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.
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!
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:
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
"Buy the best thermometers and you'll only cry once."Greg Rempe, BBQCentral Radio
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