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Instant-Read Thermometer Buyer’s Guide

I am in the market for a good instant-read thermometer.  Through my research for this site, I’ve come to realize the importance of ensuring the internal temperature of meat reaches a specific temperature for it to be deemed safe to eat.  This is one area of cooking where ‘winging it’ is not encouraged.  But, for some reason I haven’t been able to make a decision on which one to buy. 


Perhaps it’s because while I’ve been out shopping I invariably come across many instant-read thermometers.  I could be in a grocery store, a department store, or a specialty kitchen store, but, they seem to be everywhere.  As I start to examine the latest offering, I always get this nagging feeling that I haven’t done enough to research to justify the purchase.  So, I’m not really sure if the model I’m about to buy is actually going to work properly.  And because of its deemed importance in my mind (see first paragraph), I take the “safe” route by not purchasing one at all.  (Logical, right?)  The only thing that suffers is the food I have to overcook in order to compensate for not having a thermometer.  (Not very logical.)


What I need to do is compile some info on these suckers, so that I can finally make an informed choice.

Must Haves

I started by listing all the attributes I needed from an instant-read thermometer:

  • Must be accurate (non-negotiable)
  • The probe has to have a slender, stainless steel tip (that can easily pierce any meat, fish or poultry, no matter how tough)
  • Water resistance
  • Reasonably quick (more on this later)


High-End Thermometer


The Thermapen, by ThermoWorks is the professional’s choice in instant-read thermometers.  As far as features go, the Thermapen seems to do everything right!


  • Readings in 3 SECONDS  (Wow!) 
  • Measures temperature in 0.1° increments
  • 4.5 inch probe, folds away and fits into your pocket
  • Calibrated reading, with accuracies better than ±0.7°F (!)
  • Water resistant
  • Auto shut-off after 10 minutes, which can be disabled
  • Antibacterial coating, no buttons that harbor germs
  • No cables to worry about
  • Instantly on when you unfold the probe, and off when you fold the probe
  • 1,500 hour battery life
  • Available in multiple colors
  • Made by hand in England
  • A favorite of the people at America’s Test Kitchen!


  • Price

It is comforting to know that health inspectors, restaurants, and quality managers all use the Thermapen for it’s speed, accuracy and easy of use!  Awesome product, but you do pay for it.


Affordable Thermometers

Because of the high price, some people are just not willing to go the Thermapen route.  If you are willing to sacrifice some speed and features that are nice to have (but not the “must haves”), then there are a couple of options for you…


Thermoworks RT301WA Super-Fast Pocket Thermometer

From the same makers as the Thermapen (above), this thermometer is designed to accommodate the home chef in their quest for accurate temperature readings in a home kitchen setting.

Thermoworks RT301WA Super-Fast Pocket ThermometerFeatures:

  • Takes 5-6 seconds to get a temperature reading
  • 4.9 inch, thin probe that will easily pierce meat
  • Readings are displayed on the end of the unit, large display
  • Adjustable calibration
  • Water resistant design
  • Auto shut-off after 10 minutes
  • Can switch between °F and °C
  • Min/Max settings
  • -40°F to 302°F range
  • NSF approved
  • Great customer service from ThermoWorks


  • While yes, it is made by ThermoWorks, it does not have the speed or accuracy of the Thermapen

Good for home use at a reasonable price.


CDN DTQ450X ProAccurate Quick-Read Thermometer

This thermometer is made by CDN, a company based out of Portland, OR, that focuses solely on manufacturing precision timers and thermometers.  This quick-read thermometer built for home use has the following features.

CDN DTQ450X ProAccurate Quick-Read ThermometerFeatures:

  • Temperature readings in 6-8 seconds
  • 5 inch probe
  • -40 to +450°F temperature range
  • The digital readout on the display is large and very easy to read
  • Automatic shut-off after 10 minutes
  • Waterproof design
  • Can be recalibrated
  • NSF approved
  • Storage sheath and clip (There is a handy temperature guide chart printed on the storage sheath!)


  • Large readout unfortunately also makes for a top-heavy design

A bit more cumbersome to use, but, the display is very easy to read.  Good deal.


My Choice

After reviewing all the options I chose the RT301WA for its quickness and good price.  (Although if someone would like to get me the Thermapen as a gift, who am I to say no!  Hint, hint  🙂 )  Now I’m happy not to have to overcook my food just to be on the safe side.  And I also know I won’t be playing the “food safety roulette” game by depending on a thermometer that is sub-standard.  It’s great to finally have the piece of mind that when I do cook, my friends and family are protected.


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