Inexpensive LCD instant-read thermometer with a broad temperature range; comes with a spare battery.
Readings are Fahrenheit only; the readout housing is a little janky.
As pocket thermometers go, this one’s adequate.
If there’s one thing every rookie culinary student has in common, it’s this: a Taylor instant-read thermometer sprouting from the arm pocket of her chef’s jacket. Illinois-based Taylor Precision Products makes a huge range of kitchen thermometers, used by cooks all over for determining if a cafeteria’s soup warmer is in the safety zone, or judging the doneness of, say, a porchetta shoulder roast. Taylor markets dozens and dozens of different kitchen thermometers—most are efficient, inexpensive, and easy to carry around, in a chef’s coat or elsewhere. The TruTemp Instant Read Digital is a pretty basic model, and it’s certainly affordable. The question is, does it perform well enough to be a home cook’s all-around temperature gauge?
The TruTemp Instant Read Digital runs on a 1.5 volt watch battery (a replacement is included) and has an LCD readout behind a plastic lens. Numbers show up 1/3 inch high—for such a compact face, they’re fairly easy to read. The measurable temperature range is minus 40 to 302 degrees, Fahrenheit scale only, updated every second; readings outside that range show up as three dashes. (The temperature range means this is not a thermometer you reach for when gauging the heat of deep-fry oil or the upper reaches of candy-making; it's for testing roasted meats, making cooked custards or hollandaise sauce, etc.)
The face has a plastic housing above a 4-3/4-inch stainless steel stem with a pointed end for inserting into meats or dipping in liquids (for an accurate reading, at least 1 inch of the stem needs to be in contact with whatever you’re testing). There’s a plastic sheath to protect the stem when not in use. Taylor says the battery life is one year if you keep the thermometer on continuously, but there’s an On/Off switch to extend that. You can’t immerse the plastic display in water, but the stem can be wiped with soapy water or even an alcohol-based disinfectant. The thermometer comes with a 10-year warranty against manufacturing fails.
The things to look for in a basic kitchen thermometer are reasonable accuracy (a variance of a degree or two up or down shouldn’t be a deal-breaker for a device that costs less than $10) and durability. With those things in mind, we spent a little time in the CHOW Test Kitchen with the TruTemp Instant Read Digital to get a reading on it.
In a nutshell, it was fine, though not outstanding. The readings had an acceptable degree of accuracy. Repeated tests of boiling water (this happens, of course, at 212 degrees Fahrenheit) yielded TruTemp readings anywhere from 210 degrees Fahrenheit to 214.7. The discrepancy was partly due to the difficulty of measuring liquid in a saucepan with a stem thermometer: We used a pair of metal tongs to hold the TruTemp by the display housing, trying to keep at least an inch of the stem submerged without touching the pan’s bottom. (We had better results testing in ice water, which should register 32 degrees Fahrenheit—see our results in the photo above.) Measuring roasted chicken was easier, but then a stem thermometer like this is designed for inserting into meats. And with something like a roast, a variance of a few degrees isn’t critical.
The TruTemp did raise doubts about its ultimate durability. Just using it a couple of times, the top of the housing fell open. Of course, the housing’s designed to open so you can change the battery. It’s attached to the stem by a couple of wires, so nothing fell into our sauce, and the face could still offer a temperature reading. We snapped it back together, but it seemed like something that would happen again and again. Maybe this is to be expected for a tool that costs less than 10 bucks. Still, for our money, we’d rather spend a few extra dollars and get something more durable to tuck in our arm pockets.
Photos by Chris Rochelle