A good, reliable set of knives is essential to any kitchen.
We consulted metallurgists, chefs, and butcher Pat LaFrieda to find the best knife sets out there.
The Wusthof set is our top pick because it comes with every knife you need for most kitchen tasks, plus a honing steel and a pair of shears.
Whether you’re prepping go-to recipes in your home kitchen or working on the line at the latest Michelin-starred restaurant, having good knives is essential. But you don’t need many: between a chef’s knife and a paring knife, you can chop, slice, dice, cube, mince, brunoise, chiffonade, julienne, and more. Beyond those two, you’ll probably want a bread knife, and depending on how much meat and poultry you cook, you may consider a boning or utility knife as well. Tracking down the perfect kitchen knives individually can be a time-consuming and expensive task, which is why purchasing them as a set is often a practical choice.
I’ve done stints in restaurants and raw bars, served as a galley cook aboard a private yacht, and filleted and shucked more seafood while working on fishing boats than I can recount. For this guide, I tested eleven knife sets, focusing on balance between the blades and handles, quality of construction, and edge retention.
While sharpness was a given (any knife that wasn’t sharp out of the package was immediately disqualified), we chose to test edge retention by slicing tomatoes before running knives on a glass cutting board 200 times in order to dull them. After dulling, we tried slicing tomatoes again to determine which edges held up best. We also consulted a professor of metallurgy to provide insight into the pros and cons of different alloys, and to break down our contenders’ hardness ratings.
Below are the knife sets that passed our tests exceptionally well. You can learn more about our methodology here, and if you’re still unsure as to whether a pre-assembled knife kit will suit your needs, check out our list of the pros and cons of buying your knives piecemeal.
Pros: Great weight and balance, impressive edge retention
Cons: Wood block is on the larger side, bread knife could be longer
Wusthof’s Classic Ikon seven-piece knife set comes with a three-and-a-half-inch paring knife, a six-inch utility (or boning) knife, an eight-inch bread knife, an eight-inch chef’s knife, a nine-inch honing steel, a pair of “come-apart” kitchen shears, and a 15-slot solid walnut block for countertop storage.
This is the set for those who are building out a kitchen from absolute scratch and have a bit of money to do so. It covers just about every cutlery need, and should you decide to buy another knife for a highly-specific task, there’s plenty of room in that 15-slot block for extra additions.
These knives are all forged (not stamped out) from high-carbon steel, which is fairly easy to sharpen, but also holds an edge far longer than the X50CrMoV15 steel found in many of the more affordable options we’ve tested.
The handles are POM (polyoxymethylene), which has a smooth, satin finish. They’re on the small side, but every-so-slightly ergonomically shaped, making them comfortable to grip.
Some people may take issue with the serrated (or bread) knife, which, at eight inches, is a bit small. A 10 or 11-inch blade is preferable, especially when it comes to slicing a large peasant loaf, although a knife of that size won’t easily fit in a storage block. Take Wusthof’s serrated knife for what it is, or use it to slice meats and smaller breads and invest in a larger bread knife to store elsewhere in your kitchen.
These knives come with a limited lifetime warranty, which protects only against manufacturing defects. We’ve used these knives for nearly a year, and they’ve held up through many mishaps. We’re confident they can handle most anything your kitchen might throw at them.
Pros: Resilient, good edge retention, easy to sharpen, comfortable handles
Cons: Not very well-balanced
Victorinox’s four-piece Fibrox Pro knife set comes with a four-inch paring knife, a six-inch utility (or boning) knife, an eight-inch chef’s knife, and an eight-inch serrated (or bread) knife. These are, arguably, the only knives you will ever need, and Victorinox’s versions are among the more resilient ones we’ve tested.
The knives in the Fibrox Pro set are made of the very same high-carbon steel as many affordable to mid-range knives (X50CrMoV15), but Victorinox cuts some corners with a stamped blade (rather than an individually constructed one), a molded plastic handle, and no real flair. However, those are precisely the correct corners to cut; if you’re on a budget, you definitely want to purchase a set of knives whose blade construction was the primary focus. Fancy handles are great, but not when they’re attached to insufficient blades.
If you’re looking to keep costs to a minimum, if your kitchen is fairly minimalist, if you share a cooking space, or if you’re looking to furnish a second home or rental, this is the knife set to purchase (and then never worry about). Even with heavy use, you’ll be able to bring them back up to snuff in short order, and butchers like Pat LaFrieda and commercial kitchens all over the world stock a smattering of Victorinox’s chef’s knives, which is a testament to the brand’s quality.
Could you stand to add a few knives to your quiver after buying this pared-down set? Maybe, but you can still prepare just about anything with these four basic tools, and if you’re trying to stick to a budget, less is more. You could find a 17-piece set for about the same price if you wanted to, but we’ve tried a handful of them over the years, and considering how little goes into each knife in such a set, you’d find yourself replacing them sooner than you would like.
The best knife set upgrade
F.N. Sharp knives feature 67-layer Japanese Damascus steel and riveted epoxy and fiberglass handles, which we find fit most hands best.
Pros: High-quality steel, great edge retention, exceptionally comfortable handles
Cons: A little difficult to sharpen yourself (but that’s what the sharpening service is for)
A three-and-a-half-inch paring knife, a six-inch Santoku (or Santoku Bocho, which translates to “three uses”: chopping, mincing, and dicing), and an eight-inch chef’s knife make up this elegant, if pared-down, triage of knives. If your needs would be better suited by a six-piece set, which also includes a bread knife, a boning knife, and a utility knife, that’s also available for $660.
Apart from looking unbelievably cool thanks to the VG-10 steel patterned into the blade, these knives are the most balanced and solidly built of any we’ve tried. We also like that three “sharpenings” are included with the purchase of every set, which should get you through a year to a year-and-a-half of constant use.
We put “sharpenings” in quotations because what the brand actually does — and this is pretty ingenious, we must say — is send you a replacement set of freshly sharpened knives in a box with a prepaid packaging slip into which you’ll put your used, dulled knives for return. After the first three sharpenings, though, the cost is on you and it’s admittedly steep: $60 for the three-knife set, $90 for the six-knife set, and $50 for a steak knife set. For comparison, most local services will charge you $2-$3 per inch of blade.
Cons: Very sharp for the type of steel, might need sharpening (service) sooner than others
Knifey’s Essential Three-Knife set comes with a three-inch paring knife, an eight-inch chef’s knife, and an eight-inch serrated (or bread) knife, which is precisely everything most people will ever need in the way of kitchen cutlery, though the brand does offer a five-piece set as well as a single chef’s knife.
Made with what has basically become the standard steel alloy (X50CrMoV15) within the $100-$200 market, Knifey’s cutlery includes supremely comfortable G10 fiberglass handles, which offer heft and balance. The chef’s and paring knives have a respectable 17-degree cutting angle, and we found that the blades fell right through vegetables similarly to the way the Wusthof Classic Ikon knives did, even before and after chopping on a glass cutting board 200 times.
A lot of people will find Knifey’s service irresistibly convenient, and considering the price (starting at about $140 per year with two annual sharpenings), it’s not an unreasonable expenditure. Likewise, if you want to do your own sharpening, you can pay the one-time annual subscription fee, receive the knives, and keep them.
Knifey’s service works similarly, if not exactly like F.N. Sharp’s above: receive your knives, run them through their paces until they’re dull, and then let the brand know it’s time. They’ll rush a set of freshly sharpened knives over, then you place your dull knives in the empty box, slap on a prepaid shipping label, and carry on with your newly sharpened knives.
Too many people neglect their knives, which only makes chopping and slicing more arduous — not to mention more treacherous. If you tend to let your knives get dull, Knifey’s service could save you trouble, and maybe even a trip to the emergency room.
I’ve been using knives regularly — as most of us have — for the better part of my life, and on and off professionally. I relied on my own experience along with the unbiased and uninformed opinions of five others during testing.
Ahead of testing, I got in touch with butcher and New York City meat purveyor Pat LaFrieda as well as Mike Tarkanian, a research affiliate and a senior lecturer at MIT’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering (DMSE), to find out what their requisites are for great knives. Here’s what we settled on taking into consideration:
Edge retention: Our knife-testing process involved slicing a few fresh tomatoes, taking note of the ease with which the chef knife from each set handled the task. After we had sufficient data, we took each chef’s knife to a glass cutting board and ran it over the surface 200 times. Some knives held their edge, others not so much. We looked at the edges after running the knives and noted if there were any visible changes.
We then returned to the tomatoes, cutting a few more and seeing how much resistance we felt compared with the performance of the knives straight out of the packaging. Knives that held their edges passed on to further rounds of consideration.
Alloy, and the HRC (hardness rating): We consulted several experts in the field, but the most informative source we encountered was Michael J Tarkanian , a professor of metallurgy at MIT. With his help, we were able to cut through the marketing and the scientific terminology behind different alloys and what allows a knife to retain an edge.
We looked for a hardness rating of around 60 HRC, which offers great edge retention while still allowing for an edge of around 15 degrees (though up to 20 degrees, which is duller than 15, was still considered sufficient).
Ergonomics: For a knife to work well, you have to be able to hold it comfortably in your hand. We asked an array of people to pick up knives and decide which ones were the easiest to grip; across the board, they went for the ones with heavier, rounded, almost bulbous handles.
Balance between the handle and the blade is also key. Pricier knives almost always offer better balance because that extra cost goes into using denser and often more desirable materials.
A well-balanced knife with a good blade will cut through vegetables with minimal pressure, like our top pick from Wusthof. A not-so-well-balanced knife will take a little force to get started.
What else we tested and recommend
We tested 11 knife sets in total; here are a few of the others that we also recommend:
Made-In: These are good knives and made of the same material as most of the ones we tested (X50CrMoV15). But the handles are a little small and somewhat awkwardly-shaped. Still, you won’t get a bad set of knives from Made-In. We wish the brand still offered three- and five-piece sets, though, because we think the six-piece is overkill for most.
Material Trio of Knives: These are very well-balanced knives and we love how sharp they are out of the box. The magnetic block is a little unwieldy, and we found that these blades dulled more than others during testing, but that may be due to their exceptional 13-degree edges. The $35 Good Shears are a worthy addition, too.
Potluck Knife Set: Also punched out of the same alloy as most knives we tested, these are about as affordable as a decent set of knives gets. The blades outweigh the handles, but they held up in testing and if you’re on a really tight budget, Potluck is a good choice.
J.A. Henckels (Zwilling) Classic 7-Piece: We enjoyed using these knives almost as much as we did the Wusthof Classic Ikon set, but the handles were a little awkward to hold, and the blades didn’t retain their edges quite as well.
What we look forward to testing
Here are some knife sets we’re currently considering for future updates:
Shun 2-Pc Chef’s Set: Shun is a favorite of some of the world’s top chefs, and this is one of their more economical sets. While we’d hoped to test them sooner, many of Shun’s knives have been out of stock due to Covid-19 complications.
Shun 2-Pc Classic Set: A step up from Shun’s Chef’s Set, we’re preparing to test the brand’s Classic Set as a possible investment pick for minimalists.
Misen Essential Knife Set: Missen offers an attractive three-piece package with a sharpening service at a competitive price, and we’ll consider it for several categories next time around.
MAC Professional Series 3-Piece Set: Mac is another chef favorite, and this one is lauded as a workhorse by Eric Ripert, co-owner and executive chef of the thrice-Michelin-starred New York City fixture Le Bernardin. It’s a little on the pricey side, but we’re curious to see how it stacks up to our investment pick.
Why you may want to put your knife set together piecemeal
Depending on your budget, you may want to consider other options besides a knife set. Any time you’re buying a set of something, the brand and/or manufacturer often adds in fillers (i.e. less than useful pieces) and cuts corners, and the case is no different with knives.
A lot of chefs we spoke with recommend keeping only one, two, or maybe three knives in a kitchen: a chef’s knife for most tasks, a paring knife for smaller jobs like peeling fruit or scoring dough, and a bread knife. You might also consider forgoing a knife block for a magnetic bar, which takes up far less space when stuck to the side of your fridge or mounted on a wall. Over time, you may want to add something like a utility or boning knife, but the truth is most kitchens will rarely find much use for one. If you do need one, you know who you are, and you probably carve a lot of poultry and/or meat.
The most-used piece of equipment in my kitchen isn’t my Dutch oven, or my chef’s knife, or even my most beloved spatula – it’s my thermometer. I invested in a good kitchen thermometer almost a decade ago and since then, it’s carried me through countless dinner parties and holiday meals (including a pig roast), hundreds of weeknight dinners, and a career in professional kitchens. I use my thermometer to temp everything from a piece of chicken to a loaf of bread to a pot of caramel or a vat of frying oil – I’ve even taken the temperature of a baked potato.
Using a thermometer to take the temperature of food is one of the first skills students learn in culinary school. Tracy Wilk, the lead chef at the Institute of Culinary Education, said that a thermometer is a core tool that can make you a more confident cook.
“A lot of home cooks can be intimidated by some techniques like cooking steak or tempering chocolate, but once you’re able to work with temperatures, the gates really open up for your cooking abilities,” Wilk said. “There’s also a satisfaction from a perfectly cooked roast chicken that isn’t cut into a million pieces before it’s served. Using a thermometer will help you get accurate and delicious results.”
Thermometers don’t just help make your food taste better, they’re also important for food safety. According to the Food and Drug Administration, a food thermometer is the only way to ensure that meat, poultry, and egg products are cooked safely as color and texture are not always reliable.
In addition to speaking with Wilk, I relied on seven years of experience working in professional kitchens as a product tester for “America’s Test Kitchen” and “Cook’s Illustrated.” During my time, I used a kitchen thermometer almost daily and wrote a number of reviews on specialty thermometers. To find the best thermometers you can buy, I tested 12 different models, putting each through an identical set of tests to determine accuracy, ease of use, and durability. You can read more below about our testing methodology, as well as information on how to use and calibrate a thermometer, and why Thermoworks occupies all of the top spots in our guide.
Prices and links are accurate as of 12/29/20. We rewrote this guide after comprehensive testing and consulting an expert.
The best thermometer overall
The Thermoworks Thermapen Mk4 is lab-calibrated, accurate, and thoughtfully designed with features like an auto-rotating display, large numbers, a backlight, and a superfast read time.
Pros: Lab-calibrated, displays accurate temperature within seconds, large and easy to read display, automatic backlight, automatically turns on and off, display automatically rotates, can be used in Celsius or Farenheit, can be customized to display whole numbers or up to one decimal place, comes in 10 colors
Cons: Might be more difficult for lefties to use
During my time in the food industry, no tool was more ubiquitous than the Thermoworks Thermapen. I’ve seen it in the hands of chefs, health inspectors, recipe developers, heating and cooling techs, and cooking instructors. It’s also been a core tool in my arsenal for almost a decade. The Thermapen is beloved in the industry because it’s simply designed, accurate, and fast — it has everything you want and need in a thermometer with no superfluous extras.
The Thermapen has long been the tool of choice by pros, but I didn’t realize just how objectively best-in-class it is until I tested it alongside 11 other thermometers. When I used other thermometers, I found myself squinting to read numbers on tiny, dark, or glared displays; fussing with rotating digits that didn’t always turn rightside up; or waiting painfully long for the temperature read-out. Coming back to the Thermapen after using those thermometers was a sight for sore eyes.
While the Thermapen comes with an instruction manual and a certificate of calibration, it takes zero effort or knowledge to get it up and running: simply unfold the probe and get to temping. The display is large and easy to read; there’s no glare from any angle and the display doesn’t fog up when you get close to hot foods. The numbers automatically rotate depending on which way you’re holding the Thermapen, so it’s legible from all angles. A sensor near the display turns on the backlight whenever the ambient light is low; a feature I’ve found really helpful when grilling in the dark. The thermometer also automatically turns on when you pick it up and turns off when you put it down, so you don’t have to worry about wasting the battery by forgetting to press an on/off button.
Most importantly, it’s accurate and reads fast. It reported accurate temperatures in both of our calibration tests when we tested it in freezing and boiling water (which have known temperatures of 32 Fahrenheit and 212 Fahrenheit, respectively). When I used it while cooking steak, it reported the temperature within three seconds of sticking the probe in — the fastest of the models we tested. This fast readout is particularly helpful when cooking foods like fish or beef on the stovetop, which can easily overcook if you wait too long.
While the Thermapen is ready to go right out of the box, you can customize it by choosing between Celsius and Farenheit and setting the display to show whole numbers or one decimal place on the temperature readout. These customizations are done by unscrewing the bottom of the Thermapen, so there’s no risk of accidentally making an adjustment while in the middle of cooking. Finally, in the event that something ever goes wrong with the Thermapen, Thermoworks has great customer service and you can even send the thermometer back to the company for professional calibration.
The only issue I’ve ever encountered with the Thermapen is that it’s not ergonomically designed with left-handed users in mind. If you hold it in your left hand, the display screen will face your palms and you won’t be able to hold the thermometer as easily or as naturally as you’d like because of how the probe extends. My husband is a lefty and has remarked that using it in his non-dominant hand has taken some getting used to, though it’s doable. Lefties might be more comfortable with our budget pick, the ThermoPop, which is configured better for left-handed use.
The best budget thermometer
The Thermoworks ThermoPop is a simple and easy-to-use meat thermometer at an entry-level price that’s great for those just learning to cook.
Pros: Accurate, fast, easy-to-read numbers, has a backlight, has a rotating display, can show temperatures in Celsius and Farenheit, comfortable for both lefties and righties to use, comes in nine color options
Cons: Backlight and display rotation have to be activated by pressing buttons, the rigid probe has some trouble getting into tight spots, only displays whole numbers, can’t adjust digits if the thermometer needs calibration
While the Thermapen may be unparalleled in its features and accuracy, it comes at a premium price. For those learning to cook or just looking for something a little more simple or inexpensive, the Thermoworks ThermoPop has everything you need to get started, and it’s about a third of the price of the Thermapen.
The thermometer is lollipop-shaped with a long, thin probe on one end and a bulbous display on the other. The screen is clear and easy to read with large digits and a backlight. It’s accurate and reports the temperature within four seconds of inserting the probe into the food — just a second longer than the Thermapen. Since its probe is upright instead of angled, it works equally well for lefties and righties.
It has all the features you need in a thermometer, however, it takes an extra step to activate some of them. For example, you need to press a button to turn on the backlight or rotate the display while the Thermapen does both of these things automatically. It’s also not quite as customizable — you can’t set it to display one decimal place temperatures, it only shows whole numbers. And in the event that your thermometer’s calibration is off, you can’t make adjustments to the numbers on your own; you’d have to send it back to the company. It’s also a little less maneuverable in tight spaces or awkward angles since the probe is straight instead of angled.
That said, it’s a great entry-level thermometer that has all the features you’ll need for almost every type of cooking project.
The best leave-in thermometer
The Thermoworks ChefAlarm has many thoughtful features like built-in alarms, a timer, and a probe that stays in your food for the entire cook time, making it a great option for grilling or long cooking projects.
Pros: Accurate, reads quickly, large display, has built-in timer and stopwatch, has high and low alarms, comes with a pot clip and carrying case, can buy and use other probe styles depending on your needs, magnetic base, can be used in both Celsius and Fahrenheit, comes in nine different colors
Cons: Magnet not always strong enough to hold up the unit on grill lid or oven door, takes some time to set up
While fast-reading handheld thermometers like the Thermapen and ThermoPop are great for most uses, sometimes you need a thermometer that can be left in your food while it’s cooking, which is where probe or leave-in thermometers like the Thermoworks ChefAlarm come in. This style of thermometer features a probe that goes into your food and connects via a thin wire to a base that sits outside your grill or oven. It’s a handy design for grilling, barbecue, or cooking long roasts in the oven — situations when you want to keep an eye on the temperature without constantly opening the grill lid or oven door and letting heat out.
The ChefAlarm is ideally suited for this kind of use. It features a high-temperature probe connected by almost four feet of cable to a rectangular base that reports the current temperature, as well as the minimum and maximum temperatures your food has reached while cooking. Buttons on the base allow you to set a timer or stopwatch, along with alarms to tell you when your food has dropped above or below a certain desired temperature range. There are four alarm volumes, ranging from moderate beeping to blaring. The base can be folded to sit stably on a counter or attached via a magnet to a metallic surface like a grill lid or oven door. It also comes with a carrying case and a clip for attaching the probe to pots for deep frying or candy making.
In my temperature tests, the ChefAlarm was accurate and relatively fast, reporting temperatures within six seconds. However, between the probe, cable, and base, it has a lot of parts and is a bit unwieldy for stovetop cooking like searing steak or fish. It also takes some time to program its suite of alarms and timer, usually not worth the minutes when cooking something quick. I’ve found I get the most use out of it when grilling or cooking foods that take a lot of time. These are usually occasions when I’ve spent a lot of money on a large cut of meat, or invested my time into a cooking project; the ChefAlarm gives me peace of mind that I’ll get good results and that my money and time won’t be wasted.
One tiny quibble I have with the ChefAlarm is that the magnet isn’t always strong enough to hold the base up when attached to my oven door. I work around this by just setting the base on my counter, but it could be an issue if you have a wall-mounted oven with no easily reachable surface nearby.
The leave-in thermometer on a budget
The Thermoworks DOT is a relatively inexpensive thermometer with a few simple, but well-designed features. It’s an accurate leave-in thermometer without all the bells and whistles.
Pros: Relatively fast, very accurate, clear display that’s easy to read from afar, has a backlight, can buy and use other probe styles depending on your needs, magnetic base, alarm alerts when the food has reached its set temperature, can be used in both Celsius and Fahrenheit, comes in nine different color options
Cons: No timer, no minimum or maximum temperature display, only one volume setting, only displays whole numbers
If you’re looking for a leave-in thermometer that is a bit simpler and less expensive than the ChefAlarm, the Thermoworks DOT is a more streamlined option. It consists of a circular, magnetic base attached to a 4.5-inch probe connected by a 47-inch cable. The front of the base has just two buttons: up and down, which you use to set your desired final cooking temperature. You stick the probe in the food and leave it there for the entire cook time, and the thermometer will beep loudly to let you know when your food has reached your desired temperature.
Like the ChefAlarm, the DOT has a backlight that can be activated with a button on the back of the base, and you can buy other specialty probes that work with it to suit your needs (though you most likely won’t ever need to). One thing I particularly like about the DOT is that it’s lighter than the ChefAlarm, and stays put when I attach it magnetically to my grill or oven. It’s also incredibly accurate and a beat faster than the ChefAlarm, reporting the temperature within just five seconds.
The DOT doesn’t have a timer or the ability to show you minimum and maximum cooking temperatures, but you may not need either of those functions if you’re cooking something simple like a casserole or roast, or you use a separate timer while cooking.
Overall, it’s a great option if you’re looking to dabble with a leave-in thermometer, or don’t need all the extra bells and whistles that come with a more expensive thermometer.
The best remote thermometer
If you’re serious about barbecue, the Thermoworks Smoke X2 offers both accuracy and convenience with a leave-in probe that can transmit data to a pager more than a mile away.
Pros: Comes with a pager so you can monitor temperatures from afar, pager works more than a mile away from the base, comes with two temperature probes, accurate, moderately fast read and data transmission time, can set high and low temperature alarms for each probe, has a backlight, can be used in both Celsius and Fahrenheit, comes in nine different colors, can be used with other specialty probes and equipment
Cons: Too bulky for stovetop cooking
If you’re cooking something that takes many, many hours or even days — as is often the case with barbecue — you’re probably not going to want to spend all that time sitting next to the grill or oven monitoring temperatures. Remote thermometers like the Thermoworks Smoke X2 function similarly to leave-in thermometers, except they have an added pager component that lets you monitor the temperature of your food from afar.
I first used the Smoke when I wrote an entire buying guide on just remote thermometers for another publication, and quickly found it has the best connectivity and the farthest range of the remote thermometers that are out there. For this guide, I spent even more time with the Smoke, testing its features and evaluating its speed and accuracy.
The Smoke looks similar to other leave-in thermometers we tested. It comes with two probes that are connected by long wires to a base that sits outside your grill or oven. The base transmits that temperature data to a pager that you wear on a lanyard. Both probes were accurate and took about seven seconds to transmit the temperature to the base — slower than our other top picks, but much faster than any other remote thermometer I’ve tested. It then took another 15 seconds to report that temperature to the pager.
The base and pager stay connected up to a mile away from each other, which likely covers all the distance you’ll need. While I didn’t test the lengths of this claim, I did walk with the pager up to 1,000 feet away from the base and it never lost connection, even when I went upstairs, behind walls, and down the block.
Unless you regularly cook barbecue or other lengthy projects, this isn’t a thermometer you’ll likely use every day. It’s a bit too big and bulky for stovetop cooking, though it could take the place of a leave-in thermometer if you simply use it without its pager. That said, there are much more inexpensive options if you’re just looking for an instant-read or leave-in thermometer. The Smoke is primarily worth the investment if you’re interested in the pager component.
One neat feature of the Smoke is that it also works with Thermoworks Billows, a product that uses temperature data from the Smoke to adjust the airflow in your grill or smoker for optimal results. I didn’t test the Billows because it’s a specialty product that most home cooks won’t need, but it might help justify the higher price of this thermometer if you’re serious about smoking or barbecuing.
What else we recommend
We tested a total of 12 thermometers for this guide. Here are the ones we tested that didn’t make the cut but still recommend as great thermometers:
Lavatools Javelin PRO Duo Digital Meat Thermometer ($54.99): This fast-reading handheld thermometer is accurate, easy to use, and gives clear readouts. It has many of the features we love in the Thermapen Mk4, like a backlight and auto-rotating display. While the Javelin is a great thermometer, the Thermapen edged this model out because its features were a bit more reliable; the Javelin’s display sometimes rotated when we didn’t want it to and you need to press a button to activate the backlight. These are minor quibbles, however, and this is a great option if you want a more affordable alternative with many of the same functions as the Thermapen.
Lavatools Javelin Digital Meat Thermometer ($26.99): This petite thermometer is only a little more than four inches long with a probe length of just 2.8 inches. While it’s fast, accurate, and easy to read for its small size, it’s a bit too small for everyday use. I found my hands getting uncomfortably hot when holding this thermometer in food that was cooking, and its probe is too short to get all the way into large roasts and cuts of meat. That said, it’s small enough that you could clip it to a keychain, or use the included magnet to keep it on your fridge door for easy access when you need a thermometer in a pinch. It might be a good portable thermometer, but not one that I would want to use every day.
What we don’t recommend
Here are the meat thermometers we tested and didn’t make the guide:
OXO Good Grips Thermocouple Thermometer ($99.95): This instant-read thermometer is sleek, reports fast read-outs, and has a rotating display, but it was consistently off by one degree in all the calibration tests. While that wasn’t a deal-breaker (and hardly enough of a difference to ruin your food), I was regularly thwarted by the rotating display, which consistently read upside down when I tried to use it in a hurry, like while searing steak. The probe does extend further than other models, which meant my left-handed husband could also use the thermometer comfortably in his dominant hand (many instant-read thermometers only extend far enough to be most versatile for right-handed use). It may be a good option for lefties, but I would’ve liked more accuracy and reliability given the price.
Polder Stable-Read Digital Thermometer ($19.98): This thermometer beeps to let you know when it’s at a stable reading, which can be useful if you’re still figuring out the nuances of using a meat thermometer. However, that was just about its only redeeming factor. It was consistently off by about 3 degrees F, and the display is hard to read, doesn’t rotate, and is not backlit. The probe is rigid and the thermometer is long, so it’s not good for temping things at an angle. Finally, the probe sheath was really difficult to pull on and off; not great when you’re trying to grab the thermometer quickly while your food cooks.
ThermoPro Wireless Meat Thermometer ($56.99): This remote thermometer gets solid reviews, so we decided to try it out. While it was accurate, it was difficult to use compared to the Thermoworks Smoke and lacked many of the features we love in that thermometer. The ThermoPro’s display is relatively small and hard to read, it wasn’t intuitive to use and program, and it only has a range of up to 300 feet. While this seems like a long distance, it lost connection when I left the transmitter by the grill and took the pager with me into my house and up a flight of stairs. When it was connected to the pager, it took about 45 seconds for the thermometer to report the temperature in all of our accuracy tests — the longest of any product we tried. While this lag isn’t likely to make a difference in your food if you’re using it to cook barbecue or another long-cooking dish, it’s much too slow for stovetop use or quick-cooking foods like steak or fish.
Taylor Commercial Digital Thermometer ($10.29): While this thermometer was the least expensive of any model we tested, its display is teeny-tiny at just 1/4 inch tall. I had to squint to read the numbers, the display often fogged up, and there was a glare if I didn’t hold the thermometer at the right angle. It also took a relatively long time to read at about 20 seconds, and in that time, my hand got hot from having to hold the thermometer close to the food for so long. It also wasn’t very accurate and was consistently off by 2 degrees F in all our accuracy tests.
Taylor Waterproof Instant Read Thermometer ($16.99): Another inexpensive option from Taylor, this thermometer was slightly easier to read and featured a backlight. While it was also faster and more accurate than the other Taylor thermometer we tried, it still wasn’t without flaws. The display had a strong glare from certain angles and fogged up when close to hot foods; this was exacerbated by its short probe, which kept the thermometer (and our hands) near the heat. The buttons were also hard to press.
Our testing methodology
I’ve been using kitchen thermometers as a core tool in my arsenal for more than a decade, including seven years working in professional kitchens as a product tester and editor for “America’s Test Kitchen” and “Cook’s Illustrated.” For this guide, I leaned on my extensive experience testing and writing about kitchen products and using a thermometer almost daily, and also interviewed Tracy Wilk, lead chef at the Institute of Culinary Education. I tested 12 different kitchen thermometers, putting each through a set of identical tests. Here’s what I looked for in the best thermometers:
Accuracy: A thermometer should be, above all, accurate. I looked for accuracy at both high and low temperatures, as well as accuracy over time. I put each model through three different accuracy tests: an ice bath test, a boiling water test, and a sous vide test where I tracked the temperature reported by each thermometer over two hours when placed in a water bath heated by an immersion circulator. You can read more about how I did the industry-standard ice bath and boiling water tests below. Though I used the thermometers while cooking food to evaluate the ease of use, I didn’t include food in my accuracy tests since it introduces a number of hard-to-control variables like cooking temperature, size and thickness of the meat, and potential human error.
Speed: In every test, I timed how long it took for the thermometer to report a steady, accurate temperature. Some thermometers read within seconds, while others took up to a minute. For remote thermometers, I also timed how long it took for the base to transmit the temperature data to the pager.
Ease of use: A good thermometer needs to be easy to use and the readouts should be legible and easy to read. I used each thermometer over several weeks as part of my regular cooking routine, seeing how comfortable they were to hold over hot pans filled with searing steak, whether their screens fogged up when I stuck the probes into vats of chili, and generally evaluating how easy they were to handle, use, and read.
Durability: Thermometers are often used in busy kitchens where bumps and spills happen. I tested the durability of the thermometers by knocking each from the counter onto the ground 10 times and checking for any cracking or functionality loss. All the thermometers passed this test.
Special features: While a thermometer doesn’t need to have any fancy features, I looked at any additional functions such as backlights, alarms, timers, and customizability. I checked to see that these functions were helpful and worked as intended.
What we look forward to testing
There are hundreds of meat thermometers out there, here are some other models we’re looking forward to testing soon:
Yummly Smart Thermometer ($89.99): This thermometer is part of a new generation of leave-in thermometers that are completely wireless. The probe stays in your food the entire cooking time, but there are no wires coming out of your oven or grill like there are with the DOT or ChefAlarm. Instead, the probe wirelessly transmits temperature data to your phone, so you can see when the food is finished cooking. I’ve tested similar thermometers in the past and found that they either suffer from app or connectivity issues. I’m looking forward to trying out the Yummly and see if it improves on either of these issues.
Maverick Stake ($79.99): Maverick is a well-loved brand among barbecuers, and it recently introduced the Stake, which is another one of these new-generation wireless leave-in thermometers. We’re looking forward to comparing it with the Yummly Smart Thermometer and other more traditional wired leave-in thermometers.
In this guide, we focused on three primary types of thermometers used most commonly in cooking: instant-read thermometers, probe thermometers/leave-in thermometers, and remote thermometers. Here are the key differences between the styles:
Pros: Fast read-out, slim design that fits easily in your hand, can check multiple locations in the food quickly, can be used for almost any task
Cons: Not meant to be left in the food so you have to open the pot lid, oven door, or grill lid to check the temperature, which could result in heat loss and a longer cook time
These devices are handheld digital thermometers that give you a temperature read-out in several seconds. They’re the most versatile of the different thermometers, and if you’re only going to buy one thermometer, this is the style to buy. They’re great for stovetop cooking and foods that cook fast but also work well for checking on dishes you cook in the oven or grill. My instant-read thermometer is one of the most-used tools in my kitchen and the thermometer I reach for most often.
Probe thermometer or leave-in thermometer
Pros: Great for long cooks where you don’t want to poke the food too often, good for candy-making and deep-frying, often has alarms or a timer built in
Cons: Slightly slower read-out, not ideal for fast-cooking foods like steak or fish on the stovetop, more parts to keep track of, bigger and harder to operate with one hand
These thermometers have a probe that’s meant to be left in the food for the entire duration of cooking. The probe connects by a thin metal wire to a base that sits outside the stove, oven, or grill and shows the temperature read-out. Many probe thermometers also have extra functions like timers or alarms. This style is good for situations where you want to constantly monitor the temperature without having to frequently poke the food or open the oven door or grill lids, like when making large roasts or long-cooked braises. They’re also useful for deep-frying and candy-making since you can clip the probe onto the pot and monitor the temperature of the frying oil or sugar for consistency.
Pros: Pager or smartphone-connectivity that lets you monitor temperature from afar, good for long-cooking foods like barbecue or roasts
Cons: Most expensive, bulky, slightly longer read and transmission time than leave-in thermometers
Remote thermometers are very similar to probe thermometers in that they have a leave-in probe connected to a base, but they have the added component of a pager that lets you monitor the temperature of your food from afar. This is popular for grilling and smoking, which typically have very long cook times. A remote thermometer lets you walk away from the grill or oven and still keep an eye on the temperature of your food. Many are also smartphone-connected, so you can check the temperature from your phone. While you can use them in all the same ways you would use a leave-in thermometer, they’re usually bigger, heavier, and more expensive, so really only recommended if you do a lot of barbecuing or very long cooks.
Why ThermoWorks makes the best thermometers we tested
With Thermoworks occupying all five of our top picks, you might think this guide is sponsored — it most assuredly is not. Our guides are never sponsored and we conduct the same set of tests on all products (you can read more about how we tested in our methodology). We put 12 different thermometers through the same rigorous criteria for this guide. So how did Thermoworks products come to best the competition? Here are some of the reasons Thermoworks thermometers did so well, and why they’re worth buying:
Accuracy: A thermometer should be accurate. Thermoworks thermometers consistently gave the most precise and accurate measurements in our tests. Should your thermometer reading be off after doing basic calibration tests (very unlikely in a new thermometer, since many of its products come factory-calibrated, but a possibility with extended use), some of Thermoworks’ thermometers are easily adjusted with buttons inside the battery compartment, or you can send the thermometer to the company for lab calibration.
Thoughtful design: Thermoworks thermometers are thoughtfully designed and simple to use. The thermometers have just the right amount of features — nothing superfluous. Some features we found particularly helpful in our top picks were large readouts, backlit displays, and easy adjustability.
Trusted industry leader: Thermoworks has been in business for 25 years and only makes thermometers and temperature tracking devices. Its staff is filled with engineers who are laser-focused on thermometry and calibration. Its reputation for doing one thing and doing it well has made it a trusted brand used not only by home cooks and in the foodservice industry, but also by pharmaceutical, construction, manufacturing, utility, heating and air conditioning, plastics and rubber, research and science, and other industries.
Customer service: While customer service didn’t factor into my rankings for this guide, it’s worth noting that Thermoworks has some of the best customer service I’ve ever experienced. I’ve been using Thermoworks products daily for a decade as part of my job and in my own home. Whenever I’ve had a question, a call to the customer service line quickly puts me in touch with a technician who can answer questions big and small — from troubleshooting data logging software to basic questions about what thermometer is best for what use.
Colors: While appearance also didn’t factor into my ratings, I do love that most Thermoworks products come in nine to 10 colors, so you can choose one that feels customized and personal to you.
How to calibrate a thermometer
Before you use your thermometer for the first time, you should make sure it’s accurate. This process is called “calibration,” but that’s a bit of a misnomer since you usually aren’t making any adjustments, just checking accuracy. In addition to calibrating your thermometer before its first use, it’s also a good idea to check its accuracy periodically, especially if you’re using an older model or a dial thermometer. There are two industry-standard ways to calibrate your thermometer: the ice bath test and the boiling water test.
Ice bath test
The easiest way to check for accuracy is to prepare an ice bath. Here are the steps outlined on Thermoworks’ website, which are standard across many brands:
Fill a vessel like a large mug or bowl to the rim with ice.
Add cold water to the vessel to fill the gaps between the ice. Stop filling when you’ve reached just below the lip of the vessel.
Insert your thermometer’s probe into the center of the ice bath and stir gently.
An accurate thermometer should read 32 degrees F (or 0 degrees C) in the ice bath.
Boiling water test
If you don’t have ice readily available, you can also check the accuracy of your thermometer with boiling water. However, keep in mind that water boils at different temperatures depending on your location and the current atmospheric pressure. The boiling water calibration test should only be used in a pinch and only to detect glaring inaccuracies. Here are the steps:
Fill a pot with at least four inches of water and bring to a boil over high heat.
When the water is at a roaring boil with big bubbles bursting at the surface, insert your thermometer probe into the water, taking care that it doesn’t touch the sides or bottom of the pot.
Compare the temperature read-out to the estimated boiling point of water for your area. At sea level, water generally boils at 212 degrees F (100 degrees C).
What to do if your thermometer is inaccurate
If you perform either of the above calibration tests and find that your thermometer is inaccurate, first check the accuracy range of your device, which should be listed on the packaging or instructions. Some thermometers allow for a variance of up to a degree plus or minus the target temperature. If your thermometer’s reading is within the allowed range, there’s no need to make adjustments.
If your thermometer is off by more than the allowed range, follow any included instructions in the packaging for adjusting the read-out of your device. If your device isn’t adjustable you have a couple of options. First, you can send the thermometer back to the manufacturer for calibration. The price and availability of this service will vary depending on the model, your warranty, and the company. Second, you can simply take a small piece of tape and write the amount the thermometer is off by on it and stick it to the thermometer body. Every time you use the thermometer, the tape will remind you to mentally adjust the read-out by the number written on the tape. Finally, if your thermometer was cheap or is old, you may just want to buy a new one.