In this ultimate instant read meat thermometer buyers guide, I’m going to be giving you everything you need to know for buying the best instant read meat thermometer. A Grilling Life guide to buying instant read meat thermometers.
If you’ve never done the good ol’ “check for red” cut down the middle of your steak or chicken breast to see if it’s done cooking, then you’ve probably never grilled.
We’ve all been guilty of it.
You pick a random piece of meat and slice it in half. Is it done? “Mmmmm, it could go back on for a few more minutes” or “It’s probably fine. It looks done to me.”
Does this sound familiar?
The problem with this “method” of checking the doneness of your food is that it’s wildly inaccurate.
Most of the time, it’s not finished cooking. You’ll either end up serving underdone food that could cause foodborne illnesses. Or you throw it back on the grill for a minute too long, and you end up with dried-out, overcooked meat.
Neither scenario is ideal. On the one hand, you could poison your friends and family, ending the night in the emergency room. On the other hand, you serve a subpar meal that you’re neither proud of nor excited to eat.
Thankfully there is a simple solution that will drop the need for guessing when it’s time to turn off the grill.
An instant read thermometer is like grilling insurance to serving perfectly cooked, juicy meats without any worry.
Table of Contents
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What You Can Expect From This Instant Read Meat Thermometer Buyers Guide
In this Instant Read Meat Thermometer Buyers Guide, you’ll learn why instant read thermometers are different from other meat thermometers. We’ll also show you how to choose the best one to buy. Finally, we’ll explain what extra features instant read thermometers have to offer.
What Are Instant Read Meat Thermometers?
An instant read thermometer takes temperatures immediately after being inserted into food. Unlike other meat thermometers, you don’t have to leave it in the food while it cooks. They are ideal for speedy spot checks and verifying the final doneness.
They have the fastest response time of any type of food thermometer. Some of the best digital versions can tell you the temperature in as little as one second. They come in either a digital display or the classic analog or dial reader.
Besides their speedy reading, they are ideal for meat with varying thicknesses. This is because you can quickly check the temperature in each area.
Why Buy an Instant Read Meat Thermometer?
Instant read meat thermometers are a must-have for the grill master. They take the guesswork out of cooking and ensure you’re serving perfectly juicy yet still safe meat every time.
A quick read thermometer ensures that you keep your food out of the danger zone temperatures. You can confidently serve food knowing it won’t only taste amazing but, more importantly, won’t carry any foodborne illnesses.
Instant read meat thermometers are fast, accurate, and safe to use. Every great chef keeps one in their cooking arsenal.
What Is the Difference Between an Instant Read & an Analog Thermometer?
Instant-read thermometers are not meant to stay in the meat as it cooks like other more traditional analog thermometers. While you can find some analog thermometers that also claim to be instant read, they tend to be much slower, harder to read, and not as accurate.
A digital instant read thermometer displays the precise temperature and takes the reading in only a few seconds.
Keep in mind as you shop for an instant read thermometer that not all digital thermometers are instant read. Not all analog thermometers are designed to stay in the meat while it cooks.
For the most accurate results and easiest reading, look for a digital instant read thermometer.
What Is the Difference Between an Instant Read & a Wireless Probe Thermometer?
Instant read thermometers are designed to briefly stay in the meat to take a quick temperature reading.
Wireless probe thermometers stay in the meat throughout the entirety of the cook. They allow you to check the temperature at any time using an app on your smartphone.
If you need to track the progress of your meat throughout the cook, a wireless thermometer is a good idea. Large roasts or long smokes are good examples of when a wireless thermometer would be a good option. It eliminates the need to constantly open the grill to check the temperature and allows you to multitask during the cook.
Instant read thermometers are great because you can check the temperature in only a few seconds. This promotes a more hands-on grilling experience. Some thinner cuts of meat require you to keep a close eye on the flame and cook faster.
Chicken, thinner steaks, pork chops, or other faster-cooking meat will benefit from an instant read thermometer. You’ll know precisely the right moment to pull it from the grill.
They are also great since your meat continues to cook while it’s “resting.” So before you serve up the food, you can do a last-minute check on the temperature for the best results.
What to Look for When Buying an Instant Read Meat Thermometer
You can easily get overwhelmed by how many instant read meat thermometers are on the market. They all have different features, designs, and price ranges.
The best way to choose the perfect one for your needs is to understand what goes into making a good instant read thermometer.
I’ll explain the main things to look for in an instant read thermometer and why they are important in the list below.
Choose between a Fold-Out or Stationary Probe instant read Thermometer
Fold-out instant read thermometers typically feature a larger screen and body that’s easier to hold and store. They can be used vertically or horizontally. They fold down to a compact shape.
Stationary thermometers are typically shorter, more affordable, and sometimes easier to maneuver in tight spaces. They usually come with a probe cover that can be easily lost.
One variable in instant read thermometers is the probe type. They come in three probe-type options: the Thermocouple, the Thermistor, and RTD.
If you want a thermometer that you can depend on, the best probe option is the Thermocouple.
This probe has two tiny wires at the end. The heat of your food triggers the voltage on the metal wires, which is then calculated by a meter to read the food temperature.
For this reason, the Thermocouple probe is the fastest and most accurate for instant read thermometers.
Thermistor probe models are much cheaper, and you can make do with them if that’s all you have access to. The problem with them is that while they’re more affordable, they’re also slower and less accurate.
RTD instant read thermometers also measure the change of electrical resistance with temperature. They have a slower response time and are typically left in the meat because of that. They also have a wide temperature range that typically isn’t required by home cooks. They are often used for industrial purposes.
Accuracy & Precision
Your instant read thermometer should be within 0.7 to 0.9 degrees Fahrenheit to be considered accurate. Anything over a 2-degree difference isn’t ideal and can lead to over or undercooking your food. Aim to find an instant read thermometer that varies by less than 1 degree for the most accurate results.
Speed of Temperature Readings
Ten seconds doesn’t seem like long until you’re standing over the open flame with your hand on the thermometer, waiting for it to read. Not only will you start to get overheated and risk burning yourself, but you’re also letting a lot of heat out.
A few seconds can make all the difference between a medium-well and a well-done steak. It’s better to invest now in a quicker read time than constantly struggling with a not-so-instant thermometer.
When shopping for your thermometer, 5 second read time is good. But if you really want to get that temperature reading quickly, look for an instant read thermometer that averages 3 seconds or less.
That way, you can spend less time standing around with your grill open, losing precious heat, and more time cooking and eating.
If you’re buying a thermometer primarily for checking meat temperatures on your grill, one that reads from 32 to 392 °F will work just fine for you. One that ranges from -40 to 482 °F is even better.
I recommend an instant read thermometer with a higher range. Once you start checking your meat temperature, you’ll start checking the temperature of everything you prepare and cook. That wide range will come in handy.
Build Quality & Battery life
Just like the rest of your grill tool investments, you want your thermometer to last. Make sure before you buy that the thermometer can withstand high heat and moisture.
You might also want to opt for a thermometer with shatterproof glass, durable stainless steel probes, quality plastic, and one that is dishwasher safe. If not dishwasher safe, at least choose one that is water resistant.
Battery life will also determine the lifespan of your instant read thermometer. At a minimum, you want your thermometer to come with 3000 hours of battery life.
If you’re willing to pay a little extra, 4000 to 5000 hours of battery life is even better. The last thing you need is wacky temperature readings because your battery is running low.
Usability & Features
It’s the little things in life that make the biggest difference. The same is true with the unique features offered on some instant read meat thermometers.
Some of the best options to look for include automatic on and off to save battery life. Water resistance for easy cleaning is high on the list. A backlit screen for when you’re grilling it up after dark is a must if you don’t have proper lighting.
You also want to be able to use your thermometer straight out of the box without any glitches or confusing settings. The controls should be easy to access and user-friendly.
Additional Things to Consider Before Buying an Instant Read Meat Thermometer
Some digital instant read thermometers come with some really handy features. Here are a few more things to consider when buying an instant read thermometer.
Not all thermometers or their companies are created equal, so you’ll want to know exactly what to expect before you buy.
One of the best features available is an automatic shut-off or “sleep” feature. Some thermometers require you to fold the probe to trigger the shutoff, while others only need to be set down. Then when you pick it back up, it will automatically come back on, thanks to a motion sensor.
And if motion sense isn’t your thing, look for a thermometer that lets you decide how long it can be inactive (10 seconds to 3 minutes) before it shuts down.
Temperature Hold Feature
The temperature hold button found on some instant read thermometers allows you to record the temperature before you remove it from the meat. It will then save it so you can reference it after you’ve taken it out of the meat.
This is perfect for when you have to take a reading at an odd angle or if you are in low-light conditions. If you can’t see the screen clearly, press the temp hold button to save the latest reading.
This way, you won’t have to worry about whether the reading was accurate, and you’ll never have to double-check.
Automatically Rotating Screens
Get to your food from any angle with a rotating probe and screen. A foldable probe lets you reach what you need to on the grill without getting your hands too close to the flame. It also protects it when it’s stored away after your cookouts.
The automatic rotating screen makes it super easy to get an immediate reading no matter what position you hold it in. You’ll always see the numbers clearly and accurately.
Automatic Backlight Display Screen
Whether it’s getting dark, or it’s the heat of the day, and the sunlight is blinding, reading any display without enough backlighting is next to impossible.
Instant read thermometers with automatic backlights are a must. There is no need for a flashlight or manual change of the brightness on the backlight.
Instead, keep your second hand free while the instant read thermometer backlight automatically adjusts to the light and dark around you.
Water Resistant Ratings
While most instant read thermometers won’t be dishwasher safe, you should at the very least look for one that is splash resistant. Ideally, they should be water-resistant or, better yet, waterproof so you can immerse your thermometer in the water to wash it.
Ease of Use
Some thermometers are more intuitive and easier to use overall. This depends mainly on the digital display. You want a thermometer with intuitive controls that are easy to figure out. Easy access controls are a must as well.
One downside of an instant read thermometer is that you have to remove the food to take the temperature if you’re cooking in an oven.
The good news is that most are easy to use when grilling. They are quick enough that you don’t have to worry about spending too much time with the hood open.
Another advantage of an instant read thermometer is that you’ll be able to handle it immediately after taking the temperature. Their grip stays cool to the touch.
Other thermometers that require you to leave them in during the cook are too hot to just pull out with gloves. It takes a bit more coordination to safely read the temperature and move the thermometer out of the way.
Price is always a factor when you’re purchasing a new tool for your outdoor kitchen.
Some of the more expensive options have special features like being waterproof or having automatic rotating displays.
However, there are some excellent quality instant read thermometers out there that will fit any price range.
You can find models for as low as $13 or as high as $100. Take into consideration your budget and what features are most important to you.
Final Steps Before Making an Instant Read Meat Thermometer Purchase
You might already have in mind a few potential options for instant read meat thermometers. But what will help you make the best decision? Real-life reviews of the thermometers. Customer service ratings and warranties should all be up to par before you make any purchase. This is especially true for one that affects the health and safety of your family.
We break down the final steps you should take before that final purchase below.
Check Current Owner’s Feedback & Opinions
Real customer reviews are always going to be honest, and unedited. If you want to know the truth about how well any product works, including a thermometer, take time to read the feedback and opinions of current owners.
Be careful about only reading reviews on the company’s website. If you only see positive reviews, there’s a good chance the negatives have been pulled.
Instead, online forums and social media communities are great places to check. You will find that companies have much less of a pull in how people review their products. Plus, you’ll find some great grilling tips and recipes while you’re there!
Good Customer Support Matters
If something isn’t working the way it should on your thermometer, the last thing you need to do is get stuck on hold for hours on end.
Before you buy, make sure the feedback about customer support is positive. That way, if anything goes wrong, you can be confident in your experience in getting the problem fixed or the item replaced seamlessly and stress free.
Check the manufacturer’s website to see if they have a visible contact method. If they don’t, they shouldn’t be trusted.
Get To Know the Warranty Options Before You Buy
How good the warranty is corresponds directly with how long you can expect the product to last. It will also give you peace of mind and confidence in investing in your new thermometer.
What’s My Favorite Brand of Instant Read Thermometers?
Like just about everything, there is a great variety of instant read thermometers available online! We’re fans of ThermoWorks offering instant read and leave-in probe thermometers. They are truly the cream of the crop when it comes to thermometers and they’re incredibly knowledgeable about all things outdoor cooking. They have a great selection of folding and stationary-style thermometers.
Their customer service and support are second to none and they offer a best-in-class warranty. They really stand by their products.
Final Thoughts on Our Instant Read Meat Thermometer Buyers Guide
An instant read meat thermometer is a game-changer in grilling. It ensures your meat is at the perfect temperature when you pull it off the grill. You won’t have to worry anymore about cutting into undercooked meat or serving up dried-out overcooked meat.
More importantly, cooking your food to the right temperature is essential to keeping your friends and family safe from foodborne illness.
An instant read thermometer is different from other meat thermometers because it’s fast. You’ll get a reading in under 10 seconds at the least. It’s also highly accurate, with most thermometers giving only a variation of 1 degree.
That means you can confidently pull your food off the grill at the exact right moment for the best results.
Instant read thermometers are easy to read and can be used in indoor and outdoor kitchens alike.
If you haven’t invested in one yet, you’re only holding yourself back from taking your grill mastery to the next level. Serve up safe meat cooked to the exact preferences of your guests as well!
The best part is that there are so many models on the market that you can find one on any budget with several features and options to choose from.
Thanks for reading our ultimate instant read meat thermometer buyers guide.
Now It’s Your Turn
I want to hear from you:
Have you ever purchased an instant read thermometer before?
Do you have any tips on buying instant read meat thermometers or have any feedback on a particular brand to share?
What features do you typically like to see in a food thermometer?
Let me know by leaving a quick comment below.
If you still have questions, please feel free to send me a message.
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A backyard warrior, certified carnivore, lover of good whiskey, self-proclaimed grill master and I’m Living The Grilling Life!
I have a passion for cooking with live fire and smoke, no matter the weather. I’m a real person just like you, who loves outdoor cooking and BBQ. Food, fun, and time spent with family and friends are what it’s all about! It is my mission to take my passion and knowledge for outdoor cooking and all things BBQ and share this expertise in techniques and grilling equipment with you. In other words, Living The Grilling Life!