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An instant-read thermometer comes in handy in any kitchen situation that requires precise temperature control, from heating a water bath to testing a steak’s doneness. “For deep-frying recipes or things like heating oil for chili oil, it’s crucial to have accurate temperature readings,” says Sarah Leung, who helps run her family’s recipe website The Woks of Life. Cooking food to the right temperature also helps prevent the spread of foodborne illnesses, and different types of meat have different minimum internal temperatures that must be reached in order to be safely consumed.

Unlike leave-in probe thermometers that remain lodged in food while it cooks, this versatile tool is designed to be quickly inserted and can be used to check multiple spots of a dish to ensure it has reached the ideal temperature throughout. Because the measurement is so fast, you minimize the risk of overcooking delicate foods like fish while waiting for a reading.

We consulted experts who regularly develop and test recipes to find six standout options on the market. Shop their picks for the best instant-read thermometers, so you’ll never have to guess whether a tray of cutlets is undercooked or a batch of pastries will turn out too dense.

Features to Keep in Mind

Types of Instant Read Thermometers
Though there are many different designs on the market, most instant-read thermometers feature a long stem that is inserted directly into the food item. Infrared thermometers specifically test the surface temperature by directing a laser at the item, so they’re great for, say, measuring the temperature of your grill grates—rather than that of a roast chicken.

Accuracy and Temperature Range
To ensure an accurate temperature reading, always insert the stem of your instant-read thermometer into the center of the deepest part of the food item, whether it’s a show-stopping roast duck or a generous loaf of bread. Be sure to check more than one spot, as different sections of a dish may heat up faster than others. For thinner cuts of meat, like a burger patty, aim to stick the stem through the side to guarantee an insertion depth of at least two inches. When cooking bone-in meats, ensure the stem of the thermometer does not touch bone, as bone conducts heat differently and may produce an inaccurate reading.

Be sure you know your thermometer’s temperature range before plunging it into a bubbling pot of oil. Higher-heat cooking scenarios like candy-making call for a thermometer that can gauge temperatures anywhere from 230 to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, while deep-frying requires a range of 325 to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Infrared thermometers designed for testing surface temperatures can accommodate even hotter conditions.

Don’t forget to calibrate your instant-read thermometer before first use, and every month or so thereafter. You can do this by dunking it into a cup of ice water and ensuring the reading is 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

Maintenance
The best way to avoid cross-contamination—especially if you’re cooking meats—is to always sanitize your thermometer before stowing it away or using it again. Not all instant-read thermometers are waterproof, so it’s best to avoid submerging the entire device in water.

First, rinse off the stem with hot soapy water to destroy surface bacteria while removing grease and food bits. Then sterilize by submerging the stem (not the entire device) in boiling water for at least 30 seconds. Sterilization can also be accomplished by gently wiping down the stem with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol, then giving it a quick rinse to remove residual alcohol. Finally, place the thermometer in a clean spot on your counter to let it air-dry.

Our Top Picks

Best Overall: ThermoWorks Classic Super-Fast Thermapen

This thermometer’s temperature range of -58 to 572 degrees Fahrenheit means it’s suited for virtually any kitchen situation. It produces a precise reading on the large, easy-to-read display in just two to three seconds, ensuring you won’t waste precious cooking time waiting for a correct measurement.

“[This device] has great battery life (1,500 hours), as well as an auto shut-off after 10 minutes, which is good if you drop it during a busy cooking session and forget to turn it off,” says Leung. “We’ve tried many thermometers, and have found this one to be the most reliable.” It also comes in multiple colors, which can be useful for cooks who want color-coded thermometers with separate dedicated uses—or just want to match their kitchen decor. Once you’ve wrapped up cooking for the day, the probe conveniently folds inward for easy storage.

Best Value: Habor Instant Read Thermometer

This instant-read thermometer doesn’t sacrifice quality or accuracy in exchange for its reasonable price point. You’ll get an accurate temperature reading between -58 and 572 degrees Fahrenheit in four to six seconds. Plus, its extra-long 4.7-inch probe easily measures the core temperature of bulky foods like a Thanksgiving turkey or loaf of bread. If you forget to power down the thermometer after using it, the auto-shutoff function kicks in after 10 minutes.

Best Ergonomic: ThermoWorks ThermoPop

The large rotating backlit display on this instant-read thermometer accommodates any angle or grip, so it’s ideal for both righties and lefties. “The ThermoPop’s teardrop shape makes it easy to hold, especially for smaller hands,” says Jennifer Jolorte Doro, a professional chef and the co-founder of meal delivery company Nouri Mama. “It’s not clunky with lots of wires and gadgets and a million things on the display.” The backlit display is easy to read in darker kitchens, and for added convenience, you can also toggle between Fahrenheit and Celsius.

Best Infrared: Cuisinart Infrared Surface Thermometer

Some cooking situations—like testing the temperature of a pizza stone or checking for hot spots on a grill—require you to know the item’s surface temperature. Enter: The infrared thermometer. Aim the laser at any surface and the backlit LCD display will tell you exactly how hot or cold it is, from as low as -58 to as high as 716 degrees Fahrenheit. You’ll never again have to wonder if those pricey cuts of meat will overcook on the grill.

Best for Grilling: Alpha Grillers Instant-Read Thermometer

Outdoor cooking requires an instant-read thermometer that can withstand rain or shine. This device is rated IP67 waterproof, meaning you can safely wash it under running water (or use it during a downpour). The lightning-fast thermometer can accurately measure temperature in just two or three seconds, and the bright-blue backlit display is just as easy to read whether you’re cooking outside in the bright sunshine or firing up the grill on a starless night. The display also conveniently notes recommended temperatures for various types of meat and levels of doneness. After using the thermometer, tuck the probe inward for storage to automatically turn off the device.

Best Analog: OXO Good Grips Chef’s Precision Instant-Read Thermometer

If you prefer an analog instant-read thermometer over a digital one, this device has you covered with readings in both Fahrenheit and Celsius on a minimal, easy-to-read display. A portion of the stem is shaded, providing a convenient visual guide for how deeply the probe should be inserted for accurate measurement. There’s also a doneness guide printed on the sheath, which reminds you of the internal temperatures different cuts of meat should reach before they’re ready for safe enjoyment.

Ask the Experts

How do I test my instant read thermometer?

The best way to test the accuracy of an instant-read thermometer at home is to use ice water. “You pour ice into a glass, add water, and let it sit for three minutes,” says Leung. “Then you place the thermometer probe in the center of the glass, stir it around to avoid any uneven cold/warm spots, and it should read 32 degrees Fahrenheit.” You can also use boiling water, which should register 212 degrees Fahrenheit on the thermometer. However, Doro notes that boiling temperature may be lower in high-altitude conditions, where “a boil can be closer to 200 degrees Fahrenheit,” she explains.

Are all instant read thermometers waterproof?

No. There are also varying levels of water resistance, denoted by the device’s Ingress Protection (IP) rating. The first number refers to protection against solid debris (most instant-read thermometers will have a rating of 6), while the second number indicates the degree of protection against liquid infiltration. For the second number, look for a rating of at least 3, which means the device can withstand water spray. A 7 or 8 is best, as these numbers signify the tool is waterproof enough to be safely immersed in water.

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