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New York Times Best Seller! Best Cookbooks of 2016 lists by Amazon, BBC, Chicago Tribune, Wired, and many more

Meathead: The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling

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  • "Only one outdoor cooking book this summer? Make it 'Meathead'" Chicago Tribune
  • "Quite simply the best book about outdoor cooking" BBC Good Food

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About the features, specs, and technical terms

Adjustable. Some thermometers' accuracy can drift and they can then be adjusted to bring them back to the correct reading.

Alarms. Some devices can be set to alert the cook when a high or low temp is reached either with an audible alarm, such as a beep, or a visible alarm, such as a flashing display.

App. BlueTooth and wifi enabled devices have a smartphone or tablet app that talk to the device.

Auto shutoff. If you don't use the device for a set period of time, it will shut itself off to save batteries

Backlight. Digital thermometers are hard to read at night unless they have a backlight.

Bi-metal dial thermometers. Most bi-metal coil dial thermometers mounted in grill hoods should be called heat indicators, not thermometers. We do not recommend them. They have round clock-like readouts and the sensor uses two strips of metal bonded together and rolled into a coil. Each metal expands at a different rate, turns a shaft, and this provides the reading on a dial. Bi-metal meat thermometers can take up to 30 seconds to give an final reading and because the sensor can be 1/2" long or more they c annot read a specific location in meat. Most thermometers built into grills and smokers are bi-metal, but they are often low quality in order to keep the grill price down. They can easily become unreadable if they fill with smoke and or water. Also, these grill thermometers are mounted in the dome where the temp can be very different from the temp at the cooking surface making them both unreliable and misleading.

C/F Switch. Most thermometers have a switch to change the display from Centigrade to Fahrenheit.

K-Probes. Some thermocouple thermometers have a standardized spade-like connector for scores of interchangeable probes.

Liquid filled thermometers. Old-fashioned liquid filled thermometers are very small glass tubes filled with a liquid that sit in a bulb at the bottom. As the liquid warms it expands. They are slow but they can be very accurate. Because they do not need batteries, they make good refrigerator and freezer thermometers, but they cannot read a small area such as the center of a hunk of meat well.

Logging. Some thermometers can remember the readings taken over time and create a log that can either be printed or exported to a spreadsheet.

Margin of Error. Most thermometers are considered to be accurate if the are within plus or minus 3°F of the target tempderature. High end thermometers are more precise than this.

Min / Max. The minimum and maximum temperatures it is capable of reading. On some devices, especially those which use differnt probes, the Min / Max can vary with the probe.

Oven. We often refer to an oven to cover a range of cooking devices including grills and smokers, which are, essentially, outdoor ovens.

Popup thermometers. Popups have a compound in the tip that melts at a determined temp and releases a spring that pops the stem up. Although they can be accurate, they can also stick, they read only one part of the turkey, and they are usually set too high to prevent litigation. Pop-ups are why your turkey tastes like cardboard. Throw them out.

Price. Usually the manufacturer's suggested retail price. When that is not available we use the approximate street price.

Sensor. Thermocouple, thermistor, liquid, bi-metal. They are described in detail below.

Speed. We measure how long it takes the thermometer to go from 32°F to 212°F or from 212°F to 32°F. But you have to be careful about the time manufacturers quote. Often they use an industry standard called "time constant". That is the time it takes to get to 63% of a full reading, and a full reading is be five times that. So if they say the time constant is 0.6 seconds, as is the Thermapen, it will be precise in about 3 seconds. Another factor is how fast the display refreshes itself. The Thermapen refreshes every 0.5 seconds. This means you can slowly insert it and remove it and it will give you a new reading every 0.5 seconds. The Thermoworks K-type Fast Response Meat Probe #113-151 which can be plugged into different meters, is slightly faster with a time constant of 0.5 seconds, precise read in 2.5 seconds, slightly faster than the Thermapen. But if you plug it into the MTC meter, which refreshes every 1 second, the probe is actually faster than the meter, and combined they are slower than the Thermapen. Another factor is the conductivity of the medium you are measuring, food, which is mostly water, reads faster than bread, which is mostly air, a poor conductor.

Thermistors. Thermistors are usually not as quick as thermocouples, they tend to be thicker, and they can be slightly less accurate, usually with a margin of error of 5°F. They are best for leaving in large roasts and oven for continuous readings. Thermistor units send a current through a wire in the probe with a resistor in the tip. Its resistance to the electrical flow changes with temperature and the meter measures the voltage across the resistor.

Thermocouples. Thermocouples are the best food thermometers because they're fast and precise, with a small sensor, ideal for rapid read thermometers. Their margin of error can be less than 1°F. Thermocouple probes have two tiny wires of different metals welded at the tip, most often nickel and chromium (called Type K). The heat causes a tiny voltage to appear across the dissimilar metals which are connected to a meter that measures the voltage and calculates the temperature.

Water resistance rating. Some manufacturers simply specify that a thermometer is "water resistant" but this is not a regulated description and should be taken with a grain of salt. Some manufacturers use a third party service, the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). It rates devices using an International Protection rating code (an IP code). An IP code might look like this IP65. The first digit is protection against solids like dust, and the second digit is protection against liquids. They range from IP00 to IP68. If a thermometer was IP65, it was tested and found completely protected against dust as well as protected against low pressure jets of liquid from all sides, so it is OK in the rain, but NOT protected against a swim in the BBQ sauce.

Where to buy. We provide links to some suppliers, especially to those who pay us a finder's fee if you buy from them. In some cases, our links provide a Compact AmazingRibs.com Meat Temperature Guide with the product. You will only get the guide by following the link provided.


Best Value Awards

Gold Medal. Among the best of its type in its price category. A strong buy recommendation if this is your budget.

Silver Medal. A fine product among the best in its price category with only minor shortcomings. Recommended for purchase if a Gold Medal is not available.

Bronze Medal. A good product, better than average, but may be making in features or quality compared to higher rated products. Worth considering for purchase if you cannot find or afford a Gold or Silver Medal.

Not Recommended. These are products that we think are poor choices compared to competitors based on price, features, and construction quality.

Not Judged Yet. These are products that may be award caliber, perhaps even Gold Medal caliber, but we do not know enough about them yet to give them an award.


How We Test, Review, And Rate Thermometers

We purchase almost all of the thermometers we review. These are truly unbiased reviews. We do not make or sell anything, and our advertising is sold by third party ad networks. We are not involved in the process. Rest assured that when we recommend a product, it is really because we like it, not because someone has paid us to say so or because the company is an advertiser or sponsor. Manufacturers are never charged to have products reviewed or be included in the listings.

Bill McGrath, an electrical engineer, does all out thermometer testing, ratings, and reviews. He uses special National Institute of Standards & Technology rated and calibrated equipment to check the accuracy and speed of thermometers. He uses an ice and water bath and a boiling water bath to measure the time it takes each thermometer to go from 32° to 211°F and to go from 212° to 33°F. After we take objective measurements, we evaluate based on subjective criteria such as ergonomics, ease of use, flexibility, warranty, access to support, and build quality. Finally, we consider value when making our awards.

nist calibration machine


"The instant-read thermometer, used frequently, solves most issues." Mark Bittman, New York Times food columnist and cookbook author

Maverick ET-732 Redi-Check

By Bill McGrath

The Maverick ET-732 is a dual-probe, remote thermometer used to monitor both barbecue and food temperatures. The probes plug into a transmitter that sends data to the receiver that can be located up to 300' (91m) away, according to the manufacturer.

The package contains two probes, a short, straight one to measure the barbecue temperature, and an L-shaped one with a sharp point for insertion into food. The transmitter has two labeled inputs, one for each probe. There is also a display on the transmitter that shows the probe temperature in an alternating pattern. F or C can be selected on the back of the transmitter. We wish the cables were more than 3' (0.9m) long, though.

The receiver has a display that works in two modes. In thermometer mode, it displays the temperature of each probe. The food probe can be alarmed to signal when a temperature has been reached. The barbecue probe has an upper and a lower limit that will alarm if the temperature wanders outside these limits. These limits are set by a slightly confusing procedure that requires a press on the light/mode button to lock them in. Failure to follow the directions will result in the settings reverting to their previous values. The barbecue alarm won't arm until the temperature goes above the lower limit, so you won't have to listen to beeping while the unit heats up. If the transmitter and the receiver lose communication, there will be an audible and visible alarm to advise the user of the problem. This corrects a deficiency we've seen in many earlier models.

This unit is very similar to its big brother, the ET-733, with one notable exception: the 733 additionally offers the ability to choose a meat and doneness level that mimics the USDA recommendations; the 732 needs you to choose the appropriate temperature. You can, of course, select your own temperature with the 733.

The other mode is the timer mode. When a time is set by the user, the timer will count down until it reaches zero, when an alarm will sound. At this point, the time will begin counting upward. The timer can also act as an up-counter by setting the initial time to zero. The alarm sound for the timer is distinct from the temperature alarms, and both modes can operate simultaneously.

The transmitter sends data to the receiver every 12 seconds, which is fine for an in-oven/in-food thermometer. The temp scales can be changed independently on the transmitter and the receiver. Accuracy was a little sloppy, differing from actual by 6 degrees at 325ºF
The manufacturer's contact info, including address, telephone number and e-mail, is found in the instruction sheet. The unit is covered by a 90-day limited warranty.

This dual-probe remote thermometer has been one of the most popular units of its type for good reasons. It is well-made, water-resistant at the transmitter, accurate and reasonably easy to use - IF YOU READ THE INSTRUCTIONS. (Many don't!) It has good range, and the unit will alert you if communication is lost between the transmitter and receiver. For these reasons, we give this a Gold medal rating.

Meathead's Notes from the Field:

"It is supposed to have up to 300' range but that's only through clear air. When I move indoors, the range is much less, and your distance will vary depending on what your walls are made from and how many electronic devices you have running. There is an alarm that tells you if you've gotten out of range of the sender, and there is a synch button in case the two units lose their link. Keep the manual handy in case you can't remember which button to push.

CAVEATS. I need to warn you that there are some problems and the reviews on Amazon are not all favorable. As near as I can tell these are almost all a result of improper handling although a little better engineering would help.

The first issue is that sometimes it doesn't work right out of the box. This is apparently due to the fact that the mini-jack on the end of the probe cables seems to click into place with normal pressure. Normal pressure is not enough on this device. You need to jam it in or it will not work. By simply pushing harder on the jack, this problem goes away.

The other problem is that the probes occasionally fail. This comes from improper washing. Proper washing is easy.

Maverick has good tech support. When my old receiver began to malfunction, they told me the problem sounded like a bad backlight and told me to ship it back for a replacement. No question about when I bought it. I never identified myself as a writer, so I am confident I got the same treatment as you would. Cables sometimes fray or malfunction, and the manual cautions you not to submerse them and the probes, so you should consider buying a spare set.

BEWARE! There is an older model, the ET-73 still on the market. It is decidedly inferior. Don't buy it.

IMPORTANT! This thermometer is bundled with the Award Winning AmazingRibs.com All-Weather Meat Temperature Magnet that I wrote. There are other companies selling this thermometer on Amazon, and some are falsely promising the magnet. You can ONLY get the Meathead designed temp guide with this thermometer by clicking the link below."

Features:

  • Hand-held
  • Leave in Food
  • Leave in Cooker
  • Wireless Remote
  • Infrared Gun
  • Refrigerator / Freezer
  • Thermostats/Temperature Controllers

Price: 

$59.99

Where to buy (buying from these suppliers supports this website): 

Amazon

6' replacement food probe: Amazon

6' replacement smoker probe: Amazon

6' replacement hybrid probe (food or smoker): Amazon

Included: 

Receiver, transmitter, 2 probes, probe clip, instructions, AmazingRibs.com Compact Meat Temperature Guide

Probes: 

Food probe: Length: 6" (150mm), shaft: 0.16" (4mm), cable: 3' (0.9m). BBQ probe: length: 3" (75mm), shaft: 0.16" (4mm), cable: 3' (0.9m)

Accessories: 

Probes with 6' (2m) cables can be purchased separately.

Battery type: 

4xAAA (included)

Battery life: 

Not specified

Min / Max: 

Food probe: 32 to 572ºF (0 to 300ºC) BBQ probe: 32 to 554ºF (0 to 290ºC)

Ambient operating temperatures: 

Not Specified

Display precision: 

At 32ºF it actually reads: 

Food probe: 36, BBQ probe:37°

At 130°F it actually reads: 

Food probe: 131, BBQ probe: 133°

At 225°F it actually reads: 

Food probe: 226, BBQ probe: 230°

At 325°F it actually reads: 

Food probe: 327, BBQ probe:331°

Speed from 32°F to 212°F: 

Food probe: 24, BBQ probe: 36 seconds

Speed from 212°F to 32°F: 

Food probe: 36, BBQ probe:1:12 seconds

Size of numbers in display: 

Temp: 0.56" (14.3mm)

Water resistance rating: 

Transmitter: yes, Receiver: no

Alarms: 

Audible/Visible

Weight: 

Transmitter & probes: 4.7oz (134g), Receiver: 3.4oz (96g)

Logging: 

No

C/F Switch: 

Yes

Backlight: 

Yes

Adjustable: 

No

Auto shutoff: 

No

App: 

No

Colors: 

White, red, burgundy, silver, grey, black, copper (shown)

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grouchy?1) Please use the table of contents or the search box at the top of every page before you ask for help, then please post your question on the appropriate page.

2) Please tell us everything we need to know to answer your question such as the type of cooker and thermometer you are using. Dial thermometers are often off by as much as 50°F so if you are not using a good digital thermometer we probably can't help you. Please read this article about thermometers.

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About this website. AmazingRibs.com is all about the science of barbecue, grilling, and outdoor cooking, with great BBQ recipes, tips on technique, science, mythbusting, and unbiased equipment reviews. Learn how to set up your grills and smokers properly, the thermodynamics of what happens when heat hits meat, and how to cook great food outdoors. There are also buying guides to hundreds of barbeque smokers, grills, accessories, and thermometers, as well as hundreds of excellent tested recipes including all the classics: Baby back ribs, pulled pork, Texas brisket, burgers, chicken, smoked turkey, lamb, steaks, chili, barbecue sauces, spice rubs, and side dishes, with the world's best all edited by Meathead Goldwyn.

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