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

Published April 2014
Update: FEBRUARY 2018
Recently, the manufacturer of our winning clip-on probe thermometer, the ThermoWorks ChefAlarm ($59.00), released a new, stripped-down model, the ThermoWorks DOT ($39.00), 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 2015While 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.

How we tested

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.

The Results


Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

Admittedly expensive, this handsome block certainly seemed to live up to its billing as “the last knife block you ever have to buy.” The heaviest model in our testing, this block was ultrastable, and its durable bamboo exterior was a breeze to clean. Well-placed medium-strength magnets made it easy to attach all our knives, and a rotating base gave us quick access to them. One tiny quibble: The blade of our 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a little.


Schmidt Brothers Downtown Block

This roomy block completely sheathed our entire winning knife set using just one of its two sides—and quite securely, thanks to long, medium-strength magnet bars. Heavy, with a grippy base, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard made this model extra-safe but also made it a little trickier to insert knives and to clean; the wood block itself showed some minor cosmetic scratching during use.


Schmidt Brothers Midtown Block

This smaller version of the Downtown Block secured all our knives nicely, though the blade of the slicing knife stuck out a bit. With a base lined with grippy material, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard afforded extra protection against contact with blades but made it a little harder to insert knives and to clean; the wood itself got a little scratched during use.

Recommended with Reservations

Swissmar Bamboo Magnetic Knife Block

This small, scratch-resistant model had a stable, rubber-lined base and could hold all our knives, though the blade of the 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a bit. But inch-long gaps between its small magnets made coverage uneven and forced us to find the magnetic hot spots in order to secure the knives. Its acrylic guard made it safer to use but harder to insert knives and to clean.

Not Recommended

Messermeister Walnut Magnet Block

This handsome block was done in by its shape—a tippy, top-heavy quarter-circle that wasn’t tall or broad enough to keep the blades of three knives from poking out. It lacked a nonslip base, and its extra-strong magnets made it unnerving to attach or remove our heavy cleaver. Finally, it got a bit scratched after extensive use.


Epicurean Standing Knife Rack 12"

This magnetic block sheathed all our knives completely, though with a bit of crowding. But it was hard to insert each knife without hitting the block’s decorative slats on way down, and because the block was light and narrow, it wobbled when bumped. Worse, we couldn’t take it apart, so splatters that hit the interior were there to stay. Additionally, the outside stained easily, and when we wiped it down, the unit smelled like wet dog.


Kapoosh Rondelle Knife Block

This model stabilized knives with a mass of stiff, spaghetti-like bristles that shed and nicked easily after extensive use, covering our knives with plastic debris. While all our knives fit securely, several of the blades stuck out, making this unit feel less safe overall. Finally, though the bristles could be removed and cleaned in the dishwasher, their nooks and crannies made this block hard to wash by hand.


Kuhn Rikon Vision Knife Block, Clear

This plastic block required us to aim each knife into the folds of an accordion-pleated insert that was removable for easy cleaning but got nicked easily with repeated use. Because we could only insert the knives vertically, longer knife blades stuck out; a cleaver was too wide to fit. The lightest model in our lineup, this block was dangerously top-heavy when loaded with knives.