A meat thermometer might sound unnecessary, but ask any home cook or chef and they’ll tell you it’s one of the most important kitchen tools. There’s nothing worse than slicing into a marvelously marbled cut of meat or hefty bird, or diving into a baked potato only to find that it’s partially cooked through.
A good meat thermometer provides assurance that you’re hitting the right temperatures every time you cook, no matter what you’re cooking. You can trust your gut and senses for a lot of things, but gauging temperatures in roasts and grills without cutting into them is no place for that sort of guesswork. Cooking to proper internal temperatures is also important for food safety (if you’re curious, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides this helpful chart).
As for the meat thermometers themselves, we chatted with six home cooks and chefs for their tried-and-true tools—just in time for you to temp your Thanksgiving feast.
1. ThermoWorks Thermapen MK4,
Nami Hirasawa Chen, home chef and recipe developer behind the Just One Cookbook food blog, depends on two kitchen essentials to avoid having to ever guesstimate: a scale and a thermometer. For the latter, she counts on her Thermapen MK4. “When it comes to cooking meat, the temperature assessment is lightning fast and precise, and it’s super easy to use,” Chen explains. “The probe and the motion-sensing design are brilliant.” It’s not cheap, but Chen says it is worth every penny. “I’ve also gifted it to many foodie friends.”
2. ThermoWorks Classic Super-Fast Thermapen, $59-$83
Zack Wangeman, founder and executive chef of Sobre Masa in New York City, said that the Thermapen, also from ThermoWorks, is the one to beat. “It’s extremely accurate, waterproof, and reads the temperature very quickly. I’ve had mine for over a decade, worth every penny.”
Brian Morris, executive chef of Hattie B’s Hot Chicken in Nashville, Tennessee, agrees. “It’s the last thermometer you’ll ever buy,” he said. Morris appreciates how the needle-thin probe tip keeps big noticeable holes out of meat, then easily flips back into the body when not in use for compact storage in even the most cramped of kitchen drawers. The Thermapen is beloved for its durability and instant response (it takes literally one second), tied with a level of accuracy that captures temperatures as high as 570 degrees Fahrenheit. It doesn’t hurt that the Thermapen comes in quirky colors like butter yellow and heirloom-tomato red, either.
3. Habor Digital Meat Thermometer, $8.79
The Habor Digital Meat Thermometer has all the makings of a stellar meat thermometer: quick readability (5-second response, to be exact), easy usability, and compact size. Romel Bruno, the chef behind nappyfried, loves to use the Habor to temp just about anything. “[But] I usually temp bigger meats like roasts or even a slab of homemade bacon—it’s perfect for all of that.”
“With the ThermoPro digital thermometer, I know I’m getting accurate readings every time,” says Mike Friedman, chef and partner of The Boundary Stone and Red Hen in Washington, DC. The ergonomic design and waterproof outer layer is durable and easy to clean. “It’s the only thermometer I’ve used in the kitchen for the last decade and the only one I see myself using in the future,” said Friedman.
5. Cooper-Atkins 94100 Kwik Switch, $106.99
Chef Jake Leiber could go on about how there’s nothing more annoying than a slow thermometer. As the chef-partner of the Bar Blondeau, Le Crocodile, and Chez Ma Tante restaurants in Brooklyn, NY, it’s safe to say he has no time to wait around for a simple temperature reading. “I’ve had a few thermometers over the years,” he said. “They all work, but the fastest and most reliable for its size is the KwikSwitch.” The stainless steel tip probe allows for rapid and accurate temperature measures, while the big LCD screen is convenient for easy readings.
Note that Cooper-Atkins is a big supplier of time- and temperature-capturing instruments for industry pros, so certain tools are hard to find online—though not impossible.
If you want something nice but more affordable, Leiber says the digital pocket thermometer from Cooper-Atkins is his favorite.
Do you use a meat thermometer when you’re cooking? Let us know in the comments below!
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