Digital Food Thermometer Reviews: Thermapen vs. Less Expensive Options

posted: March 15, 2017 - 6:49pm
Thermometers are basic and important tools for cooks. Undercooked meat can be a health hazard. Overcooking it can ruin an expensive centerpiece of a much anticipated meal. So you need a thermometer that you can rely on. 
 
Digital thermometers, when they work well, fill the need perfectly. They can register much faster than analog thermometers and usually have smaller probes. Additionally, digital thermometers are usually easier to read. 
 
One digital thermometer that is widely known is the Thermapen by Thermoworks. We have owned several of these (several because some stopped working). We like a lot of things about the Thermapen. 
 
It feels “significant” in the hand (like something that will last), it is easy to read (large display that can be read with “older” eyes without glasses), and it registers very fast. However, there are some things we don't like. 
 
They are not cheap. In the past we have paid $89 – $96 for the regular classic version of the Thermapen. The regular classic is now $79. We currently own a backlit classic that cost $112 at the time of purchase. The reason we own several is because they stopped working within a year or two. 
 
Our current Thermapen began showing signs of trouble in less than a year. The problem seems to be with the mechanism that turns on the thermometer when the probe is extended for use. Since there is no on/off switch, extending the probe is supposed to automatically turn on the thermometer. 
 
The current pen still works, but it has to be opened and closed several times before it turns on. It seems likely that it will need to be worked on soon. 
 
We recently contacted Thermoworks about one of our older pens that stopped working correctly some time ago. It requires a lot of opening and closing to turn on and once on, will turn back off with just a slight movement of the probe. The support person we spoke with was pleasant and he asked us to send the pen in to be examined. We will pay shipping to send it in, but that is to be expected since the pen is several years old. 
 
We also have a relative who has owned several Thermapens. Like us, he likes the pens, but his first pen stopped working after a couple of years. 
 
Though we like the Thermapen, given the issues we have experienced and the cost, we thought it would be a good idea to explore other digital thermometer options. We purchased several digital thermometers from Amazon to test. Two of them had 4.5 star ratings, one had a 3.5 star rating. 
 
The thermometers we tested were:
 
- Habor Instant Read Cooking Thermometer (4.5 stars, 323 reviews)
 
They were all much less expensive than the Thermapen. 
 
Habor - $11.49
Anpro - $6.99
Taylor - $8.34
 
As one would expect all three feel much less well made than the Thermapen. The first question though is how do they perform? To test performance we ran several experiments. First, without sophisticated lab equipment, we didn't have any way to tell if any of the thermometers were accurate. So we tried taking the temperature of a number of foods to see if there were any major differences in readings. 
 
If we gave all of the thermometers sufficient time all registered within two degrees of each other. The time it took them to register the termperature varied greatly, however – more on that later. 
 
We took the temperature of cold water and hot water. We also took the temperature of boiling water and observed the temperature changes as the water cooled. Here is what we found. 
 
The Thermapen registered a temperature within a second or two plus. The Habor was next, registering within 3-4 seconds, then came the Anpro at 4-5 seconds. The Taylor took 8 to 10 seconds to register the stable temperature. This was true for both the cold and hot water. 
 
When we tested the cooling water the differences were most pronounced. The Thermapen quickly changed temperatures as the water cooled. As noted above, the Habor caught up to it quickest, followed 
closely by the Anpro. The Taylor brought up the rear. 
 
The Habor and the Anpro were usually 3 to 5 degrees behind the Thermapen before they registered the new (cooler) temperatures. The Taylor could be as much as 20 degrees behind the Thermapen, and never seemed to catch up to the others as the temperature fell. 
 
So the Thermapen was the fastest at reading termperatures. The Habor and the Anpro seemed to register within a reasonable time. Another important feature of digital thermometers is how easy it is to read. Again the Thermapen is the winner. Its display is significantly larger than all of the others and it could be read without reading glasses. Though the others could be read also without reading glasses. It should be noted however that the Thermapen only registers whole numbers, while the others will register to one tenth of a degree. 
 
So what is the final determination? In simple terms of performance, the Thermapen is the winner. It is the fastest and the easiest to read. If you need a backlit read out, it is the only one of those tested that is available with that option. The newest version of the Thermapen (not tested) includes a backlight, is waterproof and has motion sensing sleep/wake modes. 
 
However, is it really worth the cost? The Habor and the Anpro are reasonably fast, and they are much cheaper. The Anpro at $6.99 is less than one tenth of the cost of the Mk4 ($99.00). The Habor is only $11.49. 
 
A big question is wether the Habor and the Anpro will last as long as the Thermapen. They might not. But given the price differential and the fact that we began to have problems with our current Thermapen in less than one year, they seem likely to still be a better value. 
 
We can't recommend the Taylor. Though it eventually registers a temperature close to the others it is significantly slower. Since it does not offer a discount to the others it does not seem to offer any advantage. 
 
If  the money is not an object and you need a very fast thermometer that is backlit and easy to read go with the Thermapen. If you are concerned about it's cost and durability, then either the Habor or the Anpro are good alternatives. 
 
We will continue to work with all of the thermometers in real life cooking to see how they perform and how they last over time. Once we have enough data we will update this review.
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