Meat Thermometers – How To Choose The Right One

Meat thermometers are an ideal way to get that perfectly cooked BBQ every time. A meat or grill thermometer takes the guess work out of cooking your meat safely and to perfection.

Table of Contents show

Every single meat dish has a minimum cooking temperature that must be reached to make sure it’s safe for human consumption, whether you’re grilling chicken breast or smoking a brisket.

We tend to guesstimate the time required for meat to be cooked properly, but that’s exactly how we end up with undercooked or overcooked food. This can take years to master and where a cooking thermometer will be a huge benefit.

One surefire way to guarantee that each meat dish you make is cooked to the right temperature is to utilize a good quality meat thermometer.

Despite the many different types and styles, they all do the same thing, let you know when the internal temperature of your cooked meat is safe to eat and cooked to your liking.

With so many barbecue and grill thermometers on the market it can be difficult to select the one which will fit your needs. I guess if you know what types of meat you are cooking, then choosing the right style meat thermometer will become easier.

Why Should You Use a Meat Thermometer?

Aside from sheer convenience and not having to worry about overcooking a considerable chunk of meat that it becomes inedible even for your dog, there are a few reasons why you should use a meat thermometer.

Foodborne Illness

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food has to be cooked thoroughly and should be checked using a thermometer in order to avoid foodborne bacterial and viral diseases such as Salmonella and Norovirus.

Did you know that around 48 million people around the globe get sick from foodborne diseases on a yearly basis? A lot of this can be attributed to eating meat that is not cooked to a safe temperature.

Using a good reliable barbecue grill thermometer will ensure that your meat is cooked through to the centre, reducing the likelihood of food poisoning.

It will also help to detect any undercooked parts of your meat, provide a quick and accurate reading and limit the losing the integrity of your food by not cutting the meat and releasing the juices that keep it moist and tender.

The Minnesota Department of Health acknowledged that there are three minimum temperatures that have to be remembered when cooking meat;

160°F for ground meat,
165°F for poultry,
145°F for meat steaks, roasts, and chops.

Click here to learn more about the different degrees of doneness. To make sure you reach these specified temperatures you really should be using a meat thermometer.

Unreliable Senses

Like I’ve already mentioned in the introduction, we often rely on our senses to judge whether our food is cooked properly or not. Some people tend to judge the color of the meat, whereas others judge the look or feel. This approach is bound to give you inconsistent results a lot of the time.

It’s good to know that the color of the proteins can change on some meats when exposed to oxygen, which is why some meats may look perfect when you first cut them, but turn red a minute later.

Yeah I often used to put a steak on the grill and wait for the blood to hit the surface and flip it once for another minute or two but depending how thick it was, sometimes end up way too raw.

Having a meat thermometer handy would have given way more consistent results every single time. Using a thermometer definitely is a huge help.  Spare yourself the hassle by investing in an accurate meat thermometer. It will help you determine when the protein in the meat is done cooking.

Using a grill thermometer is as simple as can be and it doesn’t require more than a couple of seconds.

Taste and Texture

A lot of people tend to cut into the meat they’re cooking in order to tell whether or not the meat is cooked. Well, this is not a great way to test how cooked it is.

Apart from not being a very reliable way to gauge its doneness, you’re also letting out a lot of the flavors and juices, which undoubtedly dries out the meat and takes away from its flavor, Ouch.

That’s why if you’re using a high-quality instant-read meat thermometer, you won’t have to cut into the meat because it’ll tell you exactly when it’s cooked to perfection. This will save you the hassle of checking if the meat is done cooking every few minutes.

It will also help the meat retain its flavor and juices, while you look like the champion barbecue guru every time.

Perfect cooked steak using meat thermometer

Different Types of Meat Thermometers

Choosing one of the different types of meat thermometers is simply a matter of deciding what you will mainly be cooking and whether you need, or want, any of the extra bells and whistles that the high-end thermometers have. Understanding these differences will help you select the correct type for your situation.

There are a few main types of barbecue thermometers available and some of the common types to consider are bimetallic, digital instant-read, thermocouple and wireless / Bluetooth thermometers.

Bimetal / Dial-Instantimage of a bimetal food thermometer

Bimetallic / dial-instant thermometers utilize 2 different metals that expand at different rates as they are heated. By using two different strips of metal in the thermometer, the movement of the strips expansion correlates back to gauge the average temperature of the meat.

Bimetal thermometers aren’t as fast as digital instant-reads or thermocouples, as they require anywhere from 15-30 seconds to provide a reading.

Their probes tend to be a little thick too, so you can’t use them to measure the temperature of slender pieces of meat.

One other thing is that the accuracy and reliability is nowhere near as good as the digital meat thermometers as they can be out up to 50°F or more. So no, not that reliable if you want consistent results.

Some people overcome the probe thickness ordeal by inserting the unit sideways. This can help you gauge the internal temperature of relatively thin food like chicken breasts or steak, but I wouldn’t advise it although it’s worth knowing.

The best thing about bimetallic thermometers is that they’re fairly inexpensive, making them ideal picks first timers or cost-conscious meat connoisseurs.

You also need to bear in mind that bimetal thermometers aren’t intended to remain in the food as it’s cooking, which basically means you should only use them to check the internal temperature of meat near the end of its estimated cooking time.

Note also that not all bimetal / dial-instant thermometers can be calibrated, so make sure you check the manufacturer’s instructions before you buy one. In all honesty, you’d be better of getting one of the instant-read digital thermometers instead.

Pros & Cons

  • Inexpensive compared to other types
  • Ideal for gauging thick pieces of meat
  • Take a long time to provide a reading
  • Probe is overly thick for thinner foods
  • Can’t remain in food while it’s cooking
  • Not super accurate


Digital Instant-Readdigital instant read thermometer

Digital instant-read thermometers are capable of reading temperatures in under 10 seconds, as they utilize a semiconductor that’s very sensitive to temperature, which you can find attached to the tip of the probe.

Unlike bimetal thermometers, the probe on digital instant-reads is quite thin at just 1/8 of an inch, meaning that you can use such units to gauge thinner foods with ease.

Similar to bimetal thermometers, digital instant-reads aren’t intended to remain in food as it’s cooking, so you’ll have to use it near the end of your food’s cooking time to check for your preferred doneness.

Moreover, some models can be calibrated, whereas others can’t, so check the manufacturer’s instructions before you buy one.

The cost of digital instant-reads depends on the features they have to offer, but you can pick one up for around 15 – 20 bucks so they are quite affordable.

Pros & Cons

  • Doesn’t take very long to give a reading
  • Can be used to measure thin foods
  • Compact design that are easy to store
  • Can be expensive based on features
  • Can’t remain in food while it’s cooking


ThermocouplesThermocouple meat thermometer folded up

Thermocouples are the fastest of the three types, as they can deliver accurate readings in just a couple of seconds.

These thermometers typically come equipped with a digital panel and two fine wires at the tip of the probe. The connection between the two wires causes a tiny voltage to appear, when the temperature increases so does the voltage. This is what gives the temperature reading in the thermometer.

These units are just as easy to use as digital instant-reads.

The awesome thing about thermocouples is that they’re equipped with thin probes that are as small as 0.0625 inches, which makes them great for measuring all types of food, not just meat, be it super thick or super thin.

The main downside to thermocouples is that they’re more costly compared to bimetals and digital instant-reads, but it’s well worth it considering how quick and precise the readings are.

Note that these also can’t stay in food as it’s cooking, so if you’re going to buy one, make sure you use it to gauge the internal temperature of food near the end of its estimated cooking time.

Pros & Cons

  • Incredibly fast and accurate readings
  • Remarkably easy to use and calibrate
  • Perfect for even the thinnest of foods
  • More expensive compared to the rest
  • Can’t remain in food while it’s cooking


Wireless – Bluetooth Digital Grill ThermometersWireless meat thermometer with 4 probes

These things are the bomb in terms of features and functionality. They will generally have a small base unit which then connects to your smartphone via wireless connection or Bluetooth.

They will mostly have a small probe that gets inserted into the meat which is attached to a wire plugged into the base unit.

The base station can then sync to your smartphone where you can control different functions for cooking your meat to perfection without the guesswork.

Some of the better units have incredible range, out to 300ft, but a lot will depend on line of sight back to the unit. That is, how many walls the signal is going through, signal strength etc.

The apps for your smartphone have lots of settings for particular cuts of meat and how well done you want to cook them. Just pick your setting, rare, medium rare, medium etc, your cut of meat and it will sound an alarm when the meat reaches the desired temperature.

Wireless meat thermometers are also extremely accurate but as you can guess, all this tech and features does come at a cost, so you really need to weigh up how much you will need, or use these extra features and if it is worth shelling out your hard-earned for.

Having said that, if you venture down this path you will have a grilling tool in your kit that will last for ages and make you appear the perfect cook to all of your friends and family.

Pros & Cons

  • Incredibly fast and accurate readings
  • Lots of features and options
  • Perfect for smoking large cuts of meat
  • Can have multiple probes connected
  • Can remain in food while it’s cooking
  • More expensive compared to the rest
  • Signal strength can vary


How to Use Meat Thermometers Correctly

meat thermometer insertred into roast meat

Thermometers are pretty easy to use, but there are a few things to know that will give you the best results time and again, starting with inserting the probe into the ideal spot.

For roasts, thick steak and chops, you need to press the thermometer’s probe into the center of the thickest portion of the meat. Stay away from the fat, gristle, and bone to ensure an accurate reading.

For whole chicken and turkey, you should put the thermometer’s probe into the inner thigh area and make sure you’re not touching the bones.

If you’re cooking thin items like burger patties, thin steaks or chicken breast, you need to insert the probe into the side of the meat about half up.

If you’re cooking ground meat for meatloaf or so, you need to stick the probe in the thickest area near the middle.

I guess a good rule of thumb is to stick it into the center of what meat you are cooking as this is normally the least cooked area.

Features to Look for in a Meat Thermometer

Food thermometers are remarkably diverse when it comes to features. The more features a unit has, the steeper in price it’s going to be. Below are a few features you should look at when purchasing a grill thermometer.

  • Auto Shutoff – This feature helps save battery life by turning the unit off when not used.
  • Preset Temperature – Allows you to preset the temperature you want the food to reach.
  • Auto Alarm – It alerts you when the meat you’re cooking reaches a preset temperature.
  • Temperature Hold – As the name implies, this function helps display the reading longer.
  • Programmable Temperature – Allows you to program your custom target temperature. 
  • Quick Reading – Getting to final temperature in a few seconds is ideal.

Cleaning Your Meat Thermometer

Cleaning and sanitizing your thermometer is important to eliminate potential contaminants. First of all, you need to wash your thermometer probe with warm water because it’ll help remove any lingering residue.

Keep washing it until all meat remnants are removed. After you’ve rinsed your thermometer, grab some rubbing alcohol and a cotton swab and sterilize the probe.

When doing anything around the thermometer probe, you need to be extremely gentle because the probe is pretty delicate.

After you’re done sterilizing the probe, rinse it once more with warm water to get rid of residual alcohol. After that place your thermometer in a clean area where it can air dry for an hour or so.

Once the thermometer is dry place it back in the packaging, ideally with the batteries removed to prevent corrosion on the contacts.

Maintenance Tips for Meat Thermometers

Depending on the type you have, the most important maintenance tip with regard to meat thermometers is to never leave them in food for too long.

When inserting the probe, using a gentle push you want to avoid bones, as they can bend the probe and render it useless.

It’s also critical to understand that meat thermometers are designed to gauge the temperature of hot food items, but they can’t handle direct flames or soaring high temperatures.

Don’t make the mistake of inserting your thermometer into an oven unless it’s an oven thermometer. Each meat thermometer has a temperature limit that you shouldn’t exceed to ensure safety and durability.

Final Thoughts on Meat Thermometers

So there you have it. There are many different types of meat thermometers to use with your barbecue and all of them offer various features and options.

When you sit down and work out how much you will use it, what you will mostly be cooking, what features you need or want and how much your budget is, you can then look for the model that satisfies your goals.

Cheers, Herbie.

Featured BBQ's

Written By


Hi there, I'm Greg (also known as Herbie) and like most Aussies enjoy a good BBQ. I want to share with you some tips and recipes, along with gear that I like, to help you with your backyard barbecue and grilling hobbie.Anyway, have a look around and let me know what you think and happy BBQing. Cheers Herbie.

Related Articles

Best Wood for Smoking Chicken: Choosing the Right Wood

Best Wood for Smoking Chicken: Choosing the Right Wood

In this article, I want to share my experience and research on the best wood for smoking chicken. As someone who loves to cook, I am always on the lookout for the best ingredients and techniques to make my dishes stand out. When it comes to smoking chicken, the type...

How to Stop Chicken from Sticking to the Grill

How to Stop Chicken from Sticking to the Grill

When it comes to grilling chicken, one of the most frustrating things is when it sticks to the grill. Not only can this ruin the presentation of your meal, but it can also make it difficult to cook the chicken evenly. Luckily, there are a few simple tips and tricks to...