If you love to barbecue and grill, an instant read thermometer is a must-have item. Today we're taking 6 different digital thermometers and putting them through a series of 15 tests to see if any of them are worth your hard-earned money.
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My first instant read was a cheap unit I was given as a Christmas gift years ago, and I was bummed that it didn't last long and started giving me problems after just a few months of use. That experience is what inspired me to run this test.
Instant Read Meat Thermometer Candidates:
The instant read thermometers we're testing today range from as little as $35 to as much as $149, so we can certainly expect there will be as great of a range in performance.
The purpose of this article is to help you decide if the higher price is worth the added value those thermometers offer.
Thermoworks ThermoPop 2
Wide Temperature Range: -58 to 572°F
Response time: 2-3s
Accuracy: ±1 °F
Temperature Range: -58 to 572°F
Response time: 2-3s
Accuracy: ±0.9 °F
Thermoworks Thermapen One
Wide Temperature Range: -58 to 572°F
Response time: 1s
Accuracy: ±.5 °F
Wide Temperature Range: -58 to 572°F
Response time: 1s
Accuracy: ±0.7 °F
Just Skip To The Results, Already!
We know you just want us to get to the point, so we'll start there, and then back up and show you how we got there if you're still interested.
We took the above 6 thermometers through a series of 15 tests (all relating to outdoor cooking... more on that in a minute!) and here's how things shook out:
So from there, we will declare 3 clear winners:
Why can you trust our review?
At the Barbecue Lab, we attempt to be as impartial as possible, collecting as much information as possible and allowing the data to speak for itself.
Each of the products we're evaluating for this article were provided to us from the manufacturers, but the content of this article and video are entirely our own; we have not been asked to say anything specific regarding the product.
We have personally used each instant read meat thermometer, done our best to capture our experiences, and will let our readers and viewers decide for themselves which instant read is the best fit for their needs.
Instant Read Meat Thermometer Testing
We evaluated each probe thermometer based on the criteria that I personally care the most about when it comes to temping my barbecued and grilled meats. We'll be covering everything from speed, accuracy, how rugged it is, if it's waterproof, magnetic, good for left-handers, and more.
1. Build and Design
The Thermopop 2 is rather straightforward. You simply take the digital thermometer probe out of the sheath and push the button on the back to turn it on.
All of the other instant read thermometers in the group will automatically power on when the probe swings into the open position. The Maverick, ThermoPro and ChefsTemp all have a way to be hung from a grill hook, while the Thermapen, Spark and Thermopop don't have that ability.
The Spark is the only unit out of the bunch to accept an external probe as well, so it can be used as a leave-in meat thermometer as well as an instant read.
Build and Design Winner: Fireboard Spark
2. Rotating Screen
One thing we noticed quickly is that it's important to note if the screen will change directions depending on how you're holding it.
The Thermapen One, ThermoPop 2 and the Fireboard Spark all have automatic 4 way rotating screens, so no matter how you're holding them, you'll always be able to read the display.
The Thermopro and Chefs Temp have screens that work two ways, and the Maverick's screen is set without the ability to rotate automatically. The Maverick has the ability to manually change the screen orientation with a button push on the front of the unit.
Rotating Screen Winner: Fireboard Spark, Thermapen One, ThermoPop 2
3. Left-hand friendly
If you're left handed, you for sure want to know which of these work well for you. The ThermoPop 2 is a natural, since the probe doesn't swing and is in a set position, it's perfect for lefties.
The Chefs Temp and the Maverick both swivel around 270 degrees, allowing you to hold the meat thermometer probe at a right angle.
The ChefsTemp screen will automatically flip over for lefties, but the Maverick will not. The Spark, Thermapen and the ThermoPro swivel open 180 degrees, but not the full 270 that is a true help to left handed individuals.
Left-handed Winner: ThermoPop 2
4. Waterproof Capability
Waterproof ratings are important for this type of device because it helps determine how the unit can be cleaned after use. The ratings come in anywhere from IP65 to IP67, so let's look at what that means.
IP stands for Ingress Protection, the first digit indicates protection from solids and the second digit indicates protection from liquids. For both digits, the higher the number, the better the protection.
The ThermoPro TP620 received an IP65 rating. It says that this unit is, "protected against low pressure jets of water."
The Fireboard Spark earned an IP66 rating, which means it is "protected against high pressure jets of water."
Finally, the Thermoworks Thermapen One, Thermopop 2, the ChefsTemp X10 and the Maverick PT-51 all four earned an IP67 rating, which means they can "resist short periods of immersion in water while under pressure, between 15c and 1m."
So, in the application of cleaning your instant read thermometers, the Thermapen One, Thermopop 2, ChefsTemp, and Maverick would supposedly all be safe to throw in a sink of water for less than 30 minutes.
The Fireboard Spark shouldn't be submerged in the sink, but would be fine to run under the faucet. And the ThermoPro would probably be safest just wiped down with a cloth rather than testing with running water.
Waterproof Winner: ThermoPop 2, Thermapen, Maverick, ChefsTemp
One question that I wondered about these units was which ones could I stick to my fridge or my grill. A magnet goes a long way to help me make sure it's in the right place where I need it.
We tested the magnets, and here's how it went: The Thermapen One does not have a magnet. The ThermoPop doesn't either, and neither does the Maverick PT-51.
The ThermoPro TP620 has a magnet, but it's really weak, so it kind of hangs on to the fridge and sags, and the ChefsTemp has a magnet that sticks quite well.
The absolute winner of the group though was the Fireboard Spark, and this magnet is SOLID. It snaps into place on the fridge like it's never leaving, so if you like a magnetic instant read meat thermometer, that one is legit.
Magnetic Winner: Fireboard Spark
6. Battery type/accessibility
Changing the battery is something that needs to be done from time to time on digital thermometers, and there are 3 types of batteries present in our 6 models.
The Fireboard Spark has an internal lithium ion battery that's rechargeable, so it's by far the easiest to work with since there's no battery change needed.
The Thermapen One, ThermoPro and the Chefs Temp all use AAA batteries, and have a screw on battery door that you'll need a Phillips screwdriver to remove.
The ThermoPop and the Maverick both use CR2032 batteries, and you can twist open the battery door with a coin for an easy switch.
Best Battery Winner: Fireboard Spark,
All 6 meat thermometers have a backlit screen to ensure that you can see at night, but there's a definitive difference between how easy they are to read in the dark.
The ChefsTemp and the Thermapen had the dimmest backlights when viewed in the dark, but they’re still readable.
The Maverick is quite bright at night, but I noticed as we were testing it that at certain angles the readout all but disappears. As long as you're relatively straight on with it, you're good to go, but this was interesting to play with as we worked with it.
The ThermoPop 2, Fireboard Spark and ThermoPro all three had the brightest screens, but I would rank the Fireboard Spark as the best, since it offers the ability to adjust brightness and contrast in the settings.
Best Backlit Screen Winner: Fireboard Spark,
8/9. Sleep Mode/Auto Awake
If you're prone to setting things down and forgetting to turn them off like we are, having an auto-off and auto-wake feature is a battery saver in our family.
The Maverick doesn't have a sleep mode at all.
The ThermoPop 2 will automatically turn off after 10 minutes, but you'll need to press the power button to get it to register again.
The ChefsTemp will go to sleep after 3 minutes, and will auto-wake when you pick it back up.
The Fireboard Spark will sleep after 90 seconds and wake upon pickup, and the ThermoPro will sleep after 60 seconds and wake when you pick it back up.
The Thermapen One will sleep between 10 seconds and 3 minutes, selectable by the end user and wake when you pick it back up.
Sleep Mode Winner: Thermapen One
Awake Mode Winner: Thermapen One, Fireboard Spark, ChefsTemp, ThermoPro
10. °F to °C
Changing between degrees Fahrenheight and Celcius is pretty easy on most of these units.
On the Fireboard Spark, it's done in settings using the single button that's found on the side of the unit. It's pretty intuitive as short and long presses help navigate and select through the menu. I was able to change to Celcius in about 10 seconds.
To make this adjustment on the Thermopop 2, hold down the back button for 3 seconds upon startup.
The Thermapen One and ChefsTemp both have a button hidden behind the battery door to make the switch.
The Maverick and the ThermoPro both have buttons on the back that makes the change with 1 press, definitely the easiest out of our grouping.
°F to °C Winner: ThermoPro and Maverick
There's a massive range of coverage when it comes to warranties as well, starting with the Maverick PT-51 and Fireboard Spark which come with a 1 year warranty.
The Thermoworks ThermoPop 2 comes with a 2 year warranty, and both the ThermoPro and the ChefsTemp come with a 3 year warranty.
The Thermoworks Thermapen One comes with an industry leading 5 year warranty, and is the only model in our group at 5 years.
Warranty Winner: Thermapen One
12. Price vs. Value
As we all know, not all instant read thermometers are created equal, and therefore aren't priced the same.
The least expensive instant read digital thermometer in our group is the Maverick PT-51 costing only $34.99. The brand-new Thermoworks ThermoPop 2 is only a penny more, costing $35 even.
The ThermoPro TP620 is third at $49.99 with the ChefsTemp Final Touch X10 in 4th at $69.99.
The Thermoworks Thermapen One is the second most expensive at a new lower price of $99 and the most expensive of the bunch is the Fireboard Spark, coming in at $149 to bring one home.
There's obviously some price vs. value points that we can make here, so let's discuss.
You can buy 4 Maverick PT-51 probe thermometers for the price of a FireBoard Spark. Is the Spark a better digital instant read thermometer with more features than the Maverick? Yes, and I would hope so for quadruple the price.
Would a ThermoPop 2 which is just a penny more than the Maverick do just about the same job as a Spark in most instant readings of internal temperature? Also yes.
Is the Spark more fun to work with than the Thermopop 2? Again, yes.
Would you rather have 4 Thermapop 2's instead of a Spark? That's for you to decide.
The Thermapen One is $50 less than the Spark, so is it worth the extra money for the ability to attach a leave in probe and utilize remote device monitoring for long cooks? I think that's really all in how you want to use it.
If you're just using it as an instant read thermometer to check internal temp and feel for doneness, the Spark may be overkill and you'd be better served with a Thermapen One.
If you'd like to use the Spark to sync to your existing Fireboard or use it with the app as a wireless meat thermometer with a single probe as well as an instant read to read internal temps and check for feel, then the Spark is a winner hands down for you.
Would you go wrong if you bought the more budget-friendly Maverick, Chefs Temp or ThermoPro units? Not at all, but you just have to realize that we're not comparing apples to apples here. The lower the price, the fewer the features and speed in general shows a decrease.
Price vs. Value Winner: ThermoPop 2, Maverick
Real World Internal Temperature Readings
Up next we're going to share the results of us testing each of these digital thermometers in boiling water, in an ice bath, and in a 130° Sous Vide to represent a medium rare steak.
As we do, we will naturally be comparing each probe thermometer to the next, but maybe more importantly we'll be comparing our real-world results with what performance each Thermometer brand claims.
We gave every thermometer 3 attempts at each test. We started the timer the second the tip of the probe hit the water, and we took the best time of the three, and that's what we're reporting to you.
What we learned in this testing is that it's incredibly hard to test instant read thermometers without a proper testing lab.
In order to make it fair to every brand represented here, we worked for over a week trying to come up with a way to make sure each test was fair and even, with each digital thermometer having a fair shot at achieving accurate readings.
That being said though, we're not a testing lab and we did our best with each test.
We're going to be testing each thermometer to the brand's claims for accurate temperature reading and speed, and here's what that looks like:
The Thermoworks ThermoPop 2 has an accuracy of ±1°F with a 2-3 second response time.
The Maverick PT-51 claims an accuracy of ±0.9°F with a speed of under 3 seconds.
The ThermoPro TP620 is next with an accuracy of ±0.9 °F in 2-3 seconds.
The ChefsTemp X10 states that it's accurate to within ±0.7 °F with a speed of 1 second.
The Fireboard Spark is accurate to within ±0.7°F within 1 second and the Thermoworks Thermapen One is accurate to within ±0.5°F within 1 second.
So, in order to test each probe thermometer for accuracy and speed, we're going to measure how quickly they hit each of the target accurate temperature reading points.
We'll measure how quickly they can get to 1 degree, .9 degrees, .7 degrees all the way down to .5 degrees fahrenheit. In some cases, some units won't hit their goals. In others, they'll exceed them.
13. Boiling Water Readings
We all know that water boils at 212° so that's always a logical point to test an instant read thermometer's performance. However, it turns out that elevation and barometric pressure play into the equation as well, so it turns out that today where we live water actually boils at 211.23°.
There's a handy calculator over on the Thermoworks website where you can put in your elevation and barometric pressure at the time of testing, and that's how we came up with our boiling point today.
The ThermoPop 2 came to within 1 degree in 2.43 seconds, well within the 2-3 seconds claimed by Thermoworks. The ThermoPop is limited to only 3 digits, so at this temperature, there's no tenth of a degree available, so it's a score of not applicable for the other measurement points.
The ThermoPro is next, measuring within .7 degrees Fahrenheit at 1.73 seconds.
The Maverick was next, measuring to within .5 degrees Fahrenheit in 1.50 seconds.
ChefsTemp followed the Maverick at 1.47 seconds to 1 degree, 1.9 seconds to .7 degrees, and 2.27 seconds to .5 degrees.
The Fireboard Spark was our second fastest to .7 degree accuracy in 1.10 seconds, and to .5 degree accuracy in 1.42 seconds.
The Thermoworks Thermapen One was accurate to .5 degrees Fahrenheit in 1.07 seconds for our fastest instant read thermometer to read boiling water.
Boiling Water Winner: Thermapen One
14. Ice Water Readings
The ice bath test is up next, and it's a race to read 32 degrees Fahrenheit.
We're following the instructions for preparing an ice bath where you fill a container full of ice, then add just enough water so that the ice doesn't float.
After letting that sit for a minute, we insert the probe and move the probe around in the ice bath so we're not up against the ice itself and ensure we're getting a proper reading of the water temperature. That's why the probe thermometers are being swished back and forth.
The Maverick came in last place on this test because we were unable to get the unit to read within 1 degree at this temperature.
The ChefsTemp comes in 5th place taking 3.63 seconds to read within 1 degree of accuracy, and never getting any closer than the 1 degree in all 3 of our attempts.
The ThermoPro comes in 4th place taking 3.52 seconds to read within .9 degrees, and never getting any closer to the target.
The ThermoPop 2 comes in 3rd taking 3.03 seconds to read within 1 degree.
The Thermapen One comes in second taking 1.02 seconds to read within 1 degree and 1.35 seconds to read within .5 degrees.
The Fireboard Spark is the winner of the Ice Bath test taking exactly 1 second to read within .5 degrees of accuracy.
Ice Water Winner: Fireboard Spark
15. Medium Rare Temperature Reading
Next we wanted to test medium rare internal temperature, which is important to me because that's how I like my steaks. I pull my steaks off the grill between 125 and 130, so we're choosing 130 to be our testing number.
The ThermoPop 2 claims last place with a time of 2.17 seconds to read within 1 degree. It's last place, but it's exactly what the manufacturer claims it will do, within 1 degree in 2-3 seconds.
The ThermoPro comes in 5th place at 1.82 seconds to read within half a degree.
The X10 takes 4th place with a time of 1.2 seconds to get to 1 degree and 1.63 seconds to read within half a degree.
The Maverick comes in third taking 1.15 seconds to read within .7 degrees. It never got to within half a degree, but it's incredibly fast when compared to the company's claim that it can get a temperature reading in under 3 seconds. 1.15 seconds is crazy fast when 3 seconds is the goal.
The Fireboard Spark takes second place with 1.10 seconds to read within .7 degrees and 1.42 seconds to hit the half a degree mark.
That leaves the Thermoworks Thermapen One in first place for this test, taking .88 seconds to read within .7 degrees of accuracy, and 1.2 seconds to hit within half a degree.
To over-simplify the results in the medium steak test, they're all crazy fast, and that's important if you're cooking steak over a hot grill.
Medium Rare Winner: Thermapen One
So, how do you decide which is the best instant read thermometer for you after taking in all this data? Here's my take.
The ThermoPop 2 punches above its price point here winning 4 categories, which I think speaks to the value of what retails as a $35 thermometer. The ThermoPop 2 brings more features and quality to the table than most instant read thermometers at this price.
The Fireboard Spark is the Cadillac of instant read thermometers. There's pretty much no feature or accessory that's been left off the Spark, so if you're wanting more than just a good instant read, this one is the one you're looking for.
The Thermapen One is still my favorite instant read thermometer I've used for a couple of reasons. First, it just feels right in my hand. I don't question how I should hold it like I do with some of the others in this head to head.
Second, it's an accurate thermometer that is just fast. When I'm over a hot grill, and want to get in and get out as fast as possible.
Lastly for me, it's the 5 year warranty. Instant read thermometers around here get a ton of use, and I'm not easy on them, and I want a warranty that will stand up to the level of use that I give them.
So, those are my thoughts. Which one of these instant reads is the right one for you? That's really for you and your budget to decide.
Drop a comment below and let us know which thermometer wins for you, because what's right for me doesn't necessarily mean that it's right for you. I'd love to hear which one you would pick and why!