometers that can’t be trusted to get an accurate temperature all the time – leaving you at risk of undercooked (or overdone) meat. A high-quality thermometer you can count on is a requirement for safe cooking, not a luxury. So, we did all the work for you, digging in and rounding up the Best Instant Read Thermometer of 2020. Keep reading to see our takes.
Top 5 Digital Instant Read Meat Thermometers
How They Work: What You Need to Know About Instant Read Thermometers
How does an instant read thermometer work? Unlike traditional thermometers, instant read thermometers use electricity; essentially, they measure the heat in an object as either energy or resistance, and then convert and display those statistics as a temperature. It’s a little bit more technical and in-depth than that, but the main thing to understand is there are two types of probes used in instant reads thermometers: thermistors and thermocouples.
Thermistors VS Thermocouples
Thermistors are the less advanced option and are thus usually found on inexpensive thermometers. They are generally not as sensitive and accurate as their thermocouple counterparts, and usually take longer to give an accurate temperature readout. A thermistor is comprised of carbon and epoxy and requires a casing of at least an eighth of an inch in diameter. As a thermistor thermometer is thicker than thermocouples you will need to sink the probe into the meat about 5/8” for an accurate reading; making it a less than ideal solution for thin cuts like burgers, fish, etc. They are also not capable of as extreme a temperature range,topping out at about a 480-degree max for accurate readings.
Thermocouples are a bit more complex than thermistors, consisting of two wires made of different alloys, welded together into one probe. The cost of thermistors is comparable to thermocouplers, however the technology required to decipher the data is more expensive which is why you can expect to pay more for a thermocoupler thermometer. When speed matters you’ll want to spend the extra cash for the thermocouple technology.
Thermistors are slower than thermocouple readers, taking upwards of 15 to 20 seconds to provide an accurate reading.
Buyer Beware: Many thermistor based instant read thermometers are advertised as “instant read” and even say things like “1 second response time”. Watch out. They are able to make these claims as they are referring to how often the device updates (once per second), not how quickly the sensor reaches the final reading. Expect to wait 10 to 30 seconds for an accurate final reading.
There are many different alloys that can be coupled to create different “types” of thermocouples, but the most commonly-used and accurate is the Type K thermocouple. Thermometers with Type K thermocouple can be expected to be accurate, within .7-1F degree of true temperature, and to have a wide temperature range – usually from -58F to 572F. They won’t be as accurate at temperatures that high, but they’ll read them nonetheless.
What To Look For When Choosing An Instant Read Thermometer
Instant read thermometers might not be Wi-Fi thermometers, with their massive range of smart features, multiple probes and virtually limitless range; however, they’re still surprisingly high-tech, highly-featured devices with a host of things you need to look for. Here’s a few things to consider when comparing kitchen thermometers.
Type of Probe
As mentioned above, probe type is important. Thermistor based technology is much cheaper than thermocouples. Thermistor thermometer probes work great on a budget, but if you require fast and accurate readings, thermocouples is he way to go.
All instant read thermometers come with a built-in LCD screen for temperature readouts, as well as any other functions or important information you need to know. Generally, the larger the screen the better, also check to see that it has a backlight for night time grilling.
Speed and Reading Time
How fast does the thermometer take get an accurate, stable reading? Most instant read thermometers take 2-3 seconds to stabilizing, while some can take upwards of 15 seconds. (So it’s technically not instant, but not the several minutes that traditional thermometers can take) Response time is important with instant reads – it’s the difference between the perfect steak and an overcooked one.
Waterproofing and Durability
Your kitchen and grill can be hectic places, and your thermometer will be subject to splashes, drops and of course, high heat. Many of the nicer instant read thermometers on our list are IP-rated for drops, falls and water-resistance; look for an IP rating of IP67 or higher.
Accuracy is (obviously) vitally important. The best thermocouple thermometers will be rated within .07 of their target temperatures, generally as good as it gets. Anything within 2 degrees (most thermistors) is close enough to be worth spending money.
It seems easy to switch out a couple of dead batteries every now and again, but you’re likely going to forget – and finding yourself with a dead or dying thermometer while your steaks are sizzlin on the grill isn’t any fun. So when choosing an instant read thermometer, opt for something with a long battery life; many instant reads boast a battery life of 2000-3000 hours on a single battery.
Last, but certainly not least, pay attention to the temperature range each thermometer is capable of reading. Most thermometers will reach 550 to 600 degrees F, but some can go even higher; lesser models might top out at 450F.
Meat thermometers can also usually read temperature far below freezing – though is hopefully not a concern when you’re grilling those pork chops.
Ready to take a look at the best Instant Read Thermometers of 2020? Fire up the grill, grab a couple of steaks or a beer, and keep reading to see our takes.
Also Read: The 5 Best Wi-Fi Thermometers
Compared: Reviewing the Best Instant Read Thermometers of 2020
The Thermapen Mk4 is a stalwart of the instant read thermometer scene from trusty ThermoWorks. It features a full handle and folding-probe design, with a large digital screen reading out temps in either F or C. The screen self-rotates, so it can be read clearly whichever hand, angle or direction you’re holding it, and there’s an intelligent backlight that automatically turns on in dim lighting and can also be activated with a simple tap on the sensor.
When it comes to accuracy and range, the Mk4 can’t be beat. Thanks to its high-end thermocouple probe, it’ll read temperatures anywhere from -58 to 572 degrees, which covers virtually any cooking you ever could do. And it’s accurate to within .7F, ensuring your meat is done perfectly, every time. Read time is 2-3 seconds, which makes it one of the fastest on our list.
ThermoWorks also built the Thermapen Mk4 to last, using a tough, solid plastic that feels sturdy in your hand and is IP67-rated for waterproofness. We’re confident that it will hold up to years of heavy use, and any waterproofing is always welcome. ThermoWorks also says the ThermaPen will work in temperatures down to -4F – should you ever find yourself craving fresh-grilled steak in the dead of winter.
Finally, the Mk4’s battery life is rated to last 3000 hours on an everyday AAA battery – if you don’t use the backlight. Use it frequently, and the battery life will drop – likely by a significant chunk, though we haven’t tested and ThermoWorks doesn’t say. Inside the battery compartment, there are several cool and customizable features, such as display lock, sleep modedisable, toggle between F and C, and the option whether or not to show decimal points in your reading. Small features, but ones not found on most meat thermometers.
Overall, the ThermaPen Mk4 is a premium, featured and robust instant read thermometer. It has won Best Cooking Thermometer by Cooks Illustrated. With that being said, it is the priciest on our list; coming in at two to three times the typical price tag, but if you don’t mess around when it comes to grilling and smoking – neither does this thermometer. Well worth it for serious grillers, chefs, and it is the best baking thermometer on our list.
Note: There are many knockoffs of the Mk4 being sold at Walmart, Target, Amazon.com, Ebay etc. Due to this issue Thermoworks removed their product from Amazon.com, Ebay, and Walmart. Purchase the MK4 from the manufacture’s website to avoid being taken. You can find this warning featured at the top of the Thermoworks website:
- Durable, waterproof build. IP67-rated.
- Large, self-rotating LCD screen.
- 2-3 second read time.
- Wide temperature range (-58F to 572F)
- Accurate to within .7F +/-
- 3000-hour battery life with AAA’s.
- Backlight with automatic low-light sensor.
If you’d like the quality and durability of the ThermaPen Mk4 but don’t have a ton to spend, opt for its little brother, the ThermoWorks ThermoPop. This instant read thermometer is smaller, featuring the compact bulb-type handle with LCD monitor and a single button. Hold the button down to turn on or off and hit it once to rotate the LCD screen for either vertical or horizontal display; it rotates a full 360 degrees.
Still, it can be difficult to read temperatures with the ThermoPop, thanks to its inline probe and screen setup. Why? Try to stick the thermometer directly into a piece of meat placed at a funny angle (think in the oven or smoker) and you’ll probably have to bend down or get into an awkward position to read it properly. The rotating screen helps but doesn’t alleviate the problem all together.
Thermopop vs Thermapen
The ThermoPop is significantly cheaper in price (compared to the Mk4) mostly due to its thermistor probe and slightly slower read time. Compared to the Mk4’s 2-3 seconds for a stable reading, the ThermoPop gets to within the final degree in about 4 seconds, and then takes another 3-4 seconds to fully stabilize for a precise reading. Accuracy is another reason for the cheaper price tag, too; while the Mk4 is accurate to within .7F +/-, the ThermoPop is only rated within 2F +/- at temps up to 248F. Any higher, and the reading becomes less accurate. It still has the more-than-ample range of -58F to 572F but doesn’t provide the laser-like precision of the ThermaPen’s MK4 readings.
Furthermore, the ThermoPop is not rated to the same IP67 standard of waterproofness as the ThermaPen, though it is splash-resistant and dust proof. It does have a backlight for illuminating the screen in the dark but does not automatically activate like the Mk4. One place it does have the ThermaPen beat, however, is battery life; with a good lithium battery, the ThermoPop will pump out 5000 hours of use.
Thermopop Review Summery
For the price, the ThermoPop really can’t be beat. It may not have all the high-end features the ThermaPen offers, but you’re not a pro; you just need a reliable, accurate tool for getting that steak done just right. In that case, the ThermoPop more than delivers.
Note: There are many knockoffs of the ThermoPop. Due to this issue Thermoworks removed their product from Amazon.com. Purchase the ThermoPop from the manufacture’s website to avoid being taken.
- 4-8 second read time.
- Wide temperature range.
- Accurate to within 2F +/-.
- LCD screen rotates 360 degrees.
- Splashproof, reliable build.
- ThermoWorks quality.
- LCD readout can be difficult to see.
- Not as accurate or fast as more expensive models.
The Javelin PRO Duo is another excellent choice if you don’t want to drop $100 on a ThermaPen; you can usually find it for half that price. It uses the same folding-handle design as the ThermaPen, and is faster and more accurate than the less-expensive ThermoPop, with a read time of 2-3 seconds (compared to 4-8) and an accuracy of within +/- .9F at temperatures below 302F. It works with temperatures up to 482F and as low as -40F.
The body is sleek and feels sturdy, rated IP65 for splashproofness, and equipped with a large 2” LCD screen that is fog-resistant and equipped with bright backlight. The screen rotates automatically, like the ThermaPen, to accommodate left-handed as well as right-handed users, and for use in different situations. It also has a 360-degree viewing angle, which helps avoid a problem commonly found on LCD screens – being unable to see it from odd angles.
The Javelin PRO Duo also has what Javelin calls Intelligent Stabilization. This essentially means the thermometer can identify when the temperature has stabilized and will alert you to it. Hold down the screen to activate this feature and the device will beep to alert you when it has stabilized.
There’s a host of other cool features that complement the PRO Duo’s affordable price tag; the backlight can be activated with a simple shake of the device, so you can turn it on when wearing heavy gloves; it has an auto-sleep and auto-wake to save battery power; and the battery can last up to 4000 hours. Finally, Javelin has given it an anti-microbial coating to prevent bacteria and other nasties from growing on it (they tend to get pretty greasy and grimy over time…)
Overall, the Javelin PRO Duo is another excellent instant read thermometer -sturdily built, accurate and full of features. Best of all, it’s only half the price of the ThermaPen MK4, making it an even smarter choice. Our Runner-Up for the Best Instant Read Thermometer.
- Durable, sturdy build.
- IP-65 rated for splashproofness
- Large 2” screen
- Intelligent Stabilization alerts you to final temperature
- Accurate to within .9F +/-
- The rotating screen doesn’t lock into one angle.
The Maverick PT-100 is another professional-grade thermometer, like the ThermaPen Mk4, but lacks many of the latter’s features and capability. Still it costs nearly, as much as the Mk4, and for that reason, it’s not a top choice for an instant read thermometer.
Like the Mk4, the PT-100 uses a Type K ThermoCouple probe, known for their reliability and accuracy. Unlike ThermaPen’s offering, however, the PT-100 can only read temperatures up to 450F; most on our list can get up to 572F. It also simply takes a lot longer to get a final temperature reading – anywhere from a decent 4 or 5 secondsto a whopping 30 seconds as reported by some users. That’s simply too long for serious cooking – long enough for the temperature to rise or drop while the device is stabilizing, and for serious carry-over cooking to occur.
While the PT-100 is rated to IP44 for water and dust-resistance, it’s not waterproof like either of ThermaPen’s offerings. Maverick says it will stand up to 3’ foot spills onto concrete floors, however, which is pretty good; the build is thick and robust, with grips on the sides for added durability, and it feels sturdy in your hand.
We also really like the large LCD screen on the front, with extra-large .5” numbers, which are easy to see from afar and make life just a bit easier. It’s also quite brightly backlit for reading in the dark. The one thing we wish the screen did, however, was rotate to facilitate reading at odd angles, like the ThermaPen does.
As an added bonus feature, the PT-100 includes a nifty cooking chart on the device body, giving target temps for desired doneness. It runs off AAA batteries (no indication of battery life from Maverick) and it will auto shut-off after 5 minutes.
Overall, this a high-quality, durable and accurate thermometer meant for professional use, but the price-tag landed it fourth on our list. You can get the ThermaPen Mk4 for the same price or spend much less for the ThermoPop or Javelin Pro DUO. Still, it is trusted and accurate, and thus, earns an honorable mention in our roundup.
- Durable, drop-resistant body. IP44-rated.
- Extra-large backlit screen with large, .5” numbers. Easy readout.
- Type K Thermocouple probe is accurate and reliable.
- Cool cooking chart on front.
- Screen does not rotate.
- Slow readout times
Lastly, if you’re just looking for a super-simple budget thermometer that won’t break the bank, the Digital Pocket Test from Cooper Atkins will work. Small, light and cheap, it lacks most of the features on nicer models, but is accurate and gets the job done. It’s not the most durable of thermometers but is IPX7-rated for waterproofness and is even dishwasher safe –a nice plus. The exterior is also coated with a food-safe anti-microbial film to keep it clean, sanitary and conveniently ready for cooking.
While the thermistor probe doesn’t have the extreme-heat reading capabilities or pinpoint accuracy of higher-end thermometers, it can go from -40° to 450°F (-40° to 232°C) accurately, and is accurate to within +/- 2F, helping it keep up with even nicer models like the ThermoPop. Readout and stabilization time is 6 seconds or less, which could be better but is fine for something this cheap.
One nice included feature on this thermometer is the temperature memory and ability to set minimum and maximum temperatures –similar to those found on a WiFi or Bluetooth smart thermometer. Program it to your desired target temp, and the display will blink as soon as that temperature reached. The device will also automatically shut off after 10 minutes of inactivity.
Overall, there isn’t too much to complain about with the Digital Pocket Test, considering its price tag. The small LCD screen, and ultra-small digits it displays, are definitely a bit too small for our liking. And while the thermometer isn’t poorly built at all, we’re not sure how it will hold up in the long haul. For this small an asking price, however, you can’t expect much more – so it deserves a mention.
- Accurate to within 2F +/-.
- Small, lightweight and very inexpensive
- IPX7-waterproof rated. Dishwasher-safe.
- Anti-microbial coating for safety and cleanliness.
- Minimum and Maximum Temperature alarms.
- Not the most durable
- LCD Screen is tiny and hard to read.
- Slower readout time (6 seconds).
TopGeek’s Final Two Cents
All in all, we still recommend the ThermaPen Mk4 as our top pick for a high-end instant read thermometer. It’s got a professional-grade thermocouple probe that is accurate within .7F, a wide temperature range of -58F to 572F, and gives an accurate reading quickly – within 2 seconds. The body is tough, durable and waterproof, the large LCD screen rotates automatically, and the backlight makes it easy to read in the dark. It’s also got a solid battery life of 300 hours. If you have the money to spend on a professional-grade thermometer, the Mk4 should be your first choice.
If spending $100 on a thermometer is out of the question, we recommend either the ThermoWorks ThermoPop or the Javelin PRO Duo. The ThermoPop doesn’t have all the features, speed or accuracy of the ThermaPen, but has the same ThermoWorks quality at a third of the price. The Javelin PRO Duo, on the other hand, is essentially a cheaper version of the Mk4, with a folding-handle design, ultra-fast read time (2-3 seconds) and accurate readings to within .9F +/-, compared to the ThermoPop’s 2F +/-.
For their respective price tags, all three are excellent choices. See which one fits your needs and budget best, and then get out there and get grilling.
Also See: Fireboard, A Trusted Wi-Fi Thermometer