Your oven is likely lying to you—and an oven thermometer will prove it. Sure, in a perfect world, the number on the dial face would match the internal temperature exactly. But the reality is that, most of the time, there’s a discrepancy between the temperature on the knob and the actual oven temperature, the calibration of which can vary based on the weather, your altitude, the age of your appliance, and countless other factors. Your oven probably heats differently from your best friend’s oven, which heats differently from the ovens in our test kitchen. And that’s assuming your oven is heating evenly, at all: it might very well have hot spots.
A few degrees Fahrenheit off the mark might not be a deal breaker—but oftentimes the discrepancies can be significant. Contributor Sarah Jampel’s home kitchen oven—a liar if ever there were one—is off by a whopping 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Just try getting consistent results or proper doneness on your angel food cake if you’re baking it at 250 instead of 325. An inaccurate oven can also potentially cause food safety issues. If you’re relying on only the recipe’s cook time and your oven’s temperature dial, then you might not be heating food enough to bring it out of the danger zone, particularly if your dish contains meat.
Cooking intuition helps. But knowing where you stand with your oven helps too, particularly if you’re a beginner home cook. This is where an oven thermometer comes in—a tiny tool that’s here to save all your hard work from over-crispness and underdoneness alike.
Which oven thermometer is most accurate?
The best oven thermometer is the ThermoWorks DOT Thermometer. It measures temperatures of up to 572 degrees with beautiful accuracy. If you’ve never used a probe thermometer, the design of this one might surprise you. The body, a magnetic dial hub, latches onto the front of your oven, while the attached long metal probe goes inside your oven. From there, you can either slide the probe directly into whatever you’re cooking (ideal for turkey) or, clip it onto a rack.
At this point, you might be thinking one of those simple dial thermometers is a better choice. Just hang it from a rack and it does its thing, no clips, probes, or batteries needed. Yes, a hanging dial thermometer is better than nothing. But a probe is considerably more accurate.
That dial thermometer often tells temperature in ranges of 10 degrees. Then, on top of that, every time you open the oven door to read it, you cool down your oven about 50 degrees—as well as letting out steam, which might give your cake a sunken center or your soufflé a flat top. A ThermoWorks DOT tells you the exact temperature, down to the degree, and can be read without opening the door.
Additionally, ovens heat and cool in cycles, so whatever reading you do happen to chance upon on that analog dial thermometer could be different one minute later. And one last flaw—these dials usually hang on the front of the oven rack. Do you bake your cakes at the front of the oven, pushed up against the door? The tiny ThermoWorks dot probe can hang from a little clip right at the very center of your oven. (We recommend using an all-metal binder clip to secure the probe to a middle oven rack. If you want a more permanent or less DIY-looking solution, ThermoWorks also sells a durable stainless-steel grate clip for $4 as well as a dedicated air temperature probe for the DOT.)