2018 AmazingRibs.com Pitmaster Awards for Best Value Cooking Thermometers

And a searchable database of more than 150 that can save you money and maybe your life

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: A digital thermometer is the most important tool in a cook’s arsenal. Thermometers save lives and money. They are the only reliable way to determine the status of cooking food. In early 2014 Consumer Reports tested more than 300 chickens and found that 90% contained pathogenic bacteria and half of them had antibiotic resistant strains. They said "It's vital that you check using a meat thermometer." You cannot tell when chicken is safe by looking at the color of the juices. The difference between a medium rare and well-done steak is pretty narrow. The diff between moist tender turkey and a dry chalky bird is just a few degrees. Two pork chops sitting side by side can cook at different rates.

Consumer Reports Cover

No one wants to ruin expensive meats by overcooking it. A perfectly cooked steak can quickly become shoe leather if the internal temperature isn’t monitored. Poking with your finger or cutting the meat to determine doneness is just plain guessing. A filet mignon is much softer than a sirloin. The color of meat is vastly different under sunlight, incandescent, fluorescent, or LED light. And it changes when exposed to oxygen. And no, poking it with a thermometer will not dry it out!

Thermometers are more sophisticated than they used to be. Hand-held instant-reads have gotten much faster and more accurate, and some thermometers come with apps that run on wireless devices such as a cell phone. The biggest changes have been in the in-food/in-oven products. Initially, a cabled thermometer would just read out the current temperature. Today’s units have programmable alarms that alert the user when the temperature reaches a set level. Many have separate receivers and transmitters that allow you to monitor temperatures from a distance. The more sophisticated units connect with the internet via Wi-Fi and allow you to view the cooking progress from anywhere you have internet access. Modern thermostatic controllers (similar to the devices that keep a steady temperature in your basic home oven) now allow you to change the cooking profile from an app that runs on both Apple and Android devices. Wireless connectivity has revolutionized the way outdoor cooking can be done. Bimetal dial thermometers are a technology more than 100 years old. They are slow and not nearly as precise as digital. Liquid thermometers can be very accurate, but they are also slow. They are best for refrigerators and freezers.

Click here to read how thermometers work, how to use them, and why some are better than others

How to pick thermometers

1) USE OUR SEARCHABLE DATABASE

Bill McGrath, our electrical engineer and thermometer expert has tested more than 150, rated and reviewed them, and built a searchable database elsewhere on this page. There is nothing like it in the world. You can use to check his ratings on a thermometer you are considering or to search for top rated products by type. He uses precision equipment and real world scenarios to test and evaluate based on (1) accuracy, (2) speed, (3) features, (4) construction quality, and (5) value. Suppliers are never charged to have products reviewed and the website purchases almost all the products it tests. Here he explains some of how he does it:

 

Pitmaster Award

2) USE OUR PITMASTER AWARDS

Once a year McGrath selects the best of the best and names our Pitmaster Award winners. Each of these devices received a Gold Medal during our initial review and has now earned our highest accolate, a Pitmaster Award. Meathead explains the different types available:

 

Click the links below for McGrath's detailed reviews, pictures, pricing as well as links to suppliers.


You need a hand-held rapid read food thermometer

The best way to deliver properly cooked food to the table and protect against food borne illness is to take its temperature with a rapid read thermometer. Dial thermometers often take 30 seconds for a reading and not accurate. In contrast, today’s digital hand-held and wired probe thermometers provide precise temperatures within seconds. If you hate apologizing for overcooked meat or having to take chicken off your guests' plates and sticking it in the microwave, then you've got to get a good digital rapid read thermometer. Just open the grill, poke a thin probe into the meat, and in seconds it tells you the temp. These handy thermometers are designed to read the temperature at the very tip of the probe, allowing you to see precise readings in as little as 2 seconds. They are perfect for everyday cooking, particularly hot and fast grilling.

Thermoworks ThermoPop TX-3100 thermometer

Pitmaster Award

ThermoWorks ThermoPop TX-3100

The ThermoWorks ThermoPop is a hand-held instant read thermometer that is extremely accurate and quick to respond. Its display is automatically back-lit and rotates in 90º increments, making it easy to read from any angle. This handy unit runs on two regular CR2032 batteries that should last 5000 hours, so they may never need to be changed. Construction is solid and the housing is waterproof to a high rating of IP66.

Complete review of the ThermoWorks ThermoPop TX-3100 and where to buy it

Order It Now From Thermoworks


OXO Chef's Precision Thermocouple Thermometer

Pitmaster Award

OXO Chef's Precision Thermocouple Thermometer

The OXO Chef’s Precision Thermocouple Thermometer is a folding pocket thermometer with excellent accuracy, fast response, clean design and ambidextrous features that should make it popular with both professionals and serious home cooks. It features an easy-to-read, invertible, backlit display that makes it a pleasure to use, even in awkward positions. The probe itself can be opened without touching it, somewhat like a switchblade, reducing the chance of food contamination. It also folds 45º past straight out for left-handed users. This thermometer operates on readily-available AAA batteries that are housed in a waterproof compartment, allowing easy cleaning under running water.

Complete review of the OXO Chef's Precision Thermocouple Thermometer and where to buy it

Order It Now From Amazon


Red Thermapen Mk4 thermometer

Pitmaster Award

ThermoWorks Thermapen Mk 4

The latest version of the Thermapen, the Mk 4, improves on the thermometer that set the standard for years with professional cooks. The original was fast, accurate, rugged, and waterproof. The new unit includes all of those attributes along with a few new features. The Mk 4 now operates on a single AAA battery instead of the harder-to-find CR2032 button-shaped batteries. It also has an automatic backlight for dim environments and a display that inverts for left-handed use. The exterior is now smooth and free of tiny nooks and crannies to prevent hidden food particles from causing food contamination. Solid construction makes this unit suitable for deployment on the front lines of any professional or home kitchen.

Complete review of the ThermoWorks Thermapen Mk 4 and where to buy it

Order It Now From Thermoworks


Highly recommended: A leave-in probe and wire thermometer and an oven/grill/smoker thermometer

Can you imagine cooking indoors if your oven did not have a thermometer? Then why do you try to cook outdoors without a good oven thermometer (and your grill or smoker are really just ovens)? If you hope to be king of the grill, you've got to know what the oven temp really is. And this may come as a shock, but your indoor oven is probably waaaay off too. It probably needs adjusting, so when you buy a good digital you can calibrate and adjust your indoor oven. So if you buy a good oven/grill/smoker thermometer, you can improve your indoor cooking too. These devices all have a probe that can be placed in the oven next to the food. It is on a cable and attached to a meter you can read outside the cooking chamber and it will tell you what temp the food is feeling.

It can also be inserted into thick cuts of meat and left there throughout the cook. You monitor the progress of the cook without having to open the lid and stab the meat. They are essential for turkey, all roasts, hams, pork shoulder, whole hog, and tri-tip.

There are a number of thermometers that can be used for both oven temp or leave-in for meat, and a few have two probes to be used for oven and meat simultaneously. Some units allow you to monitor food and cooker temperatures and set time or temperature alarms to warn you if the cooker temperature is too low or too high as well as to indicate that the food is ready for the next step, such as removal from the cooker or a brief stint over high heat for a reverse sear. Multi-channel versions can simultaneously monitor several food items as well as the temperature inside the cooker.

ThermoWorks Chef Alarm thermometer

Pitmaster Award

ThermoWorks ChefAlarm

The ThermoWorks ChefAlarm is a well-built, single-channel thermometer for monitoring food temps while cooking. You can set upper and lower temperature alarms as well as a count-up/count-down timer. The unit also displays minimum and maximum temperatures reached during the time the unit was activated. A pot clip and a carrying case are included, and the stainless steel probe has a braided stainless steel cable. Accuracy is very good on this unit, and it runs on readily available AAA batteries.

Complete review of the ThermoWorks ChefAlarm and where to buy it

Order It Now From Thermoworks


ThermoWorks Dot TX-1200 thermometer

Pitmaster Award

ThermoWorks Dot TX-1200

Called the Dot for its round shape, this well-made, one-channel thermistor thermometer accepts a variety of compatible probes to measure temperatures over a range of -58 to 572ºF (-50 to 300ºC). The probe’s temperature and its alarm setting are displayed. If the alarm setting is exceeded, there is both an audible and visible alert. The unit is waterproof to a high standard of IP65. Power is supplied by two AAA batteries that should last up to 5000 hours, and accuracy is excellent.

Complete review of the ThermoWorks Dot TX-1200 and where to buy it

Order It Now From Thermoworks


Wireless remote-monitored thermometers

These thermometers perform the same temperature monitoring functions as their wired brethren, but they allow you to monitor temps from a distance. Adequate wireless range is a primary performance consideration, as early models often would not work at a distance of more than 35 feet (10 m). You can accurately track temperatures with a meter in their pocket while tending to other tasks such as cutting the lawn or watching the game.

ThermoWorks Smoke thermometer

Pitmaster Award

ThermoWorks Smoke

The ThermoWorks Smoke is a two-channel, wireless remote thermometer system designed for the serious cook. The thermometer probes plug into a base unit that displays both temperatures (for example, the food temp and cooker temp) simultaneously as well as the upper and lower alarm temps and the min/max temps since turn-on for each channel. For stability and easy of use, the base unit includes a folding stand and a magnet. The unit’s audible alarm has a volume control, its display is backlit, and it communicates with its remote using RF (radio frequency), which gives it a longer range than Bluetooth units. The remote display is also backlit and simultaneously displays both channel’s temps and their associated upper and lower alarm limits. Construction is rock-solid. An accessory receiver, called the Gateway, allows communication with a cloud server, enabling you to monitor your temperatures from anywhere you have an internet connection.

Complete review of the ThermoWorks Smoke and where to buy it

Order It Now From Thermoworks


FireBoard Labs Fireboard FBX11 thermometer

Pitmaster Award

Fireboard Labs Fireboard FBX11

This six-channel thermometer that can communicate directly with your smartphone via Bluetooth or via Wi-Fi using a cloud server. With the cloud, you can receive temperature readings anywhere an internet connection is available. You can also use a browser to monitor the cloud server. Instantaneous temperatures and temperature vs. time graphs can be viewed on either platform. The Fireboard can be purchased in kits with either two or six probes. You can also buy a protective case for additional weatherproofing and a fan controller to remotely fine-tune the temperature of your wood or charcoal cooker. This compact unit has its own rechargeable Li-Ion battery and comes complete with a charger.

Complete review of the Fireboard Labs Fireboard FBX11 and where to buy it

Order It Now From Fireboard


Maverick ET-732 Redi-Check thermometer

Pitmaster Award

Maverick ET-732 Redi-Check

The Maverick ET-732 is a two-channel, wireless remote thermometer that communicates with its own receiver to allow monitoring food and cooker temperatures at a distance. The temperature probes plug into the base unit which displays their values alternately. The remote receiver displays both temps simultaneously. Upper and lower alarm limits for the cooker probes are set on the receiver unit and will display a visible alert and an audible signal when exceeded. The food alarm only has an upper limit and similar alarms. Each unit runs on readily-available AAA batteries that seemingly last forever. If the receiver loses contact with the transmitter, an alarm will sound. The transmitter has a water-resistant battery door and the probe jacks have rubber seals to keep out moisture.

Complete review of the Maverick ET-732 Redi-Check and where to buy it

Order It Now From Amazon


For long cooks with charcoal or logs: Thermostat controllers

Thermostat controllers are a blessing for long cooks, especially the ones that go overnight. You place a probe near the meat and you close all the air intakes except one. The probe talks to a fan that goes over the open vent which turns on and off regulating the oxygen supply to the coals. They control the temp very effectively. The better ones can hold a temp within a few degrees for hours so you can sleep. Some have multiple probes, and mini computers and can respond to meat temperature as well. The fancier ones also allow the cook to monitor the temperatures of the cooker and food remotely using a smartphone or web browser. Some units can be programmed with time and temperature profiles, allowing even greater control over the cooking process.

Auber SYL-2615 thermometer

Pitmaster Award

Auber SYL-2615

The Auber SYL-2615 is a multi-step thermostatic controller for wood and charcoal cookers that controls temperature by modulating airflow into the cooker generated by its fan. It also has a second probe to monitor food temperature. A smartphone is used to set up and monitor the controller. You can set it up so that the temperature of the cooker is controlled indefinitely and the food temp is monitored. Alternatively, you can program up to three steps, each of which ends at either a food temperature threshold or an elapsed time. You can program the desired cooker temperature for each step, allowing you to ramp down temperatures after your food reaches a set temperature or a set amount of time has elapsed. There is an alarm for both temperature ranges to alert the cook to either done food or depleted fuel. You can plot the food and cooker temperatures on your smartphone or export the data to Excel for analysis. The device connects via your Wi-Fi router and can be monitored or controlled from anywhere there is an Internet connection to the phone.

Complete review of the Auber SYL-2615 and where to buy it

Order It Now From Auber


BBQ Guru CyberQ Cloud thermometer

Pitmaster Award

BBQ Guru CyberQ Cloud

The BBQ Guru CyberQ Cloud is a temperature controller for wood or charcoal-fired cookers, as well as a food temperature monitor. Cooker temperature is controlled by modulating fan output which controls airflow through the cooker. Up to three food temperature probes can be monitored simultaneously. The unit connects to the Internet via your Wi-Fi router, and can be monitored and controlled from your smartphone or a web browser anywhere you have Internet access. You can set time and temperature thresholds which then can control the cooker temperature, allowing you to ramp down temperatures as food approaches your desired doneness temperature. Temperature vs. time data can be displayed on your phone or browser, and/or downloaded for analysis in Excel.

Complete review of the BBQ Guru CyberQ Cloud and where to buy it

Order it now from BBQ Guru


For pizza cooks: Infrared laser guided guns are essential for checking the stone

Infrared laser guns are designed to read the temperature of a hot surface like a griddle, a pizza stone, or a frying pan. They cannot accurately read meat temp nor can they measure the temp of a grate or the air inside a grill. You point the gun at a surface like a pizza stone, pull the trigger, and it puts a laser beam on the target. Don't let the laser fool you, it is only a targeting aid, the actual surface being read is larger than the laser, so it cannot measure something narrow like the grates on your grill. But if you are serious about pizza on the grill, you want one.

Thermoworks IR Gun

Pitmaster Award

ThermoWorks IR-Gun-S

The ThermoWorks IR-Gun-S is an infrared thermometer with a few interesting features that set it apart from most other products of this type. Like all IR thermometers, it records the temperature in a cone in front of the sensor whose size is proportional to the distance from the gun. This unit has a ratio of 1:12, so the circle is one foot in diameter at 12 feet from the gun. This tighter cone makes it easier to narrow the area where the measurement is taken, excluding other surfaces that surround the target area.

There is a mode button that allows the user to view the minimum, maximum, difference, or average temperature detected during one pull on the trigger. One can also set high and low alarm thresholds that trigger an audible signal if the measured temperature is above or below the settings. Pressing the mode button after the unit shuts off will recall the last set of measurements. You can even put the unit into continuous measurement mode that doesn't require a trigger pull - a handy feature if you want to capture a maximum or minimum temperature. One can also easily adjust the emissivity settings (if you know what you're doing!) and change between Fahrenheit and Celsius scales. The backlight can be switched on and off to enhance low light visibility or save battery power. These features add utility to an otherwise simple type of thermometer, making it our choice for a Pitmaster Award.

Complete review of the ThermoWorks IR-Gun-S and where to buy it

Order It Now From Thermoworks


CDN Refrigerator thermometer

Pitmaster Award

CDN refrigerator and freezer thermometer

You need to keep your fridge between 33°F and 38°F to prevent frost buildup and keep your food safe. A liquid filled thermometer is the way to go here. They are pretty darn accurate, don't need batteries, and you don't need the speed of a digital. The CDN is low profile and has hooks to hang on the wire racks. Get two, one for the freezer, too.

CDN refrigerator and freezer thermomete and where to buy it

Order It Now From Amazon


 

"Buy the best thermometers and you'll only cry once."

Greg Rempe, BBQCentral Radio
How to use our comprehensive buying guide and reviews of thermometers for barbecue, for cooking, for food, for the oven, for the grill and for the smoker. read more
Read our in-depth analysis of the Blameless Cooking EasyBBQ Wireless Thermometer whose performance and build quality earned it a Silver Medal. read more
Read our complete test of the BBQube TempMaster Pro, a combination thermostatic controller and remote four-channel thermometer designed to regulate the cooking environment in a charcoal-fired smoker or grill. It contains two modules: the controller and the thermometer. read more
Read our review of the ThermoPro TP-12, a dual-channel remote food/cooker thermometer with good performance at a low price, earning it a Silver Medal. read more
Read the full review of the ThermoPro TP-11, a wireless remote food thermometer with good accuracy that we awarded a Bronze Medal. read more

2018 Pitmaster Awards

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About the features, specs, and technical terms

Adjustable. The accuracy of some thermometers can drift, and these thermometers can 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 Wi-Fi 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 a final reading and because the sensor can be 1/2" long or more they cannot 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, which generally makes these bi-metal dial thermometers both unreliable and misleading.

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

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

IR (infrared) sensors. Infrared-sensing thermometers measure the energy radiated from a warm surface and convert it to a temperature reading. Some surfaces emit more infrared at a given temperature than others, so some units allow the user to adjust the emissivity setting to fine-tune the accuracy of the thermometer. This should rarely be necessary unless very high accuracy is needed. These units are useful for determining the temperature of a cooking surface like a skillet or griddle.

Liquid filled thermometers. Old-fashioned liquid filled thermometers are very small glass tubes filled with a liquid that sits in a bulb at the bottom. As it warms, the liquid expands. These thermometers 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 they are within plus or minus 3°F of the target temperature. 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 different probes, the Min/Max can vary with the probe.

Oven. We often use the term "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. This type of thermometer often comes pre-inserted in your Thanksgiving turkey. Although there is a chance that it will be accurate, the thermometer will read only one small part of the turkey, may stick, and will likely be set to a high temperature that is meant to prevent litigation rather than produce a juicy bird. The popup thermometer is often to blame when your turkey tastes like cardboard. Throw it out.

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

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

Speed. We measure how long it takes the thermometer to go from 32°F to 211°F and from 212°F to 33°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 takes five times that. So if they say the time constant is 0.6 seconds, as does the manufacturer of the Thermapen, the unit will be precise with a full reading in about 3 seconds. Another factor to consider 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 and precise read in 2.5 seconds. 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 consists mostly of water, reads faster than bread, which consists mostly of air. That is because water is a better conductor than air.

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. These sensors are best for leaving in large roasts and ovens 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, making them 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 quantifies protection against solids like dust, and the second digit quantifies protection against liquids. The digits range from IP00 to IP68. If a thermometer is rated IP65, it was tested and found to be 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 along 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 lacking 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 our thermometer testing, ratings, and reviews. He uses special equipment calibrated and rated by the National Institute of Standards & Technology to check the accuracy and speed of thermometers. He uses an ice 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 taking objective measurements, he evaluates based on subjective criteria such as ergonomics, ease of use, flexibility, warranty, access to support, and build quality. Finally, we consider value when giving our awards.

nist calibration machine


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

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