A fast and accurate instant-read thermometer is a pitmasters most essential tool. However, the market is full of cheap, inaccurate instant-reads that take forever to give a reading. Many of these inexpensive thermometers can be several degrees off and take nearly a minute to give a reading, which defeats the purpose. I’ve put together a list of the best instant-read thermometers on the market. The thermometers on this list are the most highly-rated instant-reads on the market.
So what are the best instant-read thermometers for smoking meat? The includes the following lineup:
- Thermapen MK4
- ThermoPro TP19
- Lavatools Javelin Pro Duo
- Thermapen Classic
ThermoWorks Instant-Read Thermometers
ThermoWorks is to thermometers what Apple is to computers and phones. It’s difficult to put an instant-read thermometer list together without the choices being dominated by ThermoWorks thermometers. ThermoWorks have led the competition for a long time and seem to be light-years ahead of the rest in terms of quality and performance. However, ThermoWorks thermometers can be too expensive for some people, so we had a good look at the competition and found some great thermometers for our list that are a fraction of the cost of a ThermoWorks Thermapen.
1. Thermapen MK4
High-tech, intuitive, fast and accurate, the Thermapen Mk 4 is the Michael Jordan of instant-read cooking thermometers. When Cooks Illustrated magazine reviewed instant-read thermometers, the magazine crowned the MK4 as the Best Cooking Thermometer, and was their only “Highly Recommended Choice”.
The MK4 is the most recommended thermometer on meat smoking forums and has glowing customer reviews on the ThermoWorks website. The only reason some people don’t rate the MK4 number one on their lists is because of the $100 price tag. As far as thermometers go, the Mk4 is expensive.
Thermapen MK4 Specifications
- Quick-reads 2-3 seconds
- Highly accurate to ±0.7°F (±0.4°C)
- Thermocouple sensor probe
- Auto-rotating display
- Left and Right Handed
- Sleep & Wake mode
- Calibration certificate
- 3,000 hour battery life (AAA Battery)
- °C or °F
MK4 Motion Sensors
The MK4 is more intuitive than previous models. The Thermapen uses motion sensors, so there are no buttons. It knows when it’s dark and turns on the back light for you. If you set it down, it goes into sleep mode when inactive to save battery power. Close the probe when you’re done cooking, and the unit switches off.
The Thermapen is designed with a sensor very close to the tip of the probe, making it easy to detect the temperature of thin meat. The advanced technology of the MK4 makes it a powerful professional temperature tool.
The MK4 is Chefs Thermometer of Choice
The MK4 is the thermometer of choice for chefs and cooks in commercial kitchens. Some thermometers on our list are well suited for home use, but wouldn’t hold up in a commercial setting where they are used day in, day out.
Thermapen vs the Competition
In recent years, the Thermapen has found itself with some new competition. There are several instant-read thermometers on the market that can match the MK4 in most features, but for a fraction of the cost.
2. Classic Thermapen
Before there was the ThermoWorks MK4, there was the Classic Thermapen. The Original Thermapen was designed for cooks and chefs in commercial kitchens. The Thermapen’s popularity spread among celebrity chefs, cooking magazines, bloggers and barbecue gurus. The Thermapen also became the thermometer of choice for pitmasters.
The Classic Thermapen has now evolved into the MK4, which built upon the features of the Classic model but adding several high-tech but non-essential features. The Classic Thermapen is about $20 cheaper than the MK4, so you just need to ask yourself if the extra features of the MK4 are worth the extra money.
Classic Thermapen Features
- Fast read (2-3 second).
- High accuracy to ±0.7°F (±0.4°C)
- Calibration certificate
- Water-resistant design
- °F to °C
- Auto on/off—no buttons
- 1,500 hour battery life
MK4 vs Classic Thermapen
The two thermometers have the same 2-3 second fast read, the same accuracy, the same foldaway probe and both models display temperatures in °C or °F.
The five differences include:
- The MK4 will automatically wake up when you pick it up (as long as the probe is open). If the classic Thermapen goes to sleep, you need to open and close the probe for it to wake up again.
- The Classic Thermapen doesn’t have a rotating display.
- The Classic Thermapen doesn’t have a back light. The MK4 automatically lights up in the dark.
- The two thermometers use different batteries. The MK4 uses AAA batteries and the Classic Thermapen uses the coin cell batteries.
- The Classic Thermapen is splash proof whereas the MK4 is waterproof.
Be aware of fake Thermapens being sold online, including Amazon and eBay. Thermoworks have also warned fake versions of their thermometers are also being sold at Target and Walmart. To ensure you are buying the genuine product, purchase a Thermapen directly from the ThermoWorks website.
3. ThermoPro TP19
ThermoPro are a well-known company and has made some popular wireless thermometers such as the legendary TP20. In 2019, ThermoPro announced the release of an instant-read thermometer, the ThermoPro TP19. The company claimed their new instant-read thermometer has more features of the Thermapen for a fraction of the price. See the latest price here.
The ThermoPro TP19 can read temperatures in 2-3 seconds, matching it with any of the top-rated instant-reads. The TP19 has a fast and precise sensor called a thermocouple; a type of sensor found in most expensive thermometers such as the Thermapen. A thermocouple sensor is very sensitive to temperature changes, and can display readings quickly.
When ThermoPro released the TP19, the company said they wanted to develop a high-end thermometer but without the inflated $80 to $100 price. ThermoPro looked into the advanced features of the top-rated thermometers and claimed other companies work on 90% profit margin. This led ThermoPro to develop a thermometer with the same advanced features, and more, but for 1/4 of the price. So by removing the 90% profit margin, anyone can buy a high-end instant read with all the advanced features.
- Auto Rotating Display for 360° viewing
- Advanced Motion Sensing Sleep/Wake Mode
- Thermocouple Sensor
- Fast Read (2-3 seconds)
- 2 Inch back-lit display
- ON/OFF Retracting Probe
- Sleeps after 90 seconds when set down.
- Instantly wakes up when picked up.
- Temperature on display has a lock function.
- Built-in magnet to hang on the fridge.
- Hanging hole.
- Affordable ($25)
- A recommended meat temperature chart
The viewing angle is an important feature in a thermometer. Most food thermometers have a 45 to 90 degree viewing angle, but the ThermoPro TP19 gives 180 degrees so you can see the screen from all angles.
Night Mode on TP19
Smoking meat will often carry on into the night, so having a thermometer that can adapt between night and day makes life easier. Back-lit screens are present in most modern electronic devices, but aren’t always found in food thermometers. The ThermoPro TP19 has a self-illuminate back-lit display, which makes it easy when operating outside in the dark.
The TP19 doesn’t feel like a cheap thermometer, it’s well built and feels like one of the expensive thermometers. ThermoPro is an excellent company with a positive reputation, so it’s not surprising that they have produced a thermometer that’s been so well received.
Left and Right Handed
The ThermoPro TP19 is suitable for left-handed users. The handle and the placement of buttons are design to work both ways.
Is the TP19 Easy to Use?
This thermometer is very simple to use. All you have to do is insert one AA battery, flick open the probe, and it switches on.
I like to read Reddit threads and Amazon review pages to get a feel for what customers are saying about a product. Overall, the comments about the TP19 are positive. As always, there are some negative reviews, but in all those cases, the customers purchased a faulty product and ThermoPro promptly replaced the thermometer.
Is the TP19 Waterproof?
I scrolled through the negative reviews on Amazon related to the TP19, and there were a few complaints claiming the thermometer wasn’t waterproof. One customer loved the thermometer until it got wet and it started giving false readings. According to the unhappy customers, ThermoPro promptly replaced the thermometer and said it was defective.
I’m just not sure if I would try my luck fully submersing my thermometer in water, even though it is supposed to be waterproof. At a bare minimum, I want a thermometer to be splash proof and be able to survive being accidentally left out in the rain.
TP19 Negative Reviews – Inaccurate?
Most people don’t do this, but when you buy a thermometer, you can do an ice bath test to ensure that it’s accurate. Some customers tested the TP19 and found the thermometer was a few degrees out. In most of these cases, the customers were able to recalibrate the thermometer without any problems. If the customers were unable to recalibrate, ThermoPro replaced the defective thermometer.
Negative Review – Slow Read
Overwhelmingly, most of the Amazon reviews boast of 2-3 second readings. However, some reviews complained the TP19 took 10-12 seconds to give an internal temperature read. In those few cases, the customers had defective thermometers are were able to have them replaced.
4. Javelin PRO
We know the Thermapen is the gold standard in instant-read thermometers, but what thermometer wins the silver? In the ‘best instant-read thermometer’ conversations, the Javelin PRO often wins second place, and its half the price of the Thermapen. See the latest price here.
Javelin Pro vs Thermapen
The Javelin Pro reads 1-2-seconds slower than the Thermapen, but matches it for accuracy. Like the top-rated thermometers, The Javelin display is large and easy to read, although some customers complain that the screen rotates in an unwanted direction.
Javelin Pro Duo Specs
- Automatically turns off after 10-minutes.
- Waive thermometer to wake up.
- Shake to turn on back-light.
- Rotating display.
- Large 4.4 inch probe.
- 4000 hours of battery life
- 3-year warranty
- Fast and accurate
- Available in 5 colors.
- Available on Amazon.
- Affordable $50 price range.
Javelin Pro Cons
The Javelin Pro is often seen as a cheap alternative to the Thermapen, and performs almost as well in every category. Many people don’t believe the Thermapen MK4 is worth the extra money when you compare it to the Javelin Pro. If you can afford the best, buy a Thermapen. If you only want to spend half the money, the Javelin Pro is a solid choice.
Would a Chef Use Javelin Pro?
People debate whether the Thermapen is worth the money, but it depends how often it’s going to be used. If you’re a cook or a chef in a commercial kitchen, the Thermapen is worth every cent. On the other hand, if you’re just a weekend meat smoker, you don’t need a $100 thermometer. The Javelin is a suitable thermometer for half the price.
Lavatools Poor Customer Service?
After scrolling through the comments section of Amazon, a familiar pattern began to emerge. The unhappy customers were disappointed in the level of customer service they received from Lavatools. In some cases, the customers didn’t even hear back about problems with their thermometer. Contrast this with the exceptional customer service from ThermoWorks and ThermoPro, it makes me wonder if you should choose a company before choosing a thermometer. If you are trying to decide between two evenly matched thermometers, I would lean towards a thermometer from a company with a reputation for quality customer service.
The New York Times crowned the ThermoPop “Best Instant-Read Meat Thermometer 2020”. The ThermoPop ticks most of the boxes; it’s fast, accurate, affordable and produced by ThermoWorks, the most trusted name in food thermometers.
- 2-3 second readings
- High accuracy to ±0.7°F (±0.4°C)
- Motion-sensing sleep & wake mode
- 3,000 hour battery life (AAA Battery)
- Display temps in °C or °F
- Automatic rotating display
- Foldaway thermocouple probe
- Waterproof to IP67
- Two-year guarantee.
- Available in 10 different colors
- Intelligent Blacklight (activates automatically)
No Frills Thermometer
The ThermoPop is a no-frills thermometer. It’s missing the advanced sensors of a Thermapen, such as the automatic sleep/wake mode. The ThermoPop uses simple push buttons to turn the thermometer on and off.
The ThermoPop uses a thermistor sensor, which isn’t as fast or as accurate as thermocouple sensors. Most of the top-rated thermometers such as the Thermapen use thermocouple sensors.
Speed is one of the most important features in an instant-read thermometer. The ThermoPop is super-fast and can give a temperature reading in 3-4 seconds. The ThermoPop is slightly slower that the Thermapen (the fastest thermometer in the world), but still quick for what you need.
If a thermometer is inaccurate, then what’s the point? A degree or two isn’t a big deal, but some cheap thermometers are way off temperature which could potentially put and you and your family at risk.
As with all ThermoWorks thermometers, the ThermoPop is very accurate. ThermoWorks guarantee the ThermoPop to be within ±2°F (1°C) up to 248°F (120°C).
The ThermoPop is already calibrated and should maintain its accuracy for its lifespan. However, if you think the calibration is off, an ice bath test (the standard laboratory testing method) is simple to perform at home using crushed ice in a jug of water.
The ThermoPop is small, easy to handle, and you can read the numbers from all angles. It also has large digits, and the display illuminates in the dark.
ThermoPop Splash Proof
The ThermoPop is well sealed, which makes it splash-proof.
Is The ThermoPop Easy to Use?
If you’re a technophobe, then the ThermoPop won’t intimidate you at all. The ThermoPop is one of the most straightforward instant read thermometers on the market and its simple operation reduces errors.
ThermoWorks Customer Service
When you are trying to decide between similar products, sometimes it’s wiser to choose the product from a company with a reputation for excellent customer service.
If you spend reading reviews and comments on the ThermoWorks website, you will notice they have exceptional customer service. After reading through the comments section, it appears as though ThermoWorks immediately sent new products to unhappy customers and promptly replies to emails. I’ve also spent a lot of time on Smoking Meat Forums and the pitmasters have only good things to say about ThermoWorks products and customer service.
Not everyone can fork out over a hundred dollars for a Thermapen. The price of the ThermoPop is amazing for the quality and speed and accuracy of the thermometer. The price of the Thermapen can be hard to justify when compared to the ThermoPop, which performs nearly as well in most categories. It all comes down to what you want and need in a meat thermometer. If you don’t need all the added features, then the ThermoPop is perfect.
One of the cool features of the ThermoPop is the array of colors. Most thermometers come in one or a few different colors. The ThermoPop is available in 10 colors.
One thing that really sets the Thermapen apart is the solid build and size of the handle. When you grip the Thermapen, it’s like holding a knife handle. The Thermopop is so small, it can only be handled with two fingers.
This may not seem like a big deal, but these things make a difference in the chaos of meat smoking. Anyone who smokes meat knows that once we open the lid of the smoker, we have to move as quickly as possible or we will mess up the temperature. Meat mopping and temperature probing has to be done as fast as so the lid can go back on. It’s in these moments where handling the Thermapen vs the Thermopop makes a big difference.
Dash and dash mini are the latest pocket thermometers released by ThermoWorks. At first glance these instant-reads look similar to the ThermoPop, however when you look at the specs, the Dash is a step up. The Dash has taken some intuitive features of the Thermopen. The Dash is more accurate than the ThermoPop and has a 180° auto-rotating display.
- 3-4 second read time.
- Sleep mode
- Operating range 32 to 122°F
- 9 different colors
- 2 year warranty
- 3000 hours of battery life
- Magnetic back
The Dash Mini has the same features as the Dash, but with a smaller probe.
How to Choose an Instant-Read Thermometer
Thermometer Thermocouples vs Thermistor
Different thermometers have different sensors. They are usually either a thermocouple or a thermistor sensor. Thermocouples can respond quicker to temperature changes, because the sensor is made of two wires welded together at the tip of the thermometer probe.
Speed and accuracy can be found in thermocouples and thermistors, but for food thermometers, most of the top-rated thermometers have thermocouple sensors. Thermistors can be made with low-cost electronics are usually found on cheap thermometers.
Ultra Fast Meat Thermometer
Time is precious when you open the lid to your smoker. You need to get in, spritz, probe, then get the lid back on as fast as possible. If you lose too much heat, it may take a while to get the smoker back up into a suitable temperature range. So when you need to test the internal temperature of your meat, you need a thermometer that will give you a read in within a few seconds.
The best thermometers give a temperature within 2-3 seconds. The cheaper thermometers will be 30-60 seconds or longer. Let’s say you had to probe a turkey in two locations; under the thigh and the breast. If you used a cheap thermometer that takes 30-seconds to give you a read, then the lid of your smoker will be off for well over a minute. In the same scenario with a better quality thermometer, each read will only take 3-seconds, therefore the lid of your smoker will be back on within 10-15 seconds. So speed is essential when choosing an instant-read thermometer and will influence temperature fluctuations.
Long Probe Thermometer
A good thermometer should have a probe 4 inches or longer to avoid burning your hand and so it can reach the center of a big brisket. The short 3 inch probes will struggle to reach the middle of a sizeable piece of meat and your hand will be closer to the hot flesh.
Instant Read Thermometer Accuracy
America’s Test Kitchen ran a series of tests on several thermometers and found some cheaper products were very inaccurate. This is a scary thought because we put all of our trust in thermometers to ensure our food is safe to eat. Fish and poultry are full of harmful bacteria and must be cooked to a safe internal temperature.
A thermometer should give you an accurate read, not a rough estimate. America’s Test Kitchen found some thermometers were off by 2 or 3 degrees, whereas the top-rated thermometers were within about 1 degree when tested. The USDA recommends a safe internal temperature of 165°F for poultry. If you’re using a cheap $15 thermometer, it might give your chicken a 165°F, but in reality it could be more like 160°F.
Over time, thermometers can become less accurate and will need to be recalibrated. Even the top-rated, expensive thermometers should be double-checked every so often.
Ice Bath Test for Thermometer
It’s simple to test the accuracy of a new thermometer or perform a recalibration on an older thermometer. An ice bath is the best way to test a thermometers accuracy.
- Your thermometer should measure 32.0°F. (0°C) in the ice bath. To make an ice bath, follow these steps:
- Fill a large mug or jug with crushed ice.
- Add water until the jug is full.
- Let the ice water sit for a few minutes.
- Insert the thermometer probe and stir it around in the iced water without allowing the probe to rest against any part of the vessel or ice cubes.
- The thermometer should read 32°F (0°C).
Most thermometers have a dial. Adjust the dial following the guidelines from the manufacturer.
Meat Thermometer Grip
Smoking meat can have some chaotic moments where you are doing two or three things in a hurry. In my experience, I want a thermometer that has a decent-sized handle, easy to grip, and keep my hand at a distance from the heat. I don’t want a slippery or awkward handle, and I want to read the screen while I am gripping the thermometer.
The top-rated thermometers take these design features into consideration, and the cheaper thermometers are usually lacking in these areas.
The top-rated thermometers have the extra features that other thermometers don’t have, such as rotating display, automatic sleep and wake function and back lights on the display for operating in the dark. The MK4 has sensors that will automatically adjust the back light when there is dim light.
Meat Thermometers – Your Most Important Tool
My Favorite Meat Smoking Tools
Thanks for checking out this article. I hope you learned a few things. Here are some of my favorite tools I use when smoking brisket that may be useful to you. These are affiliate links, so if you decide to purchase any of these products, I’ll earn a commission. But in all honesty, these are the tools I recommend to my family and friends who are just starting out.
Meat Thermometer: There are dozens of fancy thermometers on the market, but I still use my trusty TP20. For around $50, I have a high-quality meat thermometer with two probes, and can track the temperature of my smoker with one probe, and my meat with the other probe. The ThermoPro TP20 is an Amazon Best Seller because it’s the easiest thermometer to operate, is durable, highly accurate, and comes with pre-programmed meat settings.
Instant Read Thermometer: Arguably, the second most important tool you need is a fast and accurate instant-read thermometer. These tools play an important role in the latter stages of the cook when the meat needs regular checking in multiple areas. I use the ThermoPro TP19 because it can do everything a ThermaPen can do, but for a fraction of the cost. You can check out the TP19 on Amazon here.
Wireless Thermometer: The latest thermometers on the market have no wires and can be controlled by wi-fi via your phone. Airprobe 3 is the best of this technology.
Butcher Paper: Wrapping brisket in butcher paper has become a huge trend in barbeque thanks to Aaron Franklin. Wrapping your brisket in paper will give you a nice brisket bark. However, you can’t just use any old paper, it has to be unwaxed, food grade paper. You can find it on Amazon here.
Advanced Thermometer and Automatic Temperature Controller: Once you’re ready to take things seriously, the FireBoard 2 Drive is a six-channel Bluetooth/Wi-Fi thermometer that can monitor up to 6 pieces of meat, control and graph your cook sessions on your smartphone, and attaches to an an automatic blower that will convert your charcoal smoker to a set-and-forget. This is one of the most advanced meat thermometers on the market. You can check it out on the FireBoard website here.