The Beginner’s Guide To Meat Thermometers

When it comes to smoking meat, us pitmasters cook to the internal temperature of the meat, not by time. Unlike traditional cooking methods where you cook by time, this allows for precision and ensures that the meat is cooked to perfection. A thermometer is the most important tool for any pitmaster. Without it, you’re basically cooking blind and relying on guesswork. Trust me, you don’t want to serve undercooked or overcooked meat to your guests. Always use a thermometer to ensure your meat is cooked to perfection.

Different Types of Thermometers

There are a few different types of thermometers that a pitmaster might use, each with their own specific purpose.

  1. An instant read thermometer, also known as a handheld thermometer, is a great tool to use at the end of the cook to quickly verify the internal temperature of various parts of the meat. These thermometers typically have a quick response time and can give you an accurate reading in just a few seconds.
  2. A leave-in external thermometer with two probes is a great tool for monitoring both the smoker and the meat at the same time. These thermometers typically have a probe that you insert into the meat and another probe that you place inside the smoker to monitor the temperature. This type of thermometer allows you to keep an eye on both the meat and the smoker without having to constantly open the smoker and let out the heat. It also allows you to monitor multiple meats at once.

Both of these thermometers are essential for any pitmaster who wants to produce perfectly cooked meat every time. The instant read thermometer allows you to check the temperature of the meat at the end of the cook, while the leave-in external thermometer allows you to monitor the temperature of both the smoker and the meat throughout the entire cook.

Don’t Trust Your Smoker’s Thermometer

The thermometers built into smokers are usually inaccurate and not reliable for a few reasons.

First, these thermometers are typically located at the top of the smoker where the temperature can be much cooler than the actual cooking surface. This means that the thermometer is not measuring the temperature of the meat, but instead the temperature of the air in the smoker, which can be much different.

Second, these thermometers are often not calibrated correctly which can lead to inaccurate readings. They also may not be able to withstand the high heat and smoke inside the smoker, which can cause them to break or malfunction.

Lastly, the thermometer may not be able to withstand the long cooking times of smoking, leading to a drift in calibration over time.

In conclusion, it’s important to note that the thermometers built into smokers are often not accurate or reliable, and it’s best to use a separate, high-quality thermometer to ensure that your meat is cooked to perfection. A leave-in thermometer with dual probes or an instant-read thermometer will give you the most accurate and reliable readings.

Wireless ‘Leave-In’ Thermometers

Wireless thermometers contain a receiver, a transmitter and between 1 and 6 meat probes. The probes are injected into the meat and left there for the entire cook. The probe contains sensors that track the internal temperature of the meat and signal the receiver. Some thermometers contain multiple probes which give you the ability to track 6 roasts at the same time!

The Best ‘Leave-In’ Wireless Thermometers for Smoking Meat

The market is full of many leave-in thermometers. There are simple wireless RF operated thermometers with two probes, right through to high-tech Wi-Fi and Bluetooth App controlled thermometers with 8 probes. You can spend $50 or $200, depending on what luxuries you want. On this list I will cover the best of both kinds and all budgets. The lineup we will look at includes: 

  1. ThermoPro TP20
  2. Smoke by ThermoWorks
  3. Inkbird IBT-4XS
  4. BlueDot 
  5. GrillEye PRO+
  6. FireBoard 2
  7. Signals
  8. Tappeque Wi-Fi Thermometer
  9. Inkbird IBBQ-4T 

1. ThermoPro TP20

The ThermoPro TP20 is a dual grill thermometer, and is still one of the most popular duel-probe thermometers in barbecue. I’ve used the TP20 for years, and despite now having more expensive high-tech thermometers, I still use the TP20 regularly. I love it’s simplicity and accuracy, which is why it’s my recommended thermometers to people starting out.

First off, it’s got dual probes that you can use to monitor two different types of meat at the same time. Or, if you’re using it in the oven, you can use one probe to check the temperature of your oven. The best part is that you don’t have to be tethered to your grill or smoker to keep an eye on things. The ThermoPro has a wireless receiver that can be up to 500 feet away, so you can mingle with your guests, do some chores, or even watch TV while your meat cooks to perfection.

Setting up the ThermoPro is easy. There’s no syncing required, and the large LCD display shows both the food and oven temperatures. And, if you’re cooking at night, the display is backlit so you can see it in low light conditions.

One of my favorite features of this thermometer is the kitchen timer. It has a count-up and countdown setting that’s perfect for long-time cooking. And, when the temperature reaches your preset temperature, the receiver will beep and flash to let you know it’s time to take your food off the heat.

Another great feature is the preset temperature settings for 9 different types of meats recommended by the USDA. These preset temps can also be reset to your desired tastes. And, the probes are made of food-grade stainless steel and have a step-down tip design that helps get the temperature more precisely and quickly. Plus, the probe wires can withstand temperatures up to 716 degrees Fahrenheit.

Overall, the ThermoPro TP20 is a great tool for any pitmaster. It’s easy to use, packed with features, and will help you cook your meats to perfection every time.

TP20 Price

Prices change constantly, but you can usually get the TP20 for around $50. The TP20 is still the number selling meat thermometer on Amazon (see the latest price here.

TP20 Components

Receiver Unit1
Transmitter Unit1
Stainless Steel Probes2
AAA Batteries4

TP20 Features

LCDDisplays all icons, temperature, and time
Dual probe temperature displayAllows for monitoring of two different temperatures at once
Programmable alertPreset temperatures for specific foods
Countdown/count up timer99-hour, 59-minute timer
Temperature range32 ̊F to 572 ̊F (0 ̊C to 300 ̊C)
Temperature tolerance+/-1.8 ̊F (+/-1.0 ̊C) for internal food reading
Battery compartmentHolds 2 AAA batteries
Belt clip/StandAllows for mobility, can also stand on tabletop

2. Thermoworks Smoke

Smoke is a step up from the TP20 but has the same reliability and user-friendly operation. Smoke also uses RF and has a 300 foot range. ThermoWorks Smoke is a high-quality duel probe thermometer but without the high-tech features of Wi-Fi thermometers.

ThermoWorks make quality products, so you know what you are getting even before it arrives. ThermoWorks understand that not everyone wants complicated thermometers, and most people just want simplicity and reliability. So with this in mind, ThermoWorks created Smoke and Smoke X.

ThermoWorks thermometers use Pro-Series probes, which are fast, accurate and sturdy. Smoke has a large back-lit display, is splash-proof and has a 2-year warranty. If you want to add Wi-Fi, you can buy a bridge called Gateway from ThermoWorks and you can use the Smoke the same as a Wi-Fi thermometer with an App and Cloud. 

As with all ThermoWorks products, buy directly from the website rather than other online stores. ThermoWorks put out a warning about fake products sold around the place. Find out more about Smoke on the ThermoWorks website.

3. Inkbird 1BT-4XS

There’s a lot of negativity surrounding Bluetooth thermometers because they have an unreliable signal. However, the Inkbird 1BT-4XS is another good seller on Amazon. The Inkbird uses Bluetooth to transmit signals, has four probes and 60-hours battery life. It uses Bluetooth to transmit signals and allows you to monitor temperatures on the Inkbird BBQ Go App. For more information on this thermometer, check it out here.

4. BlueDot

The BlueDot is a simple but high-quality leave-in thermometer by ThermoWorks. I’ve seen pitmaster Malcolm Read use a Dot, so it must be good. Some people just want a simple single probe thermometer with less wires and buttons.

The BlueDot is a simple, high- quality thermometer if you only need to track the temperature of one meat. It has only two buttons on the unit and has a 95 foot range when controlled by a smart device. 

The BlueDot is an upgrade from the original Dot thermometer. The BlueDot has access to the ThermoWorks App and cloud functions, which is an improvement from the original Dot.

ThermoWorks made the Dot thermometers for commercial kitchens, so they are very durable and built to the highest standards. The only issue with the BlueDot is it only has a single probe. This isn’t a problem if you don’t need to measure the ambient temperature of your smoker. Electric, gas and pellet smokers don’t require a probe to track ambient temperatures because those types of smokers are as simple to use as an oven and have accurate built-in thermometers. However, if you use a charcoal smoker, a BlueDot may not be appropriate because you’ll need a second probe. To check it out, head over to the ThermoWorks website.

Wi-Fi Thermometers

Wi-Fi thermometers are a growing trend and there are several on the market. Wi-Fi thermometers are expensive, but convenient and give the user an enormous amount of additional information. These high-tech thermometers are controlled using an App and store and graph your temperature data on a cloud. The major advantage of a Wi-Fi thermometer is the ability to monitor your smoker from anywhere. RF and Bluetooth thermometers have a short range of a few hundred feet, but Wi-Fi thermometers can transmit the session temperatures to anywhere in the world. This frees you up to leave the house without having to babysit your brisket all day. Wi-Fi Thermometers range from $100 to $300, depending on the amount of probes (channels) and other top-line features. 

5.GrillEye PRO+

The GrillEye Pro Plus is one of the most affordable Wi-Fi thermometers on the market. The GrillEye is a smart thermometer that has the ability to monitor multiple channels with eight probes. Some could consider this overkill for the average user. Only a competition meat smoker would need this many probes. The GrillEye comes with two aluminium space grade probes with the option of adding another six. The GrillEye has a 360° viewing angle and a large display. The thermometer works via the GrillEye App and Cloud. It’s comparable with IOS, Apple Watch and Android. The graphs and data are useful for tracking temperatures and saving session data. See the latest price here.

6. FireBoard 2

The original Fireboard bought a new level of technology to barbecue with data synchronization, and temperature monitoring via an app from your device. The FireBoard 2 has improved upon the original FireBoard with additional features. The FireBoard 2 comes with a designated probe to measure the ambient temperature and multiple meat probes. ForeBoard’s Probes are very strong and the thermometer is waterproof. The FireBoard is one of the more expensive thermometers but is of the highest quality. The Fireboard isn’t available on Amazon, but is available from the FireBoard website here.

7. Thermoworks Signals

Signals is ThermoWorks version of the Wi-Fi thermometer and has to be in the conversation for “Best Wi-Fi” thermometer. Signals comes with 4 Pro-Series commercial grade probes and a large back-lit display. The thermometer uses the ThermoWorks App and Cloud to control, track, graph and store temperature data. See it at ThermoWorks.

8. Tappeque Wi-Fi Thermometer

The original Bluetooth Tappeque thermometer received a lot of hate, but the has been well received. The Tappeque is a smart thermometer with four strong color-coded probes. It has a large touch screen and stylus, is water resistant, back light and can be plugged into the wall for unlimited power. Check out the Tappeque website here.

9. Inkbird IBBQ-4T

The Inkbird is another thermometer that has updated the old Bluetooth model to Wi-Fi to great success. The response to the Wi-Fi version of the Inkbird has been positive. The Inkbird is waterproof and is equipped with 4 probes and a large LCD display. See the latest price here.

Instant-Read Thermometers 

The market is full of instant-read thermometers, but they vary in speed. The fastest thermometer is the Thermapen MK4 which gives a reading in 2-3 seconds. They designed the Thermapen for commercial kitchens and is the thermometer of choice for chefs and cooks. However, the MK4 is also the most expensive instant-read on the market, coming in at around $100. There are some fantastic instant-read thermometers for a fraction of the price of the Thermapen and give 3-4 second readings. The MK4’s little brother, the ThermoPop, is only $30 and is only 1-second slower. If you do purchase a Thermapen, make sure its from the ThermoWorks website, otherwise you won’t get the warranty and customer service. There’s lots of fake Thermapens on the market, so be aware.

Speed and accuracy are the most important features in an instant-read thermometer. All the other features are just candy. Don’t compromise of speed and accuracy, but you can live without the luxury features. It’s all those extra things that you pay for; like the rotating screens, back lights, sleep/wake sensors, etc. Those features are great, but not essential. 

Thermocouple and Thermistor: The Two Types of Sensors

Thermometers use different sensors to measure temperature. The two types of sensors are thermistors and thermocouples. Both kinds of sensors have their pros and cons, but the top-rated thermometers such as the Thermapen have thermocouple sensors. Cheaper electronic devices have thermistors, which is why so many poor quality thermometers have thermistors. However, this doesn’t always mean it’s a poor thermometer. You can still find fast thermometers that use thermistors. The highly rated ThermoPop uses a thermistor sensor, which is why it’s slower than the Thermapen. Thermocouple sensors can respond to temperature changes much faster than thermistors.

Eating Safe

If the leave-in probe is inserted into the turkey breast and measuring 165°F, that doesn’t mean the bird is 165°F all over. The thigh could be 155°F, and unsafe to eat. Instant-probe thermometers allow you to do a safety check and probe multiple spots. 

Fast and Accurate

As mentioned above, we want to avoid opening the lid of our smoker as much as possible. The only time we open the lid is to spritz (mop) the meat, or wrap in foil/paper, refill the water pan or add more wood or charcoal. Often many of these tasks will be done at the same time, therefore you need to act fast. The moment you open the lid to your smoker, the stopwatch is ticking. Everything you do has to be done fast. So you need a fast instant-read thermometer, because every second counts. 

Avoid Cheap Thermometers

On the other end of the spectrum are the cheap thermometers that you can buy at the supermarket for $10. I started out with one of these and it took about 30-seconds to get a reading. When you are measuring multiple spots on a roast at 30-seconds each, the smoker lid is going to be off for well over a minute which is going to mess with your temperatures. 


What’s the point of a thermometer if it’s inaccurate? Cheap thermometers can be two or three degrees off what it is showing on the screen. Poultry carries a lot of bacteria, so it has to be cooked to a safe internal temperature. If a bird is measuring 165° on your cheap thermometer, but in reality it’s 160°, then you are putting the health of you and others at risk. 

The best thermometers on the market will also be accurate. When you look at the specs, pay attention to the accuracy. You can check the accuracy of a thermometer by testing it yourself with an ice water test and a boiling water test. Most thermometers can be re-calibrated if you follow the instructions. Other thermometers will have to be returned if they fail the test.

ThermoWorks vs. ThermoPro

When choosing products, sometimes it’s best to choose the company before you chose the product. In the same way people chose Apple the company even before they select their next device. ThermoWorks and ThermoPro are two companies that have an excellent reputation and a proven track record with thermometers. These companies have exceptional customer service and produce high-quality products. ThermoWorks, for example, use the same Pro-Series probes on all their thermometers. These probes are accurate, fast and sturdy. Other companies may produce thermometers that look the same, but will be of poor quality. To check this out for yourself, scroll down the review section of thermometers on the ThermoWorks website. This will give you a clear picture of this company.  

ThermoWorks top every list of every thermometer category. In the instant-read thermometers, the Thermapen and the ThermoPop appear in everyone’s top three lists. These thermometers won multiple awards from magazines, blogs and celebrity cooks. 

For wireless “leave-in” thermometers, ThermoWorks have also produced several winners. The “Smoke” is one of the best duel-probe thermometers for meat smoking for those who don’t want all the high-tech wizardry. The “Signals” thermometer is one of the best Wi-Fi thermometers on the market that uses an app and cloud to measure and track temperatures. 

ThermoWorks have a thermometer to satisfy all people and all budgets. ThermoWorks thermometers can be more expensive than others on the market, but like with all things, you get what you pay for. 

The Best Instant-Read Thermometers

I did some extensive research and have put together a list of the best instant-read thermometers for smoking meat. The list includes the best valued and best quality thermometers on the market. You should be able to find a thermometer on this list to suit your budget. These instant-reads are fast and accurate and suitable for low-and-slow cooking. Here are the best instant-read thermometers: 

1. ThermoPro TP19

2. ThermoPop

3. Dash

4. Lavatools Javelin Pro Duo

5. Thermapen MK4

6. Thermapen Classic

1. Thermapen Mk4 

The Thermapen is the fastest and most accurate thermometer on the market, and is the gold standard in instant-read thermometers. Cooks Illustrated named the MK4 Best Cooking Thermometer and America’s Test Kitchen have it as their number one thermometer. The MK4 is the evolution of the Classic Thermapen. The MK4 is more intuitive than the earlier model, but is the same in speed and accuracy.

They designed the Thermapen for commercial kitchens, so it is durable. The biggest downside to the MK4 is the price. Expect to pay about $100 for an MK4 Thermapen.

2. Classic Thermapen

They now refer the original Thermapen to as the Classic Thermapen. It’s the same thermometer, but without some high-end features. You still get the same speed and accuracy, the same probe and design, but for about $30 less. 

The Classic Thermapen has a fast read of 2-3 seconds, the same accuracy and the identical fold away switchblade-style probe. The major difference is the intuitive features of the MK4, such as automatic sleep/wake sensors, rotating display and auto-lighting. The MK4 is waterproof whereas the Classic Thermapen is splash proof only. So apart from these features, it’s the same thermometer. 

Beware of Fake Thermapens

There are fake Thermapens on Amazon eBay and in major department stores such as Walmart. To ensure you are getting the genuine product, only purchase a Thermapen from the ThermoWorks website. 

3. ThermoPop

The ThermoPop was named “Best Instant-Read Meat Thermometer of 2020” in the New York Times.  This no-frills but high-quality ThermoWorks thermometer is fast, accurate and very affordable. It has a rotating display, reads in 3-4 seconds, is splash proof, a back-light and large digits.

The ThermoPop is missing some advanced features found in more expensive thermometers, such as sleep/wake sensors and auto-wake up. It uses simple push buttons to operate. ThermoPop has a thermistor sensor, which is why it’s 1-second slower than the top-rated thermometers that use thermocouples. It is also very accurate. ThermoWorks claim the ThermoPop to be within ±2°F (1°C) up to 248°F (120°C).

4. Dash

Dash is a new instant-read thermometer from ThermoWorks and has a few additional features than the thermoPop. Dash has fast 3-4 second reads, waterproofing, 180° auto-rotating display, a back-light, and gives the option of two different probe sizes. It has a 4.5 inch probe or a 2.8 inch probe on the Dash-Mini. They designed the Dash for commercial use, so it has rubber gaskets to keep the water out. Dash is simple to use and operates with a single power button. The thermometer will also switch itself off after 10-minutes. 

5. ThermoPro TP19

ThermoPro have made some of the best duel-probe wireless thermometers on the market. The TP19 is ThermoPro’s best instant-read thermometer, and is the company’s version of the Thermapen, only much cheaper. When ThermoPro released the TP19, the company claimed the competition work on 90% profit margin. ThermoPro wanted to make an instant-read thermometer as good as the Thermapen but without the inflated price; and they have achieved this.

The TP19 is just as fast as a Thermapen (2-3 seconds) and uses the same thermocouple sensor. It has all the advanced features of an expensive thermometer such as the auto-rotating display, waterproofing, motion sensor sleep/wake mode, back-lit display and 360° viewing angle. 

The TP19 is a fraction of the price of the competition for a thermometer with the same features. It is a well built thermometer and has positive reviews. This would be my number one choice for anyone new to meat smoking. See the latest price here.

6. Javelin PRO

The Lavatools Javelin Pro is always in the top-5 lists for best instant-read thermometer and wins the silver or bronze medal. The Javelin Pro is fast (3-4 seconds) and is very accurate. It has a large auto-rotating display, has an easy-to-read display, and it switches itself off after 10-minutes of inactivity. Check it out here.

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Author and founder at Meat Smoking HQ

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