Eating undercooked meat may pose health risks and overcooked takes the joy out of eating. And when you think of all the money and effort it takes to turn out perfectly grilled steaks, braised pork tenderloin, and a moist, tender turkey, it's surprising that instinct often trumps a reliable meat thermometer. Consumer Reports tested dozens of analog and digital models and found some digital instant-read and leave-in thermometers impressive enough to make our recommended list.
A meat thermometer takes only seconds to use, but can potentially save you and your family from a bout of food poisoning by ensuring that food is cooked enough to kill disease-causing salmonella, E. coli, and other bugs. Most meat thermometers we tested were accurate within 2 to 4°F of the reference thermometer and none was more than 5° off. Digital thermometers generally performed better, were more accurate, consistent, and convenient to use than analog. Analog thermometers were often more difficult to read, had the longest response times, and have few if any features. Go digital.
Choose between digital or analog, instant-read or leave-in.
Instant-read digital meat thermometers
Simple and straightforward to use, instructions weren't needed for most we tested since all you do is turn them on. They usually had the fastest response times, are also better for thin cuts of meat, and easier to use for checking the temperature at several spots. Use toward the end of estimated cooking time to check final temperature. Most of these thermometers have handy features such as auto shutoff and temperature hold, which lets you see the displayed temperature longer. A fork is a less common type of instant-read digital thermometer. A thermocouple or thermistor is embedded in one of the tines of the fork and the meat temperature is indicated on a digital readout or by indicator light on the handle. Like any instant-read thermometer the fork is not designed to remain in the meat during cooking.
Leave-in digital meat thermometers
The probe remains in the meat while cooking, monitoring the temperature without you're having to open the oven door, and can also be used as an instant read. A long cord connects the probe to a base unit with a digital screen. This unit can be placed on the counter and some can be attached to the oven door by a magnet. Leave-in digital thermometers pack the most features, including timers, audible alerts, and programmable temperatures. Some are wireless, allowing you to keep an eye on the temperature while you're more than 100 feet away, using a smartphone or the wireless device that's part of the unit.
Instant-read analog (dial meat thermometers)
Insert the probe into the meat, note the temperature, then remove probe. That's it. An instant-read analog is not designed to remain in the meat while it cooks so use it toward the end of cooking time to check final temperature. Analog thermometers were often more difficult to read, had the longest response times, and have few if any features. However, silicon grips withstand high temps and make it easier and safe to handle when hot.
Leave-in analog (dial meat thermometers)
This type is oven-safe and can remain in the meat while it cooks but can also be used as an instant-read.