Cooking without a thermometer is like driving somewhere you’ve never been without a map (or more likely, a GPS). A thermometer takes all the guesswork out of knowing when food is properly cooked. And unlike using an instant-read thermometer, with a probe thermometer you don’t have to open the oven door (which allows heat to escape) or poke multiple holes in your food (which lets flavorful juices leak out) to check for doneness.
What it is A probe thermometer consists of a thin metal rod (a probe) that’s connected by a wire to a digital display. Insert the probe into the food, shut the oven door, set the display on the counter, and you’re free to turn your attention elsewhere.
What it can do Most remote probe thermometers detect temperatures between 32°F and 392°F. An alarm (or series of alarms) tells you when your food is cooked to its target temperature. Some models include timers, and some have pre-programmed temperature settings for different meat types (set to USDA standards). Depending on the model’s temperature range, consider using it for more-diverse kitchen tasks like candy-making, frying in oil, and even calibrating your oven.
What to look for For optimal control, choose a thermometer that has a manual setting or allows for variations in doneness. Models with magnetized displays that can be propped up (for easy reading on a countertop) or lie flat (for sticking to an appliance) are good. Among the many we tested, here are our favorites.
Top of the Line: CDN 2-in-1 Probe Thermometer 2P212
This model is perfect for the gadget-loving cook. Extra features abound: a pre-set list of meat types (options include duck and even ground veal), preferred “taste” settings from rare to well done (although this isn’t available for pork, chicken, turkey, and ground meats; the manual setting from 32°F to 212°F lets you bypass this), and a color-coded display that shows how your food is progressing, from rare to well done. An early alert sounds 10 minutes before the food reaches the target temperature. There’s another alert when it reaches its target and a third when the food is overcooked. There is also a programmable memory option. Two probes are included—one instant-read probe that folds out of the unit (great for grilling) and one remote probe for oven cooking. This model is unique in that it’s backlit for nighttime cooking and has a generous five-year warranty.
New and Improved: ThermoWorks Electronic Cooking Thermometer/Timer TW362B
ThermoWorks has updated its probe thermometer/timer. Responding to customer feedback, it has added an on/off switch to preserve battery life and modified the housing, which now props up the display for good visibility from a counter or lies flat for mounting on the side of the oven. With a temperature range of 32°F to 392°F, it’s up to most common kitchen tasks, and the timer is a bonus. This model does not have pre-programmed temperatures for different foods. It comes with a one-year warranty.
In Style: Taylor Gourmet Digital Cooking Thermometer with Probe and Timer
If you’re looking for a thermometer that gets the job done and looks good while doing it, then this is the model for you. The big stainless-steel display offers easy reading in dim light and from a distance, and its heft gives it a sturdy, reliable feel. The functioning is intuitive, the temperature range is a standard 32°F to 392°F, and it has a countdown timer with alarm as well as a one-year warranty.
Best Buy: Acu-Rite Digital Meat Thermometer 0993 STW
$14; found at Walmart stores
Not only does it come at a bargain price, but this model is intuitive enough to use straight out of the box. It measures degrees to a decimal point for added precision and has an impressive temperature range: –40°F to 572°F. There are no pre-programmed temperature settings. An alarm sounds when the thermometer hits its target temperature, both on the way up and on the way down—a useful feature for more-complex tasks like tempering chocolate or regulating frying oil temperatures before and after adding food to the oil. The auto-shutoff feature is a standout, too—more thermometers should have it to preserve battery life. The probe is dishwasher-safe, and the silicone wire stays cool to the touch. The only shortcomings on this model are its bulky wedge shape and a magnet too weak to securely attach to the oven door. It comes with a one-year warranty.
How we tested
We evaluated 14 remote probe thermometers for design, construction, functionality, and extra features. We conducted side-by-side tests to monitor the temperature of ice water and boiling water, large pieces of cooked meat and poultry, hot oil for frying, and baked bread.