Oven Thermometers

From Cook's Illustrated | January/February 2011

Which oven thermometer is reliable enough to tell you what's really going on inside your oven?

Overview:

Fact: Ovens are inaccurate. Since all ovens cycle on and off to maintain temperature, even the best models will periodically deviate from the desired target by at least a few degrees throughout cooking. On top of this, we’ve found that ovens set to the same temperature can vary by as much as 90 degrees. We recommend recalibrating your oven regularly, but in the meantime a reliable oven thermometer will tell you what’s really going on.

Oven thermometers come in two styles: bulb and dial-face. We prefer dial-face brands, as we’ve found that the tinted alcohol used in bulb thermometers can get stuck, compromising accuracy. In addition to giving accurate temperature readings, an oven thermometer should be easy to read and easy to mount securely and safely out of the way. It should also be durable. (Even if an oven thermometer only costs a few bucks, you shouldn’t have to keep replacing it.) Our most recent favorite was a dial-face model that uses a bimetal coil (the different metals in the coils expand and contract at different… read more

Fact: Ovens are inaccurate. Since all ovens cycle on and off to maintain temperature, even the best models will periodically deviate from the desired target by at least a few degrees throughout cooking. On top of this, we’ve found that ovens set to the same temperature can vary by as much as 90 degrees. We recommend recalibrating your oven regularly, but in the meantime a reliable oven thermometer will tell you what’s really going on.

Oven thermometers come in two styles: bulb and dial-face. We prefer dial-face brands, as we’ve found that the tinted alcohol used in bulb thermometers can get stuck, compromising accuracy. In addition to giving accurate temperature readings, an oven thermometer should be easy to read and easy to mount securely and safely out of the way. It should also be durable. (Even if an oven thermometer only costs a few bucks, you shouldn’t have to keep replacing it.) Our most recent favorite was a dial-face model that uses a bimetal coil (the different metals in the coils expand and contract at different rates when heated or cooled, moving the dial on the thermometer face). It worked fine until the numbers on the thermometer face disappeared, burned off by the heat.

Not convinced that it wasn’t our own fault for accidentally leaving it in the oven during a cleaning cycle, we bought duplicates of our favorite, the CDN Multi-Mount Oven Thermometer, and rounded up four other dial-face brands to see what each could do over the long and short haul. We used a thermocouple to read high and low oven temperatures and compared its readouts with those given by each thermometer. (Thermocouples are precise instant-read instruments used in scientific and industrial processes.) We also maneuvered pans and baking dishes in and out of the oven to gauge whether a thermometer stayed put and out of the way. Finally, we left a thermometer in every oven in the test kitchen and asked test cooks to provide feedback over six months of daily use.

Sure enough, despite our being careful not to leave thermometers in place during cleaning cycles, the numbers on our old favorite started to fade again. Other models developed fogged or discolored faces, were difficult to place in the oven or maneuver around with pans, and were off by as much as 10 degrees.

In the end, we were most impressed by the winner's easy-to-read numbers despite its small face. It can hang or stand freely on oven racks. It’s accurate, and after months of testing, its face remained clear, its numbers visible and readable.

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  • Product Tested

    Results Key:

    Good ★ ★ ★ Fair ★ ★ Poor
  • Prices are subject to change.
  • Recommended - Winner

    Cooper-Atkins Oven Thermometer

    Basic, sturdy, accurate, and the least expensive model tested, this commercial-style thermometer (it provides food safety guidelines in small print on the face) rose to the top of our rankings. Designed to either sit on or hang from oven racks, it stayed safely out of our way as we baked and roasted. After six months of constant testing, the face was still easy to read and temperature readings remained spot-on.

    • Design ★★★
    • Temperature Accuracy ★★★

    $5.95

    BUY NOW Amazon
  • Recommended

    CDN Pro Accurate Data Hold Oven Thermometer

    This model was especially accurate: It uses an oil-filled temperature chamber that delays readings as the oven cycles up and down. After months of testing, its dial was slightly yellowed but still very legible. Our one complaint: The mounting method—a flimsy and awkward clip—made it slightly difficult to attach to oven racks.

    • Design ★★
    • Temperature Accuracy ★★★

    $11.99

    BUY NOW Amazon
  • Recommended with Reservations

    Taylor Connoisseur Series Oven Thermometer

    Although this thermometer was accurate, it was large and got in the way of our cooking. The company warns that prolonged use at over 440 degrees may lead to discoloration and cracking (which we did observe in the four copies of this model used in our testing)—an unacceptable caveat for an oven thermometer.

    • Design
    • Temperature Accuracy ★★★

    $17.95

  • Recommended with Reservations

    CDN Multi-Mount Oven Thermometer

    This thermometer was once our favorite due to its accuracy and convenient magnet for easy attachment. But we noticed that over time the numbers started fading, making it almost impossible to read. What’s more, new copies purchased for this testing were off by five degrees.

    • Design ★★
    • Temperature Accuracy ★★

    $7.95

  • Not Recommended

    Maverick Oven Chek Large Dial Oven Thermometer

    Big, clumsy, and top-heavy, this model fell to the bottom of the pack. After the first three months of testing, the dial became fogged and discolored, making it impossible to read. Accuracy was not its strong suit either, at consistently 10 degrees below the oven’s real temperature.

    • Design
    • Temperature Accuracy

    $9.95

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