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Timing is everything—don’t use just anything.
There’s nothing like a spectacular kitchen failure, replete with leathery meat, disintegrated vegetables, or, worse yet, billowing smoke to drive home the importance of timing in cooking. Most every smartphone, tablet, oven, or microwave has a timer these days, so why use a dedicated kitchen timer? Kitchen timers are more durable and moisture-resistant than other electronics, and they’re more versatile than appliance timers, with extra features like the ability to track multiple things at once, longer ranges, or the capacity to count up once the timer has sounded to track elapsed time.
When we last tested digital multi-event kitchen timers, the American Innovative Chef’s Quad Timer Professional was the winner. But it’s not perfect (it’s a bit confusing to operate and can’t be set for less than 1 minute), and so a slew of new options inspired us to take another look at these products.
We rounded up 12 new digital timers, choosing those that could track between two and four events at once, and pitted them against our old winner. All models were priced between $11.49 and $49.95. We were hard on our timers, because a good kitchen timer should be brutishly durable, unfailingly accurate, and dead easy to use. To see how easy the timers were to use in a hot, busy kitchen, we used them to make pizza dough that required five different timing increments and soft-boiled eggs that cooked for precisely 6 minutes and 30 seconds. We also knocked them off kitchen counters, smeared them with sticky dough and flour, and mopped them up with sopping wet dish towels.
Two factors, accuracy and durability, were nonnegotiable—a broken or inexact timer is about as useful as a mesh umbrella. We tested each unit’s timers against the official time kept by the National Institute of Standards and Technology and were pleasantly surprised to find that all the timers were accurate. They also all emerged from our durability testing intact. But that didn’t mean we liked them all, as a surprising number of secondary factors decided each timer’s fate.
Most important was how easy the timers were to set and reset. We found that some timers had extra “confirming” steps; for example, if you wanted to set the time for 1 minute, you also had to confirm that you wanted zero seconds, instead of just entering 1 minute and pressing “start.” The best products took three steps: select one of the timers, enter desired time, and press “start.” Resetting some timers required us to press multiple buttons simultaneously; others had us hold down one button for a length of time. Testers preferred obvious “clear” buttons that they could hit once with a single finger.
The final factors were small but important design elements that made timers easy to use: legible displays; comfortably audible alerts; compact, stable formats; large, clearly labeled buttons; and displays that showed all of the unit’s timers simultaneously.
One model had everything we wanted, plus a unique innovation. Most timers had hours, minutes, and seconds buttons that you press and scroll through to set; better models can reverse so that if you overshoot your time you don’t have to start over, but our new winner was the only timer with a direct-entry keypad with numbers 0 to 9, so users can type in the exact time they want without scrolling.
We have no doubt that technology will continue to develop; at some point, smart devices will be more durable and appliance timers more sophisticated, so we will continue to monitor their development. But until then the accurate, durable, stable OXO Good Grips Triple Timer ($19.99) is the best you can buy. We especially love its direct-entry keypad and smart, simple design that makes time your friend, not your foe.
Our testing panel evaluated 13 timers, rating them on how easy they were to understand, use, see, hear, and clean, as well as how intelligently they were designed. In the kitchen we used each timer while making our recipe for thin-crust pizza dough, which requires five different timing increments ranging from 2 seconds to 10 minutes, while simultaneously using each unit’s secondary timer to make soft-boiled eggs, which cook for precisely 6 minutes and 30 seconds. We smeared each timer’s screen and buttons with a teaspoon of sticky pizza dough, dusted them with a tablespoon of flour, and then mopped them up with a sopping cloth to see how easy they were to clean. Lastly, we knocked each timer off a counter three times to evaluate durability.