Digital, Analog and Leave-In: A Buyer’s Guide To Meat Thermometers

Jun 12, 2023

meat thermometers buyer's guide

If you have any carnivores in your kitchen, one of the most essential cooking tools you can buy is a meat thermometer.

While some people think that they don’t need them and prefer to cook by feel or time, cooking meat to perfection requires precision and accuracy in temperature control. And properly cooked meat not only ensures a delicious and enjoyable meal, but also plays a crucial role in preventing foodborne illnesses (this is particularly true for poultry!).

This Father’s Day, give Dad the gift he’s really been craving—whether he’s a wiz in the kitchen, a master mixologist or the best burger flipper around, there’s something special for every dad.

Shop Our Father’s Day Gift Guide

what to look for in a meat thermometer

Benefits of a meat thermometer

A meat thermometer is an indispensable tool in the kitchen, offering a wide range of benefits for both professional chefs and home cooks. Some of the key advantages of using a meat thermometer include:

  1. Precision and accuracy: One of the primary benefits of a meat thermometer is its ability to provide precise and accurate temperature readings. Unlike visual cues or estimated cooking times, a meat thermometer allows you to monitor the internal temperature of the meat accurately. This precision ensures that you achieve the desired level of doneness consistently, from rare to well-done. By eliminating guesswork, you can cook your meat with confidence and serve it at its peak flavor.
  2. Food safety: Ensuring that meat reaches the proper internal temperature is essential for food safety. Cooking meat to the recommended temperatures helps kill harmful bacteria, reducing the risk of foodborne illnesses.
  3. Moisture retention: Overcooking meat can lead to dryness and loss of flavor. With a meat thermometer, you can avoid overcooking by removing the meat from the heat source as soon as it reaches the desired internal temperature. This helps retain moisture, resulting in juicier and more succulent meat. Whether it’s a perfectly cooked steak or a tender roasted chicken, using a meat thermometer ensures that you achieve optimal texture and taste.
  4. Time: A meat thermometer allows you to cook with precision and efficiency. By monitoring the internal temperature, you can determine exactly when your meat is done without the need for constant checking or guesswork. You can plan your cooking process more effectively, ensuring that all components of your meal are ready to be served simultaneously.
  5. Versatility: Meat thermometers are not just limited to meats. They can also be used for monitoring the temperature of poultry, fish and even baked goods like breads or cakes. This versatility makes a meat thermometer an endlessly useful tool in the kitchen, allowing you to achieve the desired results across a wide range of culinary creations
what to look for in a meat thermometer

Types of meat thermometers

Meat thermometers come in various types, each offering unique features and benefits. There are three main types of meat thermometers: digital, analog and leave-in.

Digital Meat Thermometers

Digital meat thermometers have gained popularity due to their accuracy, speed and ease of use. These thermometers utilize electronic sensors to measure the internal temperature of the meat and display it digitally. Digital thermometers are available in two main styles:

  • Instant-Read Thermometers: Instant-read digital thermometers provide quick temperature readings within seconds. They are designed to be inserted into the meat for just a few seconds, allowing you to monitor the temperature accurately. Some models offer additional features like backlighting, preset temperature alarms and programmable settings for specific types of meat or doneness levels.
  • Probe-Style Thermometers: Probe-style digital thermometers consist of a probe connected to a display unit via a cable. The probe is inserted into the meat, and the temperature is displayed on the separate unit outside the oven or grill. This type is especially convenient for monitoring the temperature of meat during long cooking processes without having to open the oven or grill repeatedly.

Analog Meat Thermometers

Analog meat thermometers, also known as dial or bimetallic thermometers, have been a traditional choice for many cooks.

They consist of a metal stem with a dial display indicating the temperature. To use an analog thermometer, you insert the probe into the meat, and the dial gradually moves to show the internal temperature. While analog thermometers may take slightly longer to display the temperature compared to digital models, they are generally reliable and do not require batteries.

Leave-In Meat Thermometers

Leave-in meat thermometers, also called oven-safe or remote thermometers, are designed to be inserted into the meat before cooking and remain in place throughout the cooking process.

These thermometers have a probe connected to a base unit or display unit with a cable. The base unit can be placed outside the oven or grill, allowing you to monitor the temperature without opening the cooking appliance. Leave-in thermometers are ideal for dishes with long cooking times, such as roasts or slow-cooked dishes, as they provide continuous temperature monitoring without the need for frequent manual checks.

what to look for in a meat thermometer

Pros and cons of each type of meat thermometer

Each type of meat thermometer has its advantages and considerations, so it’s important to choose the one that best suits your needs and preferences.

Digital thermometers offer quick and accurate readings, analog thermometers are reliable and straightforward to use and leave-in thermometers provide convenience for long cooking processes. When looking to buy the best meat thermometer for your needs, consider things like speed, accuracy, convenience and the type of cooking you frequently engage in.

Here’s a quick list of the pros and cons of each type of meat thermometer:

Digital Meat Thermometers:


  • Quick and accurate: Digital thermometers provide fast and precise temperature readings, allowing you to monitor the doneness of your meat with accuracy.
  • Ease of use: They typically have user-friendly interfaces, clear digital displays and intuitive controls, making them easy to operate.
  • Additional features: Many digital thermometers offer extra features such as preset temperature alarms, programmable settings and backlit displays, enhancing convenience and versatility.
  • Suitable for various cooking methods: Digital thermometers can be used for grilling, roasting, stovetop cooking and more, making them adaptable to different cooking techniques.


  • Battery dependency: Digital thermometers rely on batteries for power, which means you need to ensure you have spare batteries on hand to avoid interruptions during cooking.
  • Vulnerability to moisture damage: Some digital thermometers may be sensitive to moisture, so proper care must be taken to prevent damage to the electronic components.
  • Cost: Compared to analog thermometers, digital models can sometimes be more expensive because they often come with additional features.


Analog Meat Thermometers


  • Simple and reliable: Analog thermometers have a straightforward design and are generally durable and reliable.
  • No battery requirement: Analog thermometers do not rely on batteries for operation, eliminating the need to worry about battery life or replacements.
  • Wide temperature range: Analog thermometers can often measure a wide range of temperatures, making them suitable for various cooking methods and types of meat.


  • Slower response time: Analog thermometers may take longer to display the temperature accurately, requiring some patience during the measurement process.
  • Less precision: Due to their dial-based display, analog thermometers may not provide the same level of precision as digital models, making it slightly more challenging to determine the exact internal temperature.
  • Limited features: Analog thermometers typically lack the advanced features found in digital models, such as preset alarms or programmable settings.


Leave-In Meat Thermometers


  • Convenience: Leave-in thermometers allow you to monitor the temperature without repeatedly opening the oven or grill, ensuring consistent cooking conditions and reducing the risk of overcooking.
  • Long cooking times: These are ideal for recipes with extended cooking durations, such as slow-cooked meats or roasts, as they provide continuous temperature monitoring throughout the process.
  • Remote monitoring: Some leave-in thermometers offer wireless connectivity, allowing you to monitor the temperature from a distance or receive alerts on your mobile device.


  • Limited temperature range: Some leave-in thermometers may have restrictions on temperature range, so they may not be suitable for high-heat cooking methods like searing or broiling.
  • Probe length limitations: The length of the probe may limit the types of meats or dishes you can use the thermometer for, as it needs to reach the center of the thickest part of the meat for accurate readings.
  • Higher cost: Leave-in thermometers with advanced features and wireless capabilities may come at a higher price point compared to other types of meat thermometers.
what to look for in a meat thermometer

Internal cooking temperatures

Everyone has different preferences when it comes to meat doneness. By using a meat thermometer, you can cook meat to the exact level of doneness you desire, whether it’s rare, medium-rare, medium, medium-well or well-done.

By accurately monitoring the meat’s internal temperature, you can remove it from the heat source at the ideal moment, preventing it from becoming overcooked. This helps retain the natural moisture in the meat, resulting in a juicier and more flavorful end result.

Here’s a list of internal temperature ranges you’ll want to know the next time you’re cooking your favorite protein:


  • Rare: 125°F (52°C)
  • Medium-Rare: 135°F (57°C)
  • Medium: 145°F (63°C)
  • Medium-Well: 150°F (66°C)
  • Well-Done: 160°F (71°C) and above


  • Chicken Breast: 165°F (74°C)
  • Chicken Thighs, Legs, Wings: 175°F (79°C)
  • Whole Chicken or Turkey: 165°F (74°C) in the innermost part of the thigh and wing, and the thickest part of the breast


  • Medium: 145°F (63°C)
  • Well-Done: 160°F (71°C) and above

Ground Meats (Beef, Pork, Lamb or Veal):

Ground Meats: 160°F (71°C) for safety reasons, as bacteria can be present throughout the meat.

Fish and Seafood: 145°F (63°C) or until the flesh is opaque and flakes easily with a fork.

what to look for in a meat thermometer

How to choose the best meat thermometer for your needs

Selecting the right meat thermometer can greatly improve your cooking experience and ensure your food comes out exactly as you like it, every time. Here are some factors to consider when choosing the best meat thermometer for your specific needs:

  1. Accuracy and speed: Look for a thermometer that provides accurate and fast temperature readings. Digital thermometers generally offer greater accuracy compared to analog ones. Check for models that have a reputation for reliable and consistent performance.
  2. Temperature range: Ensure that the thermometer you choose covers the temperature range required for the meats and cooking methods you frequently use. Different types of meat and dishes may have varying temperature requirements, so opt for a thermometer that meets those needs.
  3. Probe length: Consider the length of the probe, especially if you plan to use the thermometer for larger cuts of meat or deep pots. A longer probe will allow you to reach the center of the meat easily and safely.
  4. Display: If you opt for a digital thermometer, consider the readability of the display. Look for a thermometer with a clear and easy-to-read screen that shows the temperature prominently. Backlit displays can be particularly helpful when cooking in low-light conditions.
  5.  Response time: Quick response time is important, especially with instant-read thermometers. Choose a thermometer that provides rapid temperature readings, as this helps you monitor the cooking process efficiently and make adjustments as needed.
  6. Additional features: Consider any additional features that may be beneficial to your cooking style. This could include features like preset temperature alarms, programmable settings, hold features or even wireless connectivity for remote monitoring (which is especially good for longer cooks or outdoor grilling).
  7. Calibration: Check if the thermometer offers a calibration feature. Being able to calibrate your thermometer ensures ongoing accuracy and reliability over time.
  8. Ease of use and cleaning: Choose a thermometer that is user-friendly and easy to operate. Consider features like easy button controls, intuitive interfaces and detachable probes for convenient cleaning.
  9. Budget: Determine your budget range and find a meat thermometer that offers a good balance of quality, features and affordability within your desired price range.

This Father’s Day, give Dad the gift he’s really been craving—whether he’s a wiz in the kitchen, a master mixologist or the best burger flipper around, there’s something special for every dad.

Shop Our Father’s Day Gift Guide

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