Skip to main content

Get instant access to everything. 2-Week Free Trial

Make 2021 the year of “Why not?” in the kitchen with Digital All Access. Get all our recipes, videos, and up-to-date ratings and cook anything with confidence.

Get Free Access ▸

Testing Clip-On Probe Thermometers for Meat, Deep Frying, and Candy Making

By Hannah Crowley Published

We made French fries, fried chicken, and caramel sauce, evaluating four thermometers for accuracy, functionality, and durability.

Update: February 2018

Recently, the manufacturer of our winning clip-on probe thermometer, the ThermoWorks ChefAlarm, released a new, stripped-down model, the ThermoWorks DOT, which performs just one function: alerting you when your food has risen to the temperature you set. When we compared the two models, we found that the DOT is just as accurate, fits on just as many pots and pans as long as you buy a pot clip (available separately for $4.00), can monitor the same range of temperatures, and is compatible with six of ThermoWorks's accessory probes. We also liked its intuitive interface. That said, we think the feature-rich ChefAlarm—it includes a low-temperature alarm, a timer, a tracker that monitors the time elapsed since the target temperature was reached, a storage case, and a pot clip, and it's the only model we tested that can be recalibrated—is worth the extra money.

 

UPDATE: NOVEMBER 2015 While evaluating oven thermometers, we discovered that the ThermoWorks ChefAlarm offers an alternative to the dial-face models we tested. The company sells a separate ambient temperature probe, which connects to the thermometer and tracks the temperature of the oven. The probe clipped easily to the grate and was accurate to within a single degree. We also like that the remote thermometer, with its large digital display and intuitive user interfaces, allows you to easily check the oven temperature without opening the door. If you already own a ChefAlarm, it’s a great choice.

In the test kitchen, we use hands-free clip-on digital thermometers to monitor temperatures when deep-frying food, making candy, and—with some models—checking food as it cooks in the oven without needing to open the oven door. We tested four models, priced from $24.99 to $59. Three have probes that clip onto a pot, with a wire that transmits readings to a small countertop receiver. The fourth is a single unit that clips on entirely.

We made French fries, fried chicken, and caramel sauce, evaluating the thermometers for accuracy, functionality, and how well they fit a variety of pots and pans, from 1-quart saucepans to Dutch ovens. To confirm accuracy, we double-checked each reading with two additional laboratory-quality calibrated thermocouples. The three models with separate wire probes can be used in the oven, too, so we put them to another test: roasting pork loins. (The fourth model is for stovetop use only.)

Our final test was aimed at durability. Sous vide cookers are designed to hold water at a specific temperature for many hours, so we inserted the probe of each thermometer into the sous vide and recorded their displayed temperatures every 30 minutes for 5 hours. Then we checked the recorded temperatures against the machine’s readout and results from an additional lab-quality thermometer.

Accuracy is paramount, as anyone with a faulty thermometer knows. A few degrees in the wrong direction can spell scorched sugar or soggy fried chicken. But our numbers were befuddling: Two models were off when we made caramel, yet in the sous vide cooker—and for one model that also works in the oven, when we did the pork loin test—they were perfectly on target. What gives?

Experts told us that a thermometer can be inaccurate for many reasons, including heat or moisture damage and poor quality control during manufacturing. Also, as with our sometimes-faulty thermometers, they may work in a consistent environment like that of a sous vide or an oven roast but aren’t responsive enough to report quickly rising or falling temperatures with accuracy.

Of our two accurate thermometers, one was a basic model with a timer, simple controls, a programmable alarm that rings when you’ve hit your goal temperature, and a probe that fits securely on a variety of pots and pans as well as in an oven roast; it’s our Best Buy. But for the Cadillac of clip-on digital thermometers, nothing beat the accuracy and user experience of our winner. Its slightly wider keyboard, with buttons for every function, was so easy to use that we didn’t even need the manual. Its high- and low-temperature alarms, with adjustable backlight and volume, were useful and well designed. It has the highest maximum temperature, 572 degrees, of all four models, which is nice for the oven and grilling. Most importantly, it's the only thermometer in our lineup that can be recalibrated so that it stays accurate over the long term, just as professional thermometers do. It’s more expensive, but its accuracy, easy interface, and promise of longevity are well worth it.

Polder Classic Digital Thermometer/Timer

We made French fries, fried chicken, and caramel sauce, evaluating four thermometers for accuracy, functionality, and durability.

Leave a comment and join the conversation!

0 Comments
Read & post comments with a free account
Join the conversation with our community of home cooks, test cooks, and editors.
First Name is Required
Last Name is Required
Email Address is Required
How we use your email?
Password is Required
JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.