Infrared thermometers let you take cookware temperatures instantly. Does it matter which one you buy?
Published May 6, 2022.
The best infrared thermometers are accurate under controlled conditions, easy to set, and comfortable to hold. They allow you to adjust for different emissivity values, have high distance-to-spot ratios, and provide highly visible laser guides. Our favorite is the ThermoWorks Industrial IR with Circle Laser, which ticked all these boxes. We also recommend the Etekcity Infrared Thermometer Laser Grip 1022 as our Best Buy. It has a slightly undersized handle and a simpler laser guide, and it’s not quite as accurate as our favorite, but it'll still give you useful, reliable ballpark temperatures. And at a third of our winner’s price, it’s a very respectable no-frills option.
Infrared thermometers give you the surface temperature of any object quickly and can do so from relatively far away without making contact with the object itself. They’ve long been used in industrial scenarios to help find hot or cold spots that indicate problems in machinery, ducts, plumbing, or other building systems. In recent years, they’ve become more common in commercial kitchens as well. We were curious to find out whether they were useful for home cooks, so we bought a range of models and put them to the test.
We were intrigued by what we found. A few things to note: Because infrared thermometers measure surface temperature, not internal or air temperatures, they can’t tell you whether your steak is done (you’ll need an instant-read or meat thermometer for that) or whether your oven has preheated sufficiently (you’ll need an oven thermometer for that).
More critically, they don’t always report temperatures as accurately as an instant-read thermometer does—in our tests, even the most accurate models sometimes gave temperature readouts that were off by as much as 100 degrees. This is not necessarily the fault of the thermometer. Under controlled conditions, many infrared thermometers are perfectly capable of being accurate. But in real life, the thermometers are sensitive to a host of factors that can interfere with their ability to measure temperatures correctly. These can include the angle at which you use the thermometer, the shininess of the object whose temperature you’re measuring, the humidity/clarity of the surrounding air, and the temperature of the thermometer itself during use.
There are measures you can take to ensure more accurate results (see “What’s the best way to use my infrared thermometer?”). However, it’s best not to think of infrared thermometers as tools of absolute measurement that will give you the exact surface temperature of the object. Instead, consider them tools that give you ballpark tempe...
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Miye is a senior editor for ATK Reviews. She covers booze, blades, and gadgets of questionable value.