The Best Thermometers for Deep Frying, Candy-Making, and Roasting Meats

Our top pick is the ThermoWorks ChefAlarm.

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A chicken roasting inside an oven with a probe thermometer panel on the outside of the oven

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Straight to the Point

Our top pick is the ThermoWorks ChefAlarm. It's precise, easy to use, and versatile and its probe comes with a pot clip. Our budget-friendly pick is the Polder Digital In-Oven Meat Thermometer.

It happens to everyone: You follow a recipe to the letter, and yet the dish still doesn’t turn out Instagram worthy. Well, the first step to recovery is acceptance; you have to come to terms with the fact that your kitchen is a den of lies. It's a place where measuring cups aren’t always what they say they are, the scale is suspect (unless you use one of the best), and your oven is so imprecise it should come with a fast-talking lawyer absolving the appliance of any responsibility for the nasty case of salmonella caused by an undercooked chicken.

Temperature control during cooking can be a challenge, whether you’re roasting a chicken, making caramel apples, or frying just about anything. But you can remove a lot of the guesswork with a precise thermometer. We’ve written endlessly on Serious Eats about the value of a good instant-read thermometer—one that you stick into a roast or dip into a pot of oil to get a quick reading on the temperature—but we’ve spent a lot less time on the value of a leave-in probe thermometer. And, to be honest, they’re really useful.

Unlike an instant-read thermometer, the leave-in style has a pointy probe that remains in the food while it’s cooking. The probe is tethered to a heat-resistant cable that runs to a base unit with a temperature display and other functions. Whether you’re cooking in the oven, on the stovetop, out on the grill, or in a smoker, a leave-in thermometer gives you a live feed of exactly how hot your food is at any given moment. And being able to monitor the temperature of what you're cooking can sometimes mean the difference between a perfectly cooked prime rib and one that’s gone gray and dry in the center or candy that’s still in the softball stage and not sliding into hard-crack.

We rounded up 15 models, ranging from around $20 to $190, and put them through accuracy, precision, and ease-of-use tests to find the ones that work best.

The Winners, at a Glance

The Best Overall Leave-In Probe Thermometer: ThermoWorks ChefAlarm

ThermoWorks ChefAlarm

The ChefAlarm is one of the most precise units we tested and it's also easy to use. The probe, which comes with a pot clip, has about six inches of usable length to reach into the thickest roasts, and springs on both ends of the 47-inch-long cable protect it from wear at common failure points. The base, which can be calibrated by the user, has a large, intuitive display that pivots for easy reading, as well as clearly marked buttons for setting temperature alerts, the timer, and alarm volume.

The Best Budget Leave-In Probe Thermometer: Polder Digital In-Oven Meat Thermometer

Polder Classic Combination Digital Leave-In Probe Programmable Meat Thermometer and Timer

Also available at Home Depot, Walmart, and Macy's.

Precise enough for most cooking tasks, the Polder is intuitive to use and has a kink-resistant, round cable that was the most effortless to work with. The base’s display tilts, making it easy to read on the countertop or when stuck to the oven or refrigerator with magnets. Its six-inch-long probe is tied for the longest we tested, and it comes with one of the best pot clips we used.

The Best Leave-In Dual-Probe Thermometer Upgrade: ThermoWorks Smoke

The precise two-probe Smoke is designed for grillers and barbecuers, but it’s just as handy indoors. Use the cooking probe to gauge the temperature inside a roast, and the ambient probe to track the oven, smoker, or grill’s temperature. The Smoke also comes with a wireless radio receiver you can carry up to 300 feet away, allowing you to keep an eye on temperatures even when you’re not tending the fire. It, too, can be calibrated at home.

The Best Leave-In Probe Thermometer for Serious Barbecuing: FireBoard

If you’re seriously into barbecuing pork butts, briskets, and ribs, the FireBoard is the brainiest thermometer we tested, aimed at making your cooks more predictable. With ports for up to six probes, each with nearly 72-inch-long cables, the precise FireBoard keeps an eye on the meat and ambient temperatures, then displays them on the base’s readout—and your smartphone over Bluetooth or a wireless network. The app allows you to name, chart, and store your smoking sessions. The base also has a port to accept a fan accessory that controls the temperature of most smokers or charcoal grills by adjusting airflow. The FireBoard can be calibrated, but that requires sending the unit back to the manufacturer and paying $50.

three different thermometers checking the temperature of boiling water in a Dutch oven set on an induction burner
First things first: Checking to see how accurate the thermometers are in a pot of boiling water.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

The Tests

  • Accuracy Test: To test accuracy we placed the probes in a quart-size ice bath, a quart of room-temperature water, a pot of water held at 130°F (54°C) by an immersion circulator, and a pot of boiling water. For each test, we used a lab-calibrated ThermoWorks ThermaQ Blue thermocouple tracker as the control, and we charted the temperatures each thermometer registered.
  • Precision Test: We took each prove out of room temperature water, brought them to slightly warmer than room temp, before dunking them back into the water. We noted the readout 10 times over three minutes. We also charted the temperatures every 10 minutes for an hour during the immersion circulator tests to see if number fluctuated.
  • Ice Water Test: We filled a container with crushed ice and cold water, then let it all settle for a couple of minutes. We used the ThermoWorks ThermaQ Blue as a control. Then we dunked each of the thermometer probes in, swirling them around to avoid ice, and charted three consecutive readings, warming the probe tips to about room temperature between each test.
  • Room Temperature Water Test: We filled a container with tap water and let it come to room temperature. With a thermocouple acting as a control, we tested each probe 10 consecutive times over three minutes, warming the tip of the probe with our fingers between each measurement and charting the readings.
  • Immersion Circulator and Boiling Water Tests: We the thermometers up with the Joule immersion circulator (read our review of sous vide machines here). We filled a pot with water, set the Joule in, and held the probes and a thermocouple control in it for one hour, recording the readings every 10 minutes. Our target temperature: 130°F (54°C), which is about medium-rare for steaks.
  • Probe Versus Base Test: We mixed and matched, pairing probes that were less accurate with their original base unit with some of the most accurate base units, and vice versa, to see if it made a difference.
  • Speed Test: To see how quickly the thermometers reach their final temperature, we dunked room temperature probes into ice water and recorded how long it took for the base’s display, or our smartphone, to adjust.
  • Roasting Meat Test: Once we knew the thermometers were accurate, we wanted to see how they handled a real cooking scenario. We pierced a large pork loin with probes, then roasted it in a 450°F (232°C) oven. We set the thermometer alarms to go off when the probes measured 135°F (51°C).

What We Learned

Most models were accurate

two thermometers taking the temperature of an ice bath

Throughout our accuracy tests, we learned that most of the probes were pretty accurate. During our ice test, the ChefAlarm, Smoke, and FireBoard, which all have a resolution of 0.1°F were accurate within 1 to 2°F of the control’s 32°F (0°C) temperature and were precise, with readings varying no more than .6°F. (All three of these models can measure below 0°F (-17°C), which is useful if you want to check your freezer.) The Polder doesn’t go lower than 32°F (0°C), and our tests bore that out, with the display shifting to "LO" once it dropped below 34°F (1°C). We disqualified two models that would not read temperatures below 50°F (10°C), which makes working with refrigerator temps difficult.
During our room temperature water test, the results from our winning, higher-priced thermometers were comparable with the ice water test, but we noticed the Weber thermometer had trouble settling on a temperature as the display bounced up and down by a degree or more.

Mixing Probes and Bases Didn't Improve Results

We discovered that quality didn't lie in just the base unit or the probes, but the specific combination of each brand’s two parts. Only when correctly paired, did the probes and base units take the most accurate readings. In just one example, we plugged the probe from the precise ChefAlarm into the bases of three thermometers that were consistently off by a degree or two, and took the temperature of water warmed by an immersion circulator. The ChefAlarm’s probe made the units even more inaccurate—in one case the readout was 32°F off the mark. When buying replacement probes, stick with the brand that manufactures the base unit.

Speed Couldn't Compete With Instant-Read Thermometers

While some of the leave-in models we tested read down to freezing quickly, none are faster than an instant-read thermometer, which gave us the temperature in the same test in about two seconds (we tested one for comparison). The ChefAlarm was the fastest, reaching the actual temperature in about five seconds. The Smoke and Polder were just a second or two behind. The FireBoard, which was quick to register an initial temperature change in about four seconds, needed 40 seconds to finally get down to the actual temperature—that’s fine for low-and-slow barbecuing where temperatures change very gradually, but could be a problem in a pot of caramel, where things are happening a lot more quickly (to be clear, the FireBoard was not designed for things like caramel making, which is why it’s our pick exclusively for grilling and smoking).

The rest of the field ranged from 11 seconds to well over a minute. Nearly all of the models were fast to register an initial change in temperature—most displays started moving in about three seconds—but they are not quite fast enough to stand in for a true instant-read thermometer.

Longer Probes and A Magnetic Display Made Temping Meat Easier

A pork loin roasting in the oven with a probe thermometer attached to it

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

While all of the probes were long enough to take a reading from the thick roast, we appreciated the longer probes, which give you more depth to plumb. The useable length of the probes in our test ranged from 6 to about 3 1/2 inches, and our winners all have probes that measure five inches or longer, which provides the best access into large cuts of meat and deep pots.

If you have a wall oven (or refrigerator near the range), a magnetic display is helpful to keep the readout at eye level. Most of the LCD displays on these thermometers are on the dim side to preserve battery life, though some brighten for a few seconds when you start pressing buttons or hit the backlight option.

We Liked Alarms That Could Be Silenced at the Touch of a Button

three remote thermometers on a stainless steel table

We liked the ChefAlarm’s varying alarm volume, but what we appreciated more is any thermometer that will instantly silence the incessant beeping with the push of any button. We’ve all anxiously mashed buttons to quell a nagging alarm, and thankfully most of the models do that by pressing any button.

Smart Features Could Be Finicky

Meater plus smart wireless meat thermometer app

The Spruce Eats / Donna Currie

Some of the smart thermometers are easier to work with than others. Models with a companion app pair the base to your smartphone through Bluetooth or WiFi. There are some models that aren’t “smart,” but do come with a secondary handheld unit that displays temperatures beamed to it via radio waves. We found pros and cons to each style. Pairing with Bluetooth is relatively easy (the Carbon Lite was the fussiest we tested) and it utilizes your smartphone, which you’re probably going to have on you anyway. But the range is short (33 to 300 feet, line of sight), and can too easily drop at far shorter distances when walls and other obstructions are solid (we’ve lost a Bluetooth connection as soon as we left the kitchen).

WiFi can be easy to setup, tends to have a more robust connection, and you can access information about the temperatures anywhere with your phone. For most home cooks, this feature is overkill, but if you’re smoking a brisket for 12 hours and want to check the temperatures while you’re across town at work, it comes in handy. Models that use a radio frequency pair with a receiver with a push of a button (the range is about the same as Bluetooth, but less affected by physical obstructions), but you do have to carry around the clunky receiver.

If you plan to be around the house while using the thermometer, but not necessarily in the kitchen, we had a good experience with the ranges on the ThermoPro TP20 and Smoke, which worked via radio waves across our office through a few walls.

The Criteria: What To Look for in a Leave-In Probe Thermometer

A thermometer first and foremost needs to be accurate and precise. Think of them like a game of darts: If you’re accurate, the darts land in, or near, the bull’s-eye every time. If you’re precise, the darts consistently cluster in the same tight spot, but that spot could be anywhere on the dartboard. We want both: A thermometer that reads 212°F (100°C), or very close to it, in a pot of boiling water and around 32°F (0°C) in an ice bath—over and over and over again.

When shopping for probe thermometers, you’ll notice they come with anywhere from one to six probes. Unless you plan on taking the temperature of two or more meats at the same time, a single probe thermometer should cover most routine cooking tasks. Having a base that accepts multiple probes becomes especially helpful when cooking outside. You can dedicate one probe to measuring the ambient temperature of a grill or smoker, where the dial thermometer can be notoriously misleading, while others monitor the food.

While these aren’t instant-read thermometers, where speed is paramount, faster is still usually better when it comes to a probe thermometer. Some of the faster models respond to temperature changes in one to three seconds, which is plenty fast.

Beyond speed, we’re looking for usability: Better leave-in thermometers should be able to hold onto the side of a pot while frying (with a pot clip), hover just above the grates in an oven or grill (with an ambient probe clip) to measure ambient temperatures, and have cables and probes durable enough to use while cooking with high heat.

The Best Overall Leave-In Probe Thermometer: ThermoWorks ChefAlarm

ThermoWorks ChefAlarm

What we liked: The ChefAlarm finished at the top, or near it, in all of our precision and accuracy testing, and the readout responds in just over a second. This general purpose thermometer works in the oven, on the cooktop, in pots, or while grilling. The ChefAlarm is a calibratable model with a solid reputation for reliability, and it didn’t disappoint in our tests. The screen is large and while it displays a lot of information at once, it’s all well organized. The magnetic base rests flat, which is handy when stuck to the outside of an oven, or props up at around 45 degrees for easy viewing on countertops. The ChefAlarm’s buttons are large, clearly marked, and rubbery, so pressing them with wet or greasy hands isn’t an issue. The built-in timer also shows you how much time has elapsed since the alarm went off. The probe, which is one of the longest we tested, uses metal springs to help protect the cable from wear, and comes with a decent pot clip.

What we didn’t like: The base does not come programmed with meat doneness temperatures (although this isn't entirely bad, since a lot of commonly held temperature recommendations aren’t what we’d suggest, such as cooking chicken to 165°F). That said, the ChefAlarm does include a card with recommended temperatures for things like beef, pork, fish, and syrup.

Price at time of publish: $65

Key Specs

  • Range: -58°F  to 572°F 
  • Dimensions: 5.94 x 2.75 x .75 inches 
ThermoWorks ChefAlarm against a white background

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

The Best Budget Leave-In Probe Thermometer: Polder Digital In-Oven Meat Thermometer

Polder Classic Combination Digital Leave-In Probe Programmable Meat Thermometer and Timer

Also available at Home Depot, Walmart, and Macy's.

What we liked: Accurate and precise enough for most common kitchen tasks, the Polder is just about the smallest, lightest, and easiest-to-program thermometer we tested. The adjustable display is easy to read, well organized, and the buttons, while smallish, are workable even with wet hands. The probe responds quickly to temperature changes and is as long as the ones that come with the more expensive ChefAlarm and Smoke. The round, silicone covered cable is easy to work with and resists kinking better than flat cords. The Polder also has the best pot clip that we tested.

What we didn’t like: Like some other models, the power switch isn’t with the rest of the controls, but on the bottom of the base. The thermometer doesn't have programmed meat doneness temperatures built-in (though, again, we’re not so bummed about that). The cable is only rated to 450°F (232°C), which means it might not be ideal for high heat grilling.

Price at time of publish: $17

Key Specs

  • Range: 32°F to 392°F
  • Dimensions: 2 x 2 x 2 inches (folded)
Polder digital probe thermometer

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

The Best Leave-In Dual-Probe Thermometer Upgrade: ThermoWorks Smoke

What we liked: Like the ChefAlarm, the calibratable Smoke is precise and always stayed within an incredibly tight accuracy range. The base is clean and easy to navigate, and while each probe has five numbers associated with it (minimum and maximum temperatures that update while you’re cooking, the current temperature, and adjustable alarms for minimum and maximum temperatures), it’s not as confusing as it sounds. The cooking probe is the same style and quality as the one used in the ChefAlarm, and it comes with an ambient probe and clip (the clip works well on grill and smoker grates, nd can be modified to work in an oven). The included handheld radio receiver arrives already paired, for those times when you want to walk away from the oven. If you want to check two portions of meat at once, a pair of roasts at the same time, or two parts of the same roast, you can pick up a second cooking probe for around $18.

What we didn’t like: A similar issue with all of the ThermoWorks thermometers we tested (and also the Polder): The power button is on the back, which we’re still not used to. Strong magnets give a thermometer base a good hold, but the Smoke’s are bordering on overkill (it’s a superglue-like hold). No presets for meat doneness, though a chart with suggested temperatures comes with the kit.

Price at time of publish: $99

Key Specs

  • Range: -58°F  to 572°F 
  • Dimensions: Smoke: 3.78 x 4.68 x 1.01 inches; Receiver: 4.21 x 2.05 x 1.01 inches
ThermoWorks Smoke against a white background

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

The Best Leave-In Probe Thermometer for Serious Barbecuing: FireBoard

What we liked: Accurate, precise, and scalable up to six probes, the FireBoard is a smart thermometer that’s best suited for serious barbecuers or cooks who want to track multiple roasts at once. The thermometer body is lightweight and has an integrated battery rated for around 500 charge cycles. The five-inch-long probes come on six-foot-long cables, giving them the longest reach of any model we tested. But what sets the FireBoard apart is the system’s app and data-logging feature, which lets you name each of the probes and keeps track of the time and temperature of your cooks, so you can learn what works and what doesn’t. While we didn’t test it, there is a port on the base that connects to a small fan. Attach that fan to a compatible charcoal grill or wood smoker and you can control the temperature of the fire, remotely, by adjusting the flow of oxygen. The FireBoard also connects to your home’s WiFi network, enabling you to check on temperatures from the grocery store, work, or anywhere you can get online.

What we didn’t like: Bluetooth and WiFi pairing can be fussy at times. While there is a readout on the base, it’s small, which means you should plan on keeping your smartphone around if you want to spot-check temperatures. The ambient probe clip work very well on oven grates, after some slight modifications.

Price at time of publish: $189

FireBoard thermometer against a white background

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

The Competition

A few quick notes on the other thermometers we tested:

  • ThermoWorks DOT Simple Alarm Thermometer: The magnetic Dot has a very intuitive design and a great probe that’s about 1 1/2-inches shorter than the ChefAlarm and Smoke. It was accurate, only off by a degree in the immersion circulator and water boiling tests, but for about half as much, the winning Polder is nearly as accurate and includes a pot clip.
  • ThermoPro TP20, ThermoPro TP12, ThermoPro TP16: We tested three models from ThermoPro. Designed for outdoor grilling and smoking, the two-piece ThermoPro TP20 has a large handheld display you can use to read and change temperatures up to 300 feet away, without using a smartphone. It comes with two cooking probes that had trouble reading 32°F (0°C), and while it only missed by a degree here or there over testing, it was also slow to adjust from hot to cold, needing 3 1/2 seconds to register a temperature change. The ThermoPro TP12 is like the TP20, but comes with one pointed probe and one ambient probe. Despite claims it can read down to 32°F (0°C), any time we chilled it below 50°F (10°C) the readout displayed dashes instead of numbers. We like the separate timer function built into the ThermoPro TP16, and while it was reasonably accurate, the build doesn’t feel robust.
  • Maverick Meat Thermometer: Like the ThermoPro TP20, the Maverick, had trouble reading down to freezing, showing a series of dashes instead of numbers. This model was also slow to read changes from room temp to icy water, needing more than six seconds to register.
  • Polder Digital BBQ / Smoker Thermometer: This accurate thermometer's downfall was a touchscreen that was tricky to use with wet or greasy hands and temperature presets that were finicky to override. But, we liked the big, bright display, and kink resistant, round cable.
  • Weber iGrill 2 Thermometer: Weber’s app for their iGrill 2 device was easy to use and paired quickly with the thermometer. But we found this model slow to register temperature changes, and it took nearly 30 seconds to go from room temperature down to freezing. What bothered us more than the 1 or 2 degrees of imprecision was the constant flip-flopping between two temperatures.
  • Lavatools Carbon LITE Wireless Remote Thermometer: For minimalists, the Carbon Lite thermometer is basically a white plastic square that is totally app dependent. Unlike other smart thermometers that also display temperatures on the base, the Carbon Lite beams all of that to your phone—which isn’t ideal if you have spotty Bluetooth. We liked the probe’s cable, which is round and resists kinking, and the spot-on accuracy and precision, but this was the most challenging smart model to pair, and setting custom temperatures on the app wasn’t intuitive.
  • Meater: The reasonably accurate Meater was the only wireless probe in the test, but the size made it hard to use for much beyond large proteins. Completely app dependent, the 6mm probe is the largest we tested, which could be a challenge when shoving it into a thick roast.
  • GrillEye and InkBird Bluetooth Meat Thermometer: These were examples of precision without accuracy: Each model missed the target temperature in the immersion circulator test by a degree, and kept the error consistent over an hour. Both models have a similar app and these were some of the easiest models to pair with our smartphone. The GrillEye’s base had one of the best stands we tested with nearly infinite adjustability, though it didn't have a magnet, and it displayed the temperature—in case you’re away from your phone. The InkBird is the best value if you want four probes.

FAQs

What's the difference between a leave-in probe thermometer and an instant-read thermometer?

A leave-in probe thermometer is relatively hands-free. Just stick the probe into a roast and snake the cable out the oven door or use the thermometer's clip to affix the probe to the side of a pot for deep-frying or candy-making. You can even set an alarm on the thermometer to note when the desired temperature's been reached, freeing up your hands for cooking or other prep tasks. An instant-read thermometer is handheld and used to periodically check on temperature (you can read more about instant-read thermometers here), but delivers faster readings than a probe thermometer.

How accurate are leave-in probe thermometers?

Our favorite leave-in probe thermometer, from ThermoWorks, is incredibly accurate and precise. During our immersion circulator test, we found that this ChefAlarm fluctuated by just .1°F off the set target temperature.

Are all meat thermometers the same?

The answer to this question is a definite no. Throughout testing, we found an immense range in accuracy across the thermometers (read: some were very inaccurate). There were other large differences, too, like how easy the thermometers were to use.