All instant read thermometers aren’t created equal. Here are eight solid options for every home cook.   

By Corey Williams and Marianne Williams
December 02, 2019
Each product we feature has been independently selected and reviewed by our editorial team. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
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As it turns out, all thermometers are not created equal. We enlisted Marianne Williams, an expert from our test kitchen, to test and review every instant read thermometer we could get our hands on. While none of the thermometers we tested were necessarily bad (all were relatively quick and accurate), some stood out more than others. Our favorite of the bunch? Lavatools Javelin Pro Duo. Before we get into what makes the Javelin Pro Duo so great, though, let’s talk about what an instant read thermometer does and why you need one: 

What Is an Instant Read Thermometer? 

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An instant read thermometer is exactly what it sounds like: A thermometer that reads temperatures instantly. When used correctly, it can help you make sure everything you eat and serve is safe and sanitary. 

Most instant read thermometers have a handle that displays the temperature and a stainless steel probe that is inserted into food. 

Why Do You Need One? 

A kitchen thermometer is an absolute essential for any home cook. Sometimes all that separates a light and airy dessert from a dense and drab mess are a few degrees. 

More importantly, though, a good thermometer will help prevent food poisoning. You must always ensure all meat you plan to consume or serve is cooked to a safe temperature—otherwise, you’re putting yourself and others at risk for food borne illnesses like salmonella or e. Coli. 

A trusty instant read thermometer will put your worries to rest in a matter of seconds. 

How Fast Is Instant?

WATCH: How Long Should I Roast a 20-Pound Turkey?

An instant read thermometer should give you an accurate reading within just a few seconds. The thermometers we tested took anywhere from 2 to 5 seconds to give a reading. 

Instant Read Thermometer vs. Meat Thermometer

It’s important to remember that an instant read thermometer and a meat thermometer are two different tools. 

Instant read thermometers are great for taking quick measurements, but meat thermometers are meant to be left inside meat while it roasts (think a Thanksgiving turkey).

Digital vs. Analog Instant Read Thermometers

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You can get analog or digital instant read thermometers. A digital one will display the temperature in numerals, kind of like a digital watch. An analog one uses a more classic face, similar to a clock. 

Analog thermometers must be calibrated to ensure an accurate reading. To calibrate your analog thermometer, submerge the stem in ice water and let it sit for a few minutes. If the dial does not read 32°, use a small wrench to loosen the nut behind the dial. Then rotate the dial to the correct temperature. 

How to Clean an Instant Read Thermometer

An instant read thermometer is a great tool to help prevent food borne illnesses, but it’s important to clean them correctly to prevent cross-contamination. 

When you’re finished using your thermometer, make sure to sanitize its stem before putting it away or using it on another food item. 

To clean it, wash the stem in warm water and disinfect it with alcohol. 

For specific cleaning instructions, make sure to read your instruction manual or contact the product’s manufacturer. 

How Do You Use an Instant Read Thermometer? 

An instant read thermometer comes in handy in a variety of ways. Most importantly, it will quickly tell you the internal temperature of meats you’re cooking. 

To use one to check the temperature of a chicken, just insert the probe into the deepest part of the thigh. 

Warning: Piercing the chicken too many times with a thermometer will cause juices to leak and the bird to dry out more quickly. 

How We Tested Each Thermometer

“We want a thermometer that can quickly read the correct temperature,” said Marianne. “Extra buttons seem to be more fussy than helpful. A simple, comfortable handle and easy to read numbers are key. Having a backlight is a plus, and having rotating numbers that flip when the product is turned (think iphone) allows for reading in any position. Fold-out thermometers are easy to store and make for one less component to account for (in the case that a non-fold-out has a cover).”

  • Accuracy. Just how precise is the product? There’s no room for error when you’re cooking meats. We considered any thermometer that missed the mark by more than 2 degrees inaccurate. 
  • Speed. How quickly can the thermometer read an accurate temperature? 
  • Ease of use. We looked for thermometers that will make life simpler for the user, not more difficult. Products that were uncomplicated and kept our tester’s hands away from the hot food received top marks. 
  • Display. Again, nobody has time for a hard-to-use thermometer. We looked for backlit displays that were easy to read. 
  • Durability. How long is the thermometer’s battery life? Is it waterproof? These are just a couple of the factors we considered when judging each product’s durability. 

We tested each thermometer in an ice bath (should read 32°), boiling water (should read 212°), and in a fully cooked chicken breast (should read 165°).

Both the ThermoWorks Thermapen Mk4 and the ThermoWorks Thermapen IR came with a certificate of calibration, so we began by testing each of them. Once we confirmed accuracy, the other thermometers were tested with the Thermapen Mk4 to gauge their accuracy and consistency. 

Here’s what we found: 

Best Thermometers At a Glance

Best In Show: Javelin Pro Duo, $50; Amazon

Best Splurge: ThermoWorks Thermapen Mk4, $100; ThermoWorks

Best Steal: ThermoPro TP19, $25; Amazon

We Also Recommend: ThermoWorks Thermapen IR, $139, ThermoWorks; OXO Good Grips Thermocouple, $100, Amazon; ThermoPro TP18, $20, Amazon; Lavatools Javelin, $27, Amazon; and ThermoWorks ThermoPop, $34; ThermoWorks.

Best All-Around: Javelin Pro Duo

Lavatools

Buy It: Lavatools Javelin Pro Duo Instant Read Thermometer, $50; Amazon

Lavatools’ mid-priced thermometer was undoubtedly our runaway winner. Marianne said her favorite of the bunch overperformed in all categories and, as a bonus, is incredibly simple to store: The magnetic tool hangs right on your fridge for easy access. 

The Javelin Pro Duo was the most accurate thermometer we tested—its reading was within .2°  of our target temperature each time. 

The handle and probe (which seamlessly fold into one another) allows the user to keep a safe distance from the heat but maintain control over the tool. 

You can press a button to activate an optional backlight. If you press the button for a few seconds, a “hold” setting is triggered. 

The lightweight—but notably sturdy—digital thermometer feels slightly cheaper than some of the more expensive options we tested, but that’s because it is. 

“At $49.99, this seems like a great option for a really reliable product for half the price of the Thermapen,” said Marianne. 

Javelin Pro Duo Highlights:

  • Extremely accurate (within .2°)
  • Reads temperature quickly (within three seconds)
  • Relatively inexpensive
  • Easy to use
  • Magnetic for easy access/storage
  • Optional backlight
  • Fold-out probe
  • Reads a maximum temperature of 482°

Best Splurge: ThermoWorks Thermapen Mk4

ThermoWorks

Buy It: ThermoWorks Thermapen MK4 Instant Read Thermometer, $99; ThermoWorks

Trust us, we get it: A hundred bucks is nothing to sneeze at. However, if you’re a serious chef or home cook, the ThermoWorks Thermapen Mk4 is unparalleled. 

Extremely accurate and quick, the Thermapen measures a precise temperature in just under 2 seconds. 

Like the Javelin Pro Duo, the handle is long enough to keep your hands away from the heat of the oven or stove (this hearty thermometer can read temperatures up to a whopping 572°) , but short enough to allow you to maintain control. 

The thermometer automatically powers on when its folded out and auto-sleeps when it’s untouched for more than 30 seconds, which is a Godsend for people who are stingy with their kitchen tools’ battery lives. 

The display is easy-to-read and automatically lights up on a low setting when the thermometer is opened.

The ThermoWorks ThermaPen earns bonus points for being waterproof—Marianne tested this claim by running it under water for 15 seconds. Afterwards, the thermometer was still working perfectly. 

“This pen feels worth the $99 for chefs or home cooks that really want a good product,” said Marianne. 

ThermoWorks Thermapen Mk4 Highlights:  

  • Extremely accurate (within .9°)
  • Reads temperature quickly (about 2 seconds)
  • Feels sturdy and comfortable in your hand
  • Waterproof
  • Automatic backlight
  • Easy to use
  • Automatic on/off
  • Reads a maximum temperature of 572°                        

Best Budget Buy: ThermoPro TP19

ThermoPro

Buy It: ThermoPro TP19 Instant Read Thermometer, $25; Amazon

If you don’t want to shell out $50 on the Javelin Pro Duo (our top pick), the $25 ThermoPro TP19 is the next best thing. 

The sturdy thermometer reads an extremely accurate temperature within 5 seconds. The bright, legible display was definitely a plus, but Marianne wasn’t terribly impressed with the probe (slightly difficult to pull out) or the rotating number function (way too sensitive, flipped the numbers often for an overall confusing experience).

However, these aren’t deal breakers. For this low price, you probably aren’t going to find a better instant read digital thermometer on the market.   

“This one reminds me of the Javelin Pro Duo in appearance and feel,” Marianne commented. “It’s $24.99, so it’s honestly not a horrible option if you don’t want to splurge for the Javelin Pro Duo.”

ThermoPro TP19 Highlights:

  • Extremely accurate (within .4°)
  • Sturdy
  • Easy to use
  • Magnetic
  • Reads a maximum temperature of 572°

We Also Recommend

ThermoWorks Thermapen IR

ThermoWorks

Buy It: ThermoWorks Thermapen IR Instant Read Thermometer, $139; ThermoWorks

ThermoWorks didn’t let us down with its ThermaPen Mk4 and its ThermaPen IR also surpassed our expectations. 

This incredibly sturdy thermometer had all the speed and accuracy of the Mk4 with an added infrared sensor for “instant non-contact surface readings.”

The infrared sensor was less accurate than the probe end of the thermometer (the probe read as quickly and precisely as the Mk4, but the sensor was off by about 2° of the expected temperature over the ice bath and boiling water). 

However, the infrared sensor can read up to 661°—that’s the highest max temperature of any thermometer we tested.  

Though we loved and recommend the IR to people willing to spend $139, we preferred ThermoWorks’ original Mk4. 

“You have to press a button to use the infrared, and have to be 5 inches from whatever your temping,” according to Marianne. “At $139, I’d go with the Mk4 over this one. Still a really sturdy probe thermometer, though.”

ThermoWorks Thermapen IR Highlights: 

  • Infrared sensor that can read temperatures up to 5 inches away from food. 
  • Reads temperature quickly (2 seconds)
  • Probe is extremely accurate 
  • Easy-to-use fold-out probe with thin tip
  • Probe reads a maximum temperature of 572° and infrared sensor reads a maximum temperature of 661°

OXO Good Grips Thermocouple

OXO Good Grips

Buy It: OXO Good Grips Thermocouple Instant Read Thermometer, $100; Amazon

It’s not a secret that we absolutely love OXO Good Grips products—and this thermometer is no exception.  

The probe is slightly more difficult to open than some of the other options we tested, but the legible numbers and accurate measurements made up for it. We were also fans of the just-sensitive-enough rotating display.

Like everything OXO, this is a reliable and easy-to-use product. However, the handle feels slightly plasticy and not quite as sturdy as the similarly priced ThermoWorks Thermapen Mk4, so we’re not so sure that it’s worth the $99. 

“While it’s a great product and reads accurately and quickly, it feels somewhat cheaper and less sturdy than the ThermoWorks pens,” Marianne said. “Again, I’d stick with the MK4, but this is a good option if you’re a die-hard OXO fan.”

OXO Good Grips Thermocouple Highlights:

  • Accurate (within 1° of expected temperatures)
  • Reads temperature quickly (within 3 seconds)
  • Functional rotating display
  • Automatic on/off
  • Reads a maximum temperature of 572°

ThermoPro TP18

ThermoPro

Buy It: ThermoPro TP18 Instant Read Thermometer, $20; Amazon

For the no frills cook on a budget, the ThermoPro TP18 is a totally solid buy. 

Quick and accurate, this $19.99 instant read thermometer gets the job done. Marianne liked the magnetic handle and light-up display, but wasn’t a fan of the not-so-sturdy handle and the button that releases the probe. 

“This might be a good option for the home cook that doesn’t care so much about aesthetics or physical quality, but wants something accurate and quick to throw back into the drawer,” said Marianne.

Is this thermometer built to last? Probably not. But for $20, you can’t expect much more. 

ThermoPro TP18 Highlights: 

  • Extremely accurate (within .5° of expected temperatures)
  • Reads temperature quickly (within 2-3 seconds)
  • Inexpensive
  • Magnetic
  • Easy-to-read display
  • Reads a maximum temperature of 572°

Lavatools Javelin

Lavatools

Buy It: Lavatools Javelin, $27; Amazon

This thermometer’s small size and relatively quick and accurate readings make it a great on-the-go option. 

Easy to use, this lightweight tool feels sturdier than other inexpensive thermometers we tested. We were a bit disappointed that the display doesn’t feature a backlight, which would make reading the temperatures a bit easier. 

“This feels more like a ‘compact’ product [instead of a product meant for daily use],” Marianne said. “It might be another good thermometer to throw into a chef’s knife kit.”

Lavatools Javelin Highlights: 

  • Compact
  • Accurate (within .9° of expected temperatures)
  • Easy to use
  • Magnetic
  • Reads a maximum temperature of  482°

ThermoWorks ThermoPop

ThermoWorks

Buy It: ThermoWorks ThermoPop, $34; ThermoWorks

While ThermoWorks’ ThermoPop is a hugely popular product, Marianne would’ve preferred a probe that folds into the handle. She also noted that the buttons were hard to press and the tiny handle doesn’t give the user much room to avoid heat. However, she did find the plastic cover useful for storage and said that she appreciated this thermometer’s no nonsense approach.

The best things about ThermoPop are its simplicity and accuracy. 

“Probably the most simple of the bunch, but not as quick,” Marianne noted. “$34 feels expensive for this product.”

ThermoWorks ThermoPop Highlights: 

  • Accurate (within 1° of expected temperatures)
  • Easy to use
  • Comes with a plastic cover 
  • Reads a maximum temperature of 572°
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