How we tested
An extra minute of cooking time can spell disaster for a dish. Timers that hang from a lanyard around your neck or clip to a pocket allow you to move freely around the house while still tracking the progress of your recipe. Our longtime favorite from Polder ($13.45) is compact and reliable, but it has a flaw: The small crevices around each of its small buttons trap food. Could we find a timer that matched its performance but was easier to clean? To find out, we rounded up five new wearable models (priced from $15.99 to $35.00), including one multievent model capable of tracking three times at once. After checking that all models were perfectly accurate against an online atomic clock, we assigned them to a team of test cooks for two weeks of intensive kitchen use. In addition to evaluating the timers’ ease of use, digital displays, audio alerts, and any additional features, our panel evaluated the comfort and security of the clips and lanyards.
All of the timers have clear digital displays and audible beeps that sounded whenever we pressed their buttons or when the timer finished, but they weren’t all easy to use. Five models had rows of numbered buttons, allowing us to quickly type in the desired time down to the exact second. Setting a model with click-through hour, minute, and second buttons took nearly three times as long. When we’re adding just a minute or two of cooking time, 30 seconds of fumbling is far too much. But that wasn’t our only criticism: Those buttons went up but not down, so we had to clear out the time and click up from zero again if we overshot the desired setting.
Although a functional and easy-to-use countdown timer was our primary objective, a stopwatch (count up) is useful for timing incremental mixing tasks. One model had only one setting—a basic timer—and our testers missed the versatility of the clock and stopwatch settings. Four other models boasted all three settings, and on most of them we could quickly toggle from one mode to another by pressing a button or sliding over a small plastic tab. The one exception was the multievent timer. Its three time displays are stacked in a single digital frame, with start/stop and mode buttons on the sides and several columns of buttons on the front of the model. With so much to look at and so many buttons to press, the learning curve was too steep to justify its use for people who rarely monitor more than one dish at a time.
Finally, we considered the wearability of the timers. Our testers hated the shape and design of the two clip-on models. Their clips were difficult to attach, they felt big and blocky (and tugged at lightweight clothing), and they fell off even when we walked slowly. The other four models performed much better. Their lanyards (all at least 34 inches around) were long enough to slip overhead, and the slim, rectangular timers could be comfortably tucked inside a pocket. The best lanyards were woven into a soft, flat shape that sat comfortably against our necks.
In the end, one model jumped ahead of our old favorite, thanks in large part to a smooth, water-resistant material that is easy to clean and keeps the timer safe from wet hands and spills. It also has a neat feature: Pressing any button will silence the alarm and trigger a count-up feature that records the time elapsed before you’re able to check your food. From now on, we’ll be stocking the ThermoWorks TimeStick ($25.00), which combines the versatility, portability, and easy-to-clean construction we were after. Plus, it’s exceptionally easy to use.