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An oven thermometer is the only reliable way to know what’s happening inside your oven—unless you have a model that’s inaccurate, hard to read, or falls off the racks.
We recently learned that our favorite oven thermometer, the CDN Pro Accurate Oven Thermometer, is now being manufactured in two factories to keep up with demand. Models made in the new factory have some coloring on their faces and a U-shaped base. We purchased multiple copies of this new model and subjected them to our original tests. All were accurate and sat securely on our oven racks. We still recommend this product, but models purchased may not look exactly like the item pictured.
For reliable, consistent results with recipes, a good oven thermometer is critical. When we used a high-tech digital thermometer to take the temperature of five different home ovens preheated to 350 degrees, some missed the mark by as much as 50 degrees. Here’s one big reason why: An oven’s internal thermometer only gauges the temperature of the location where it’s installed, which is necessarily in an out-of-the-way spot in the back, front, or side of the oven box. But these areas can be subject to hot spots or drafts that make their temperatures differ from the center of the oven. Only a good freestanding oven thermometer can tell you what’s really going on right in the middle of the oven, where most food cooks.
For several years, we’ve relied on our winning dial-face oven thermometer from Cooper-Atkins, but we’ve also noticed new models on the market and wondered if anything better had come along. Would we find the new best oven thermometer? We scooped up nine dial-face models priced from $4.63 to $20.94 to pit against it. (We avoided bulb models since we’ve found that their tinted alcohol can get stuck and give inaccurate readings.) Most of our lineup had the option to hang from the racks or sit upright. Either way, we wanted a thermometer that was easy to position and remove for a periodic reading. In addition to ease of use, we rated the legibility of the faces and, most importantly, the models’ accuracy. Finally, to assess quality control, we purchased four copies of each thermometer and ran the entire set through testing.
An unreliable oven thermometer is worse than none at all, so we started by evaluating each brand’s accuracy at 250, 350, and 450 degrees, using the same oven for all of our tests. We clipped a lab-grade thermocouple to the center of the middle oven rack and arranged all four copies of a model closely around the probe. We then compared their readings to the thermocouple’s.
All dial-face thermometers work by the same internal mechanism. A bimetallic strip (that is, two pieces of different metals pressed together) is wound into a tight coil and connected to a tiny dial. The two metals expand and contract at different rates when heated or cooled, moving the dial on the face. As simple a mechanism as this is, quality controls clearly vary from factory to factory. With three products, one out of the four copies faltered, registering temperatures 10 to 25 degrees off the real oven temperature.
Most of the models in our lineup had thin, flat bases designed to sit atop the oven racks. Models with bases less than 2¼ inches wide were difficult to position and prone to tipping over. We found similar fault with two models with clamp-like bases designed to clip onto the grates. The space between the open jaws of the clamp was too narrow to slide over the racks in all five of the different oven styles we tested. At best, they slid on crooked and were difficult to read. At worst, they fell off completely and landed on the oven floor. After one such tumble, the silicone backing on one model melted and warped. The glass face of another top-heavy model cracked when it hit the oven floor.
Finally, we focused our attention on how easy it was to read each model with the oven door open and closed. Our testers favored models that had minimal markings beyond 50- and 25-degree indications, since having more tick marks made them harder to read, and the extra marks were unnecessary anyway. We also knocked off points on models with metal casings that obscured the numbers or cast long shadows on them, forcing us to crouch or squint to read the temperature.
In the end, nearly half our lineup failed to meet our basic criteria for legibility and stability. Add to that the three models that faltered in our accuracy tests, and we were left with just four oven thermometers that met our expectations. Of these, our winner earned the top marks. It has large temperature markings and a simple, streamlined face—plus, a wide base that fits securely on all types of oven racks without fiddling or fussing. It’s our new winner, and one that we’ll be keeping within easy reach to check our own ovens.
We tested 10 dialface thermometers, priced from $4.63 to $20.94, all with a temperature range of at least 150 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Prices shown were paid online. Models appear in order of preference.
All copies of this model aced our accuracy tests. It sports a wide, sturdy base and clear temperature markings with large numbers and boldly visible dashes at 50- and 25-degree increments. Its silver face is more prone to glare and light reflection than models with white backgrounds, but it’s still fairly easy to read.
As with our winner, all units of this model gave consistently accurate readings. Testers appreciated the large display and the color indications (cooler temperatures are shaded in blue and hotter in red), but we found its tiny dashes denoting temperature increments of less than 25 and 50 degrees distracting.
This thermometer was small but mighty, providing readings that matched the oven’s ambient temperature in test after test. When we looked at it straight on, the numbered markings were clear as day. But its metal casing obscured some numbers entirely and cast shadows on others, posing serious problems for tall cooks and frustrating even our more petite testers.
Our old winner continued to impress us with consistently accurate temperature readings and a wide, sturdy base. But the metal casing hid some numbers from view, drawing criticism especially from taller testers. The food safety instructions printed on the bottom of the face were distracting.
We found no faults with the accuracy of this thermometer, and we liked how its numbers are located close to the center of the face, where they never became obscured by shadows. But its clamp-like clip was incompatible with every oven grate we tried. Frustrated testers struggled to clip it on facing forward and often watched with dismay as it fell forward or swiveled sideways.
The accuracy of this model wasn’t enough to offset its flaws: Its slim base, just 1¾ inches across, is just barely bigger than the gaps between most oven grates and required painstaking placement so it didn’t tip into the grates. The positioning of numbers between temperature increments (instead of directly over them) made it impossible to read at a glance.
Though this thermometer gave consistently accurate readings, it had a clamp-like clip (in place of a traditional flat base) that was difficult to slide onto the grates in all five different styles of oven we tested it in. It routinely clipped on crooked or fell over, making its otherwise bright, easy-to-read face illegible. The silicone backing on one unit melted and warped when it fell onto the oven floor
One unit of this model was off by 25-degree variations in two accuracy tests. It’s too bad, because the temperature markings are easy to read, and its wide base easily supports its extra-large face.
One copy of this thermometer gave readings 10 to 25 degrees below the actual oven temperature in all three temperature tests. The model is also quite small, with tiny numbers that are often obscured by its metal casing or hidden in shadows, but it did sit securely on the oven rack.
Like its sibling, this thermometer faltered in accuracy. One unit was off by 25 degrees in two temperature tests. The base also couldn’t support the weight of its oversized face, and it toppled over enough times to crack one unit’s glass front. With these flaws, we didn’t care that it was easy to read.