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The Ultimate Instant Read Meat Thermometer FAQ

Get the answers to all your instant read meat thermometer frequently asked questions in my instant read meat thermometer FAQ. Learn more with the Grilling Life Q&A.

Forget what you’ve heard about poking your palm or holding your hand over the fire until it starts to hurt. There is no surefire way to truly know when a piece of meat has been properly cooked without measuring its temperature.

The quickest and easiest way to gauge the temperature of whatever you’re cooking, grilling, or smoking is with an instant read thermometer.

These handy tools blow your old kitchen meat thermometer out of the water. They deliver easy-to-read temperature measurements in seconds.

The benefit here is more than mere convenience. It’s peace of mind that the food you’re cooking is at the temperature where it tastes best and is safe to eat.

We are here to help you learn more about instant read meat thermometers and how they work. We’ve provided answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about these handy tools.

In this instant read meat thermometer FAQ guide, you’ll learn how these thermometers work. We’ll also show you why you should use them, how to use them, how to care for them, and more. You’ll walk away with your unofficial degree in everything there is to know about instant read meat thermometers.

Check back in on this guide often as we add new questions from your fellow readers and update answers with new information!

In This Article, We’ll Explore:

Click a question below to be taken directly to the answer.

What Are Instant Read Meat Thermometers?

Instant read meat thermometers are thermometers that can quickly and accurately read the temperature of food. Most standard instant read thermometers come with a metal probe that is inserted into the food and a handle that displays the temperature.

Are Instant Read Thermometers Any Good?

Yes, instant read thermometers are good for quickly and reliably getting an accurate temperature reading.  They provide you with an accurate snapshot of the temperature of your food almost instantly. They are the best way to get in and out of your meat quickly with little heat loss.

Why Do You Need an Instant Read Meat Thermometer?

You need a reliable thermometer to ensure your food is at a safe temperature for eating. An instant read meat thermometer is also great for instances where a leave-in thermometer won’t cut it. Grilling thinner cuts of meat or cooking many items at one time is a perfect example.

How Do Instant Read Thermometers Work?

Most instant read thermometers work by creating a small bit of electricity inside their probe. That voltage can then be translated to measure the temperature of whatever the thermometer is inserted into.

For a more in-depth look at how instant read thermometers work, check out this article Ever Wonder About Digital Meat Thermometers?

What Is the Difference Between a Meat Thermometer & an Instant Read Thermometer?

A traditional meat thermometer is different from an instant read thermometer in that you need to insert it into the meat and keep it there the entire cooking process to gauge the temperature. Instead of checking a digital screen on the handle, you’ll look at the analog dial.

Digital Instant Read Thermometers vs. Analog Thermometers

Instant read thermometers come in digital options. Digital options show the temperature on a display in numerals like a digital watch. Analog options have a face more like a clock with a hand that points to the temperature. Analog thermometers will also take longer to get a temperature reading.

What Is the Difference Between an Instant Read & a Leave-in Probe Thermometer?

Instant read thermometers are great for spot-checking the temperature quickly. They are also great for verifying the final temperature at the end of the cooking process. Leave-in probe thermometers are designed to stay inserted in the food for the entire cooking process.

Leave-in probe thermometers will usually have a detached display or can connect to a phone app. This lets you keep an eye on the temperature when away from your grill or smoker.

The difference between instant read thermometers and probe thermometers is primarily how long they’re designed to be used.

What Are the Three Types of Instant Read Thermometers & Which One Is Best?

Thermocouple Instant Read Thermometers | Thermistor Instant Read Thermometers | RTD Instant Read Thermometers

There are three primary types of instant read thermometers: thermocouple, thermistor, and RTD. So which one is best for your outdoor cooking needs? The thermocouple is the fastest and most precise instant read thermometer. We break them all down below.

Thermocouple Instant Read Thermometers

Thermocouple instant read thermometers work by connecting two types of metal and using heat to generate a small voltage between them. The voltage is then translated to measure temperature. These types of thermometers have small probes. They are perfect for checking thin cuts or multiple locations in your meat.

Thermocouple thermometers are usually foldable. They are the fastest and most precise instant read thermometers.

Thermistor Instant Read Thermometers

Thermistor instant read thermometers use electrical currents sent across a resistor to gauge how that resistance changes with temperature.

These thermometers are more affordable than thermocouples but are slightly less accurate and have a large probe. They work best for cooking large roasts since they usually come with a wireless or cable-connected display that can be read from outside the grill or smoker.

RTD Instant Read Thermometers

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.

What Styles Do Instant Read Thermometers Come In?

Instant read thermometers come in two primary styles. A folding style and a stationary style. The folding style is where the probe folds out from the body on a hinge. The probe folds down and is protected by the body when not in use.

The stationary style is where the probe is fixed to the body and protected by a cover when not in use.

Fold-Out vs. Stationary Probe Instant Read Thermometers

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.

How Fast Is an Instant Read Meat Thermometer?

A high-end instant read meat thermometer would be able to give you a temperature reading in one to five seconds. A less responsive but more affordable model may take between 15 and 20 seconds.

When Should You Insert a Meat Thermometer?

You can insert an instant read meat thermometer into your food at any time during the cooking process. Just be careful not to leave your grill lid or smoker door open too long. You don’t want to lose too much heat or smoke while you’re taking the temperature!

Can You Leave an Instant Read Meat Thermometer in the Meat While It’s Cooking?

No, you cannot leave an instant read meat thermometer inserted in the meat while it’s cooking. They are not designed to survive the heat for long periods. Probe thermometers, on the other hand, are designed to be left in. Their wired probes are made to withstand indirect heat at higher temperatures.

Just make sure to check the manufacturer guidelines for the recommended max heat ceiling.

Should a Meat Thermometer Start at Zero?

No, your meat thermometer should not start at zero. It should display the ambient temperature, aka room temp, or the temperature of the air outside. The only exception is if you’re cold calibrating your thermometer before your cookout, in which case you should bring the thermometer down to 32°F.

Where Should I Place the Instant Read Thermometer to Get the Best Reading?

To get the best, most accurate reading, insert your instant read thermometer into the thickest portion of your meat. You will want to avoid any bone and fat. You’ll also want to aim for at least half an inch into the meat, or deeper if your cut is thicker than an inch.

How Do I Know if My Instant-Read Thermometer Is Accurate?

To check the accuracy of your thermometer, fill a glass with ice, and fill it up the rest of the way with water. Let it sit for a few minutes, then gently stir it with your thermometer’s probe. If your thermometer is accurate, it should read 32°F.

Make sure not to let the probe touch the sides of the glass.

Do I Need to Calibrate an Instant Read Thermometer?

You do need to calibrate your thermometer to ensure it’s working well and make any necessary adjustments. It is the only way to insure it is working as it should. If you perform the ice water test, (see above FAQ), and the readings are off, it requires calibration.

Some instant read thermometers will let you calibrate yourself. Others may have to be sent to the manufacturer for re-calibration or replaced entirely.

How Do I Calibrate an Instant Read Thermometer?

There are two ways to test the calibration of your thermometer. You can use hot calibration, where you insert your probe into boiling water and look for a temperature of 212°F. Or cold calibration, which is the ice-water process we describe in the above FAQ.

If the temperatures miss the mark, use your thermometer’s reset or recalibration button if it has one. If not, it may have to be sent to the manufacturer for re-calibration or replaced entirely.

What Is the Max Temperature the Best Instant Read Thermometers Can Handle?

The maximum temperatures the best instant read thermometer can handle will vary by manufacturer.  This makes it hard to give a straightforward answer. But on average they will max out at around 550°F. Just make sure to watch out for flair-ups as that will be too hot for them to handle.

Doesn’t Poking the Meat With a Thermometer Allow Juices to Escape?

No, poking meat with a thermometer does not allow a significant amount of juice to escape. The amount of juice lost after a thermometer has been inserted is actually far less than the amount meat loses naturally while cooking. Using a meat thermometer is the least intrusive way to check the temperature accurately.

Do I Need to Worry About Cross-Contamination When Using My Thermometer?

Yes, you should be aware of cross-contamination when using an instant read thermometer. Be sure to wash and sanitize the probe between use on different types of food. You should also sanitize the probe after every cook and before storing the thermometer.

How Do You Clean an Instant Read Thermometer?

To clean your instant read thermometer, wash the probe in warm water and disinfect it using rubbing alcohol. You can also buy thermometer sanitizing probe wipes that are designed specifically for quick and safe cleaning.

What’s the Best Way to Care For & Maintenance an Instant Read Thermometer?

To care for and maintain your thermometer, make sure to regularly calibrate it and keep the probe clean and sanitized. You’ll also want to avoid leaving it in an oven, grill, or smoker. Avoid putting it on a grill lid where the hot temperatures can melt it, and never put it directly into hot coals or fire.

What Are Common Instant Read Thermometer Error Codes & What Do They Mean?

Below is a list of the most common instant read thermometer error codes you may see and their most likely meanings. Not every brand’s error codes will be the same but this list is a good reference and starting point. If you don’t find your code on the below list, contact the manufacturer, and let us know what you find out so we can add it to this list.

Pro Tip: Sometimes simply removing and replacing the battery may fix the problem.

  1. LLL – Most common meaning is that the probe was damaged or broken by being exposed to temperatures below its temperature range.
  2. HHH – Most common meaning is that the probe was damaged or broken by being exposed to temperatures above its temperature range.
  3. ErrH – Most common meaning is that an internal error has occurred, and it will no longer read temperatures. This can result from a drop/fall, water damage, or flame damage.

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 offerings of 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 Thermometers FAQ Guide

If you had any questions about instant read meat thermometers, we hope this guide helped answer them!

At the very least, we hope the information shared here helped show you why an instant read thermometer is one of the most valuable yet affordable tools you can have for cooking, grilling, or smoking meats.

An instant read thermometer gives you a fast, simple way to tell when a food has been cooked to the temperature where it’s at its tastiest and juiciest. And more importantly, it’s at a safe temperature for you and your guests to eat.

While the science behind these compact tools might be a little complicated, the benefit they deliver to outdoor cooks isn’t!

Moral of the story? If you haven’t purchased an instant read meat thermometer yet, you should!

Whether you opt for a stationary lollipop-style model or a fold-out one, we know you’ll love the convenience and the peace of mind they’ll bring to your outdoor kitchen.

If you have any lingering questions we didn’t answer in this guide, let us know by leaving a comment below or sending us an email! We’ll do what we can to find you an answer, and you might even see your question get added to this guide.

Next Steps:

The Benefits of Instant Read Meat Thermometers

Benefits of Instant Read Meat Thermometers

The Ultimate Instant Read Meat Thermometer Buyers Guide

Ultimate Instant Read Meat Thermometer Buyers Guide

10 Best Instant Read Thermometer Ratings

10 Best Instant Read Thermometer Ratings

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 thermomoter?

Are you going to be purchasing a new grill in the future? Do you plan on looking at a Pellet Grill, Smoker, Built-In Gas Grill, or Charcoal Model?

Let me know by leaving a quick comment below.

If you still have questions, please feel free to send me a message.


Pat G.

Disclosure – At The Grilling Life, I am committed to researching and writing thoughtful, informative and editorially independent reviews of the best products for your outdoor cooking needs.  If you like what I do, you can support me through my chosen links, which earn me a commission.  This allows me to continue sharing with you my love for all things barbecue.  Your support is truly appreciated.

Patrick Ginise

A backyard warrior, certified carnivore, lover of good whiskey, 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!

I have personally tested over 150+ Grills and Smokers and hundreds of grilling thermometers, temperature controllers, grill brushes, grilling tools, fire starters, and other BBQ products.