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Refrigerator/Freezer Thermometers

Published May 2017

How we tested

To make sure our refrigerators and freezers consistently operate at the optimal levels for food safety (at or below 40 degrees for refrigerators and zero degrees for freezers), we like to use special thermometers designed to track their temperatures over time. Simple instant-read refrigerator/freezer thermometers only tell you the current temperature of your appliance; they won’t necessarily let you know if your refrigerator or freezer veers out of the safe zone when you aren’t looking. So we narrowed our testing to include only digital refrigerator and freezer thermometers that have alarms—audio and/or visual indicators to alert you if the temperature has gone off course. We bought four thermometers priced from $17.99 to $41.99 and set out to find the best model—one that was accurate, was easy to read and use, and would do a good job of alerting us if temperatures went into the danger zone.

All of the models had at least two parts: a display that mounts magnetically on the outside of the refrigerator or sits on the counter, and a temperature sensor that goes inside the refrigerator and relays temperatures to the display. One model was wireless, but its temperature sensors were embedded in large cases that hogged valuable space in the refrigerator and freezer. We preferred models whose sensors were attached to wire probes that snaked from the display or monitor to the refrigerator or freezer—the wires were unobtrusive and easy to position anywhere in the refrigerator. (Don’t worry—your refrigerator or freezer will still seal tightly with the wires running inside, as the wires are quite thin.)

We also preferred models that came with two sensors, which allowed us to monitor refrigerator and freezer temperatures simultaneously. All thermometers allowed users to track both the maximum and minimum temperatures measured and to set audio and/or visual alerts to go off when temperatures went above or below customizable points (while alert styles varied, all models continued to indicate that the temperature had gone out of range until the user reset the alarm). In general, we liked models that were intuitive to navigate and program and had large, easy-to-read displays that made it clear when we were looking at current temperatures and when we were looking at maximums or minimums. Some users preferred visual alerts, and some preferred audio. Options differ from model to model; our favorite allows users to choose either or both.

All the models were reasonably accurate when placed in an ice bath and when used in the refrigerator, living up to their manufacturers’ claims to measure temperatures within 2 degrees of those recorded by a lab-grade thermocouple. In the freezer, however, two of the models faltered a bit, recording temperatures that were off from the thermocouple’s readings by an average of 2 to almost 4 degrees; while small fluctuations like these won’t normally be a problem, we preferred models that recorded temperatures that were as close as possible to those registered by the thermocouple.

Our winner, the ThermoWorks Fridge/Freezer Alarm ($22.00), was the most accurate thermometer in our testing. It had two probes and a clear though relatively small display. Its interface was a little tricky to navigate, but an extra feature more than made up for this minor flaw: This unit not only alerts you when temperatures go above or below the temperatures you designate, but when temperatures remain outside those points for more than a half-hour, the thermometer tracks the duration of that infraction, letting you know exactly how long your food has been out of the target zone. Finally, this thermometer is durable: To simulate a year’s use, we installed it in a refrigerator and then opened and closed the door 1,000 times. Afterward, the wire probes were good as new and registered the ice melting point as accurately as they had the first time.

Methodology

We tested four digital refrigerator/freezer thermometers priced from $17.99 to $41.99, rating them on their accuracy in an ice bath (the method most labs use to calibrate and evaluate thermometer accuracy) and in both the refrigerator and the freezer. We also evaluated how easy the thermometers were to install, navigate, and program and how clearly they displayed the data recorded.

ACCURACY: We gave more points to thermometers that registered temperatures closest to those recorded by our reference thermometer.

EASE OF USE: We awarded more points to thermometers that had two sensors, took up little space in our refrigerators and freezers, and were easy to install, navigate, and program.

DISPLAY: We awarded more points to models with bold, easy-to read displays that clearly indicated current, maximum, and minimum temperatures.

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The Results

Winner
Recommended

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.

$248.64*
Recommended

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.

$141.90*

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.

$67.99*
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.

$49.93*
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.

$129.95*

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.

$99.95*

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.

$24.99*

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.

$35.88*