A $99 food thermometer that's actually worth it

A $99 food thermometer that's actually worth it
This kitchen thermometer will set you back $99. But it's actually worth it. (Russ Parsons/Los Angeles Times)

A good thermometer is one of a half-dozen truly essential pieces of kitchen equipment. But do you really need another one, even if it is the best you've ever used? And did I mention that it costs $99?

I have a cabinet drawer packed with them already. There are probably three or four of those little instant-read dial thermometers, the kind you can find at the market for $10. I've got a couple digital instant-reads, too. And there is always one of those frying/candying thermometers that never seem to work.


I've got a couple of those fancy instant-reads that connect to the probe by cable, so you can keep track of the temperature of your roast while it's still in the oven. I've got an infrared thermometer that looks like a pistol and reads the surface temperature of anything you point it at (both can be found for less than $20).

I've even got a thermometer that connects by Bluetooth to my iPhone, so the roast gives me a call when it's ready (geek alert: it also allows you to print out a temperature curve so you can look back on how the roast heated up). These can usually be found for less than $40.

So I thought I was done with my thermometer collection until I got a sample of the new Thermapen Mk4 (it's made in Britain, and, yes, they do number them like old Jaguars).

You've probably heard about the Thermapen. It is the thermometer that sent the merry band of obsessives at Cooks Illustrated into paroxysms of joy. They named it one of their seven must-have measuring tools, writing: "Forgo guesswork and pinpoint exactly when food is done. We call the Thermapen the Ferrari of thermometers for its fast, accurate readings and long probes."

In practice, the Thermapen does live up to its hype. It reads fast. Faster than fast. Most thermometers that call themselves "instant-read" actually take 20 to 30 seconds to give an accurate temperature. Usually you wind up using a Kentucky windage of the reading it gives you and how fast it is rising to calculate some rough idea what the actual temperature is.

Dip the tip of the Thermapen into boiling water and it reads 212 degrees before you can say "Hey, look, it's boiling" (literally — I tried it).

It has extraordinary range, measuring from minus-58 to 572 degrees. I don't know why you'd be interested in the low temps, but the high makes it perfect for measuring fat for frying or sugar for candymaking.

The probe is not only long, but very thin at the tip, so you can do things like take the temperature of a steak from the side that would be impossible with a thicker instant-read.

It also seems solid and well-made. Each thermometer comes with a hand-written "Certificate of Calibration" that promises an "Uncertainty of Calibration" within 0.7 degrees.

The Mk4 incorporates a couple of improvements over the previous issue (which is now available at a somewhat reduced price of $79).

It uses an accelerometer, which is a fancy way of saying the readout adjusts to its position, the same way your iPhone knows when you hold it sideways.

It also turns itself off if you leave it alone for a few seconds, then wakes back up when you move it again (the battery life is now estimated to be 3,000 hours).

It knows when it's dark outside and the readout becomes backlit to compensate.


In short, you probably will never find a better thermometer than this. But, of course, you'll probably never find a more expensive one, either.