If you want to cook a steak to perfection, you’re going to need one of the best cheap meat thermometers. As hard we try to master cooking meat, there’s always room for error — how long it needs to be cooked depends on the cooking temperature, as well as the size and type of the meat. Because of this, your joints are usually over- or undercooked, but a meat thermometer can change that. It allows you to monitor the internal temperature of your meat and cook it exactly to your guests’ specifications.
A modern meat thermometer can do a lot more than this. Some are smartly connected, so you can monitor the cooking progress from your phone. Others have multiple probes, so you can cook several dishes simultaneously. It’s important to remember that accuracy, responsiveness, and ease of use are the most important factors when choosing a meat thermometer.
So you don’t necessarily have to spend a fortune to get a good one. The best cheap meat thermometers were tested based on everything from the settings available to accuracy and speed. Here are the best options out there.
What are the best cheap meat thermometers?
Despite its reputation for kitchen thermometers, ThermoWorks proved to be one of the best performers when we put 12 popular models to the test. An instant-read meat thermometer that lives up to the name “instant” while being nearly lab-accurate and loaded with more functionality than you might expect from such a small, simple device is the best overall meat thermometer for most people.
ThermoWorks Thermopop is the best inexpensive option: At just $35, it’s comparably accurate and foolproof, but convenience and speed are sacrificed a bit.
If you prefer to set-and-forget cooking, the ThermoWorks ChefAlarm Cooking Thermometer is a feature-rich leave-in model that works in both the oven and the stovetop. Want something similar, but less expensive? The $24.99 Polder Classic Digital In-Oven Thermometer & Timer does almost as much, almost as accurately.
You can connect the Yummly Smart Meat Thermometer to a mobile app to get more options and visual guides than you can with any countertop model if you want more than just a medium rare steak to be cutting-edge. There are some limitations to it, but we got excellent results using it.
The Best Cheap Meat Thermometers for Cooking
1. Polder Classic Digital In-Oven Thermometer & Timer
A leave-in thermometer that has an external probe is safer and easier to read and program than one that has an in-oven (or in-meat) cousin. Polder Classic Digital In-Oven Thermometer and Timer is a budget-friendly option that does all the basics you need in a thermometer of this style.
You can set the cooking time and temperature and set the alarm to sound once your target temperature is reached with ease. The alarm is not unpleasant, but piercing and clear. We also noticed no problems with accuracy during our testing (although the thermometer measures only whole degrees, not tenths, so minute fluctuations are harder to detect).
In addition to being small in size, the digital display lacks a light, making it sometimes difficult to read. The bottom of the thermometer is a good location for the scale switch, as you’re unlikely to switch between Celsius and Fahrenheit very often, but the On-Off switch is a terrible place to place, since you’ll need it each time you fire up the oven or grill.
Apart from its attractively low price, the Polder Classic Digital In-Oven Thermometer & Timer doesn’t inspire much excitement, either.
2. Yummly Smart Thermometer
You can use the Yummly Smart Thermometer with any of your own recipes, although it’s tied into the Yummly cooking app (required), which provides curated galleries of recipes that match your tastes and dietary requirements for a subscription fee. It is as simple as firing up the gorgeous Android or iOS app, which is adorned with sumptuous photos and sleek temperature graphics, following the instructions on the screen, and waiting until the alarm sounds to let you know when your food’s ready.
Nevertheless, it is not quite that simple. You have to create a Yummly account before you can use the thermometer, and that is a lengthy process that involves selecting your favorite cuisines, ingredients, and so on. After charging the thermometer for 30 minutes, you must pair it with your phone or tablet, which took me a couple of tries.
The process wasn’t entirely pain-free after that, as the app had trouble recognizing the thermometer for a few minutes when we were ready to use it. After that, though, things went swimmingly, and our roast eventually came out a stunning, mouth-watering medium rare. (The app even takes carryover cooking into account.)
For a thermometer probe that only determines the doneness of meat, even via an app, it costs $99, which is pricey. You can cook up to four dishes simultaneously, but is that worth almost $400? We found the probe to be among the smallest we saw, at just 3 inches long, so larger pieces of meat or poultry might be problematic. To get it all to work, you may have to cart a lot of stuff around since the dock must remain no more than 5 feet away from the probe during cooking.
No doubt, the Yummly Smart Thermometer is dynamic and fun, and a great example of what smart cooking will look like in the future. However, hopefully the setup will be easier, and the price will come down.
3. Lavatools Javelin
The Lavatools Javelin isn’t quite small enough to attach to your keychain, but it’s close. The Javelin measures just under 4.5 inches when closed, making it by far the shortest instant-read thermometer we tested. With its integrated magnets, you won’t have to worry about it cluttering up your utility drawer. (Though you can hang it up wherever you want and not worry about its presence in the drawer.)
The Javelin’s size makes it easy to carry around, but you need to be careful to keep your hand off the digital display, and since the probe measures just 2.8 inches, you’ll have to get very close to the food you’re checking — especially if you’re working in a deep pot or with a bulbous roast.
The display does not rotate nor light up, two features that are much missed at this price point. The thermometer also runs on a 3-volt CR2032 battery rather than two ultracommon AAA batteries.
With read times of between 3 and 4 seconds, the Javelin is quick and accurate, but it was never more than 0.6° F off from our tests, which is enough for almost any home use. At just $26, the Javelin isn’t a bad buy, but it’s a reminder that, even though good things often come in small packages, it’s best to stay away from the heat when in the kitchen.
4. OXO Good Grips Chef’s Precision Leave-In Meat Thermometer
The OXO Good Grips Chef’s Precision Leave-In Meat Thermometer reminds me a lot of what my parents had while I was a child – but it’s easier to use. The textured bottom of the probe tells you how far into the meat it needs to be inserted, and the 2.6-inch-diameter meter is easy to read, with temperature waypoints every 10 degrees between 120 and 200, markings in both Fahrenheit and Celsius, large type, and a guide to safe cooking temperatures right on the dial.
It also provides explanations of the temperatures at which you will be able to achieve medium rare, medium, and well done for a variety of different meats. As its name implies, OXO makes meat preparation easy.
The biggest problem we encountered while testing was the thermometer’s length. The instructions state to insert the thermometer to the edge of the textured area, but that’s just 2.2 inches in—not enough to handle big roasts. As a result, you may have difficulty getting proper clearance in your oven because more than three inches of the thermometer are sticking out above the meat. The probe did not want to stay in this position when we inserted it straight into the side. (We were able to do okay inserting it straight into the side, but it was a chore.)
A very affordable way to guarantee your meat is cooked safely to the desired level of doneness is with the OXO Good Grips Chef’s Precision Leave-In Meat Thermometer, priced at just $16. In spite of its old-fashioned appearance, it’s an excellent thermometer that my parents would have loved when I was a child, if meat is all you need it for and you can get it into and out of your oven.
5. OXO Good Grips Chef’s Precision Thermocouple Thermometer
Chef’s Precision Thermocouple Thermometer from OXO looks like the instant-read thermometer you’d expect from OXO. Like so many of the other kitchen products in OXO’s all-consuming line, this one is quite a bit better than you may expect — if not perfect. It’s big, stylish, black and white, with few obvious standout features.
Aside from being long (just past 6.5 inches) and oval in shape, it’s also thick (0.8 inch) and has rounded edges, so it’s easy to hold. In any light condition, the white digits on a black background make it easy to read its bidirectional rotating display. In addition, the temperature probe rotates out to 225 degrees instead of 180, so you can take temperature readings in any position, with your dominant hand, no matter what it is. Thermapens like the ThermoWorks don’t do this.
We tested it and found it to be fast, but not the most accurate, as it was often off by about a half-degree. The bigger challenge is the usability of the thermometer. There are two inset switches on the bottom of the battery case that allow you to change either the scale or the temperature resolution, and the shiny body is too slick. The integrated knob for opening the probe is harder to use than just pulling it out by the metal. With the recommended Phillips screwdriver, we were unable to complete this task (we needed a toothpick).
A major drawback of the OXO Good Grips Chef’s Precision Thermocouple Thermometer is its high price. It would be more compelling if it were cheaper, but at $104, it’s just barely below the Thermapen One, which is significantly superior. Instead, dig deep into your couch cushions, find that extra penny, and buy the Thermapen One.
6. ThermoPro TP25 4 Probe Bluetooth Remote Meat Thermometer
If you often cook for large or picky groups, a single meat thermometer might not be enough. With four different probes that feed the main unit (and the accompanying app), the ThermoPro TP25 4 Probe Bluetooth Remote Meat Thermometer offers all the convenience of a digital leave-in thermometer.
There is more flexibility in the kitchen or on the grill with this model than most other models we’ve reviewed because you can manage multiple pieces of meat at the same time, as well as juggling different cooking times and temperatures (this group likes their beef medium rare, that group likes roast chicken), and so on.
This presents its own challenges, as arranging all four probes at the same time is cumbersome, and your cooking setup may not allow for an easy solution. In addition to the product box being riddled with typos, the app is poorly designed and irritating to use, like a half-finished prototype that somehow escaped. There are several other, more confidence-sapping issues as well.
Moreover, I question the presets for medium rare beef, which are set at a too high 140° F, and our roast came out well medium at this temperature. You can set your own temperature presets for your desired target temperature or range, but you can’t edit any of the default settings, no matter how silly they seem (ground beef has to be 160° and poultry at 165°? Really?).
One of the most annoying things is that, during the first two and a half hours of the water bath test, the thermometer was accurate and consistent, but when its battery ran out, it had to be plugged in, resulting in readings fluctuating wildly across a range of more than 20 degrees that was unacceptable.
In case you’re a big-time grill master or party thrower, the ThermoPro TP25 4 Probe Bluetooth Remote Meat Thermometer may be a worthwhile investment given its four-way functionality and reasonable price. Just remember that the extra time you’ll need to spend untangling cables and getting everything perfect in the app is time you could instead be spending with your guests — and don’t let the battery run out while you’re cooking.
What to Look for in a Meat Thermometer
Different thermometer styles are available on the market, and what you like to cook will determine which style you buy. A simple, leave-in meat thermometer may be sufficient if you rarely cook anything more than roast beef or chicken (and, in most circumstances, it will be quite affordable). Using a digital remote probe-style thermometer, you’ll be able to monitor the meat’s temperature outside the oven, set temperature maximums and alarms, and more. You can also use these for deep frying and sugar work if you have a model that clips onto the pan’s side. If you prefer a single, go-everywhere model, an instant-read will work in all these places, though charting temperatures over time will be more challenging.
- Analog or digital.
Analog thermometers are generally less expensive than digital thermometers, but they are slower and harder to read. It matters less when you are going to leave a thermometer in a Thanksgiving turkey for a few hours than when you are making caramel sauce or thin steak, where every change in degree can make all the difference. Getting a good digital thermometer for $35 or less is a good idea if you can afford it.
- Instant-read features.
Instant-read thermometers must have the right size and design: they should not be too small or too large, they should have an easily accessible probe, and they should be comfortable to grip, even if steam or grease are present. There are also some newer instant-read models that have displays that rotate or light up (so you can see the temperature from anywhere); these are helpful, but can add a lot to the cost.
- Number of probes.
In most remote probe thermometers, only one probe is included, so you can only monitor one dish at a time. A single device can prepare a wide variety of recipes with up to four probes, however. Although useful if you prepare multiple meats at once or entertain a lot, it can also be logistically challenging (since you may have a lot of probes and cables to organize) or expensive (for models where each probe is sold separately).
- Resolution, scale, and calibration.
Most home thermometers measure in whole degrees or tenths of a degree; make sure to know how much detail you want, since not all do both – and those that do should allow switching between the resolutions. It should also display the temperature in degrees Fahrenheit and degrees Celsius, so that you can use it no matter where you live. Even if your thermometer’s accuracy diminishes over time, calibration is an excellent additional feature. It works by measuring a known temperature (such as ice water) and adjusting the readout accordingly.
- Smart functionality.
With smart thermometers, you can monitor what’s happening in the oven even when you’re away from it. This is still something of a gimmick, and it’s of limited utility unless you’re making a long-cooking dish that might take you all day to prepare. It’s possible to take some of the guesswork out of the process using apps that allow long-term temperature tracking. Make sure the software is customizable, though, since your cooking equipment and personal preferences cannot be hard-coded.
How Much Should You Pay for a Meat Thermometer?
There are a variety of meat thermometers available on the market. Some are as inexpensive as $10 while others can exceed $100, depending on the features you want.
Be sure to decide on your budget and what you need before you start looking for a thermometer. Think about how you will use it and if you need extra features. Buying one from a premium brand, such as ThermoWorks, can be quite expensive. However, even ThermoWorks offers options for those on a budget, such as the ThermoPop, so make sure you do your research.