For perfect roasts, use a digital meat thermometer

When you think of all the money and effort it takes to turn out a perfectly grilled steak, braised pork tenderloin, or a moist, tender turkey, it’s surprising that intuition often trumps a reliable meat thermometer. No more. Consumer Reports tested 46 meat thermometers and found 10 impressive enough to make our top picks list. Spoiler alert: They’re all digital.

Most of the meat thermometers we tested were accurate within 2 to 4 °F of the reference thermometer and none was more than 5 °F off. Digital models generally performed better and were more accurate, consistent, and convenient to use than analog models. Analog thermometers were often more difficult to read, had the longest response times, and have few if any features. So go digital. Here’s a glimpse at several top picks.

Instant-read digital thermometers. Simple and straightforward to use, instructions weren’t needed for most since all you do is turn them on. They usually had the fastest response times, are better for thin cuts of meat, and easier to use for checking the temperature in several spots. Use one near the end of cooking to check the final temperature. Most have handy features such as auto shutoff and temperature hold, which lets you see the displayed temperature longer.

Winners: The top-rated CDN ProAccurate INTP626X was excellent overall, with impressive accuracy and superb consistency. It was simple to use and has a folding probe. Large digits made it easy to read, and it’s a cinch to clean, but at $85 it’s the most expensive in this group. The $18 Polder Stable Read THM-379 was nearly as good and easy to use, read, and clean.

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Leave-in digital thermometer. With this type of meat thermometer, the probe remains in the meat while it cooks, monitoring the temperature without your having to open the oven door. It can also be used as an instant read. The probe is at the end of a long cord that connects to a base unit with a digital screen. The base can be placed on the counter and some can be attached to the oven door by a magnet. Leave-in digitals pack the most features, including timers, audible alerts, and programmable temperatures. Some are wireless, allowing you to keep an eye on the temperature while you’re more than 100 feet away, using a smart phone or the wireless device that’s part of the unit.

Winners: Three are recommended. All are wireless, offering remote control. The $200 Williams-Sonoma Smart Thermometer 87072 was the best of all the meat thermometers we tested. It offers excellent, consistent accuracy, and impressive features, such as estimated time remaining to reach the target temperature and more than a dozen programmable settings. It has a sleek design, brushed stainless steel base, and an easy-to-ready LCD screen. But the function buttons are small and can be difficult to push.

If you want wireless setup, you’ll need to read the instructions, but once the app is downloaded it automatically syncs with the receiver. The Williams-Sonoma thermometer only works with Apple products—iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch—and we found it works at more than 100 feet away. We also recommend two less-expensive models, the Oregon Scientific Wireless BBQ/Oven AW131, $50, and iGrill mini Bluetooth, $40.

Of course, taste isn't the only reason to use a meat thermometer. Eating undercooked meat may pose health risks. Remember that when you’re cooking, insert the thermometer in the thickest part of the meat—avoid bone, fat, and gristle—and check the temperature in several places. To find the correct temperature for the meat you're making, check the Safe Minimum Internal Temperature Chart from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

For the details on our tests of dozens of meat thermometers, check our Ratings, which include analog instant-read and leave-in thermometers.

—Kimberly Janeway (@CRJaneway on Twitter)

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