Do you often have trouble deciding whether your grill is hot enough and ready for searing those beautiful steaks or grilling the mouthwatering burgers?
In order to eliminate the guesswork and the need to have to touch the surface of your cooking surface, you can use an infrared thermometer.
Thermometers like these allow for instant and accurate temperature readings from a distance.
Thermometers designed for medical use of this type have become increasingly popular during the last couple of years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But there are some specialized infrared thermometers used for cooking and food processing too.
A suitable infrared thermometer will keep you safe from burns and will ensure that your food is placed on the grill, stovetop, or other cooking surfaces at the precise time and temperature.
Here are the top-rated infrared thermometers for 2021, as well as some valuable tips on how to use them, how they work, and what features to look for when buying a thermometer like this.
The Thermoworks IR Gun is our top selection for the winner in this list.
This contactless thermometer is designed for quick and accurate reading of the temperature. It can be used for cooking, construction, industrial applications, research, repair, and others.
This high-quality and easy-to-use thermometer is fitted with a thermal sensor and high-quality lens, which are capable of reading the precise temperature of a 1-inch spot diameter from a distance of 12 inches.
The thermometer offers the option for easy adjustment of the IR sensor to read the temperature from a wide variety of surface materials, thanks to the adjustable emissivity of this measurement tool.
The point-and-shoot thermometer has a bright pointing laser so that you can aim at an exact spot from a distance. By keeping the button pressed, you can easily scan the entire cooking or other surface and get the minimal and maximal temperature readings.
You can set alarms for high and low temperatures, and the display is large, clear, and backlit for easy viewing of the readings at all times.
The IT Gun by Thermoworks is powered by two AAA batteries, which are included in the package.
It can measure temperatures from -76 to 1022 degrees Fahrenheit (-60 to 550 degrees Celsius) with an accuracy of 4 degrees Fahrenheit for just one second.
- It has adjustable emissivity, which means that you can rely on this infrared gun thermometer to get accurate readings from almost all kinds of surfaces, even those which usually throw off the infrared laser, such as stainless steel and anodized aluminum
- An alarm can be set for high and low temperatures
- There is a Min/Max temperature reading feature – for measuring the temperature on entire surfaces
- It has 12:1 high-quality optics
- It is easy to use with a point-and-shoot movement with one hand
- The reading of the temperature takes just 1 second
- It has a large backlit display
- It features a bright single laser pointer for easy and precise aiming
- The tool is powered by two standard AAA batteries
- It can measure a wide temperature range with excellent accuracy of up to 4 degrees Fahrenheit
- It lacks the IP 54 rating and the drop resistance of some of the other infrared thermometers in this category
The runner-up on our list is another point-and-shoot thermometer that is easy to use and offers exact, almost instant temperature readings.
The thermometer by Klein Tools is rated for drop protection from up to 6.6 feet, so you don’t have to worry about accidentally dropping and breaking it during use.
The IR5 has a distance to spot optical resolution of 12:1 but is also available in a more expensive and higher resolution option of 20:1.
The temperature measurement range of this tool is from -22 to 752 degrees Fahrenheit (-30 to 400 degrees Celsius), which is more limited than that provided by the winner in the list, and which is the only reason why the IR5 hasn’t taken the first place on our list.
Like the Thermoworks IR Gun, this thermometer has a high and low temperature alarm feature, a min/max temperature scan function, a backlit display, and auto power-off features.
Unlike the single-laser targeting of the Thermoworks IR Gun, the IR5 offers dual laser targeting for measuring the temperature of larger diameters from a distance.
It is powered by a 9-volt battery with a long battery life of about 10 hours of continuous use.
- A 12:1 distance-to-spot resolution, but you can also buy it with a higher 20:1 optical resolution
- It has soft and over-mold housing and a drop resistance from 6.6 feet
- High and low temperature alarm setting
- A large backlit display
- Minimum and maximum temperature scanning of larger surfaces
- Dual laser targeting
- Auto shut off for battery saving
- Its temperature range is only up to 752 degrees Fahrenheit, but unless you are using it for measuring excessive heat, it should do well, even if you are going to be using it to measure the grill before searing a steak, which is done at temperatures from 300 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit
If our two top picks are above your planned budget for an infrared thermometer, we recommend that you check out this budget-friendly IR temperature gun by Etekcity.
It is offered at half of the price asked for the first two thermometers on our list, and for this price, you will get a great value.
It has a temperature range of -58 up to 716 degrees Fahrenheit in less than 500Ms and a distance-to-spot ratio of 12:1. The accuracy of this measurement tool is plus minus 2%.
This inexpensive IR thermometer for cooking and for other use on inanimate objects has an adjustable emissivity feature like the much more expensive measurement tools of this type. This means it will measure the precise temperature on surfaces with low emissivity ratings.
The Etekcity 774 thermometer has a large backlit display, dual targeting laser pointers, and is powered by a long-lasting 9-volt battery which will last long thanks to the battery-saving auto shut-off function.
- The price – this is the best budget-friendly infrared thermometer for cooking and for all types of work and household projects which you can find on the market
- It has adjustable emissivity so that it will read the temperature on different types of surfaces
- The thermometer comes with a long-lasting 9-volt battery and has an auto shut off function, and a low battery indicator
- It has a distance to spot ratio of 12:1 and dual laser pointers for targeting
- It is backed by a 2-year warranty
- It is larger in size and heftier than most other IR thermometers on our list (7.3 x 3.9 x 1.4 inches, and 6.4-oz)
Related: Best Instant Read Meat Thermometers for 2021
Best for Grilling
If you are looking for the most suitable infrared thermometer for cooking, grilling, or smoking meat, then we recommend the Taylor Precision Products Splash-Proof Dual Temperature thermometer.
This is also the most versatile of all of the thermometers on our list because it can be used both as a point-and-shoot IR thermometer for measuring the temperature of the grill from a safe distance and as an internal meat probe thermometer to ensure that your steak reaches the perfect doneness every time.
This multi-functional cooking thermometer is a must-have in any kitchen, pit, professional kitchen, or bakery.
The infrared thermometer can measure temperature ranging from -67 to 482 degrees Fahrenheit (-55 to 250 degrees Celsius), and the meat thermometer can measure the internal temperature of food from -67 to 626 degrees Fahrenheit (-55 to 330 degrees Celsius).
This combo cooking thermometer has a hold function, as well as a HACCP pass and fail setting, which will alert you if the meat or other food is not ready or safe for consumption.
The thermometer is IP 65 splashproof and dustproof rated, so you can safely use it and leave it outdoors next to your other grill tools.
It is powered by a 9-volt battery and has an auto power-off function to prolong the battery life. Also included is a nifty nylon storage case for the tool.
- It combines an IR thermometer for surfaces with a meat thermometer in one nifty tool
- It is splash-proof and dust-tight IP 65 rated
- Auto shut-off will help save battery power
- It is accurate and quick when reading the internal or surface temperature
- It is more expensive than some of the other IR thermometers on our list and has an only 1-year long warranty
- It has a smaller temperature measurement range of up to 482 degrees Fahrenheit for contactless cooking surface measurement, which may be a problem if you do a lot of searing at higher temperatures
Best for Accuracy
If you want to ensure that your cooking surface is exactly right for making the perfect meal or grill, then the Fluke 62 Max is the most suitable choice for you.
The contactless thermometer can measure temperatures from -22 to 932 degrees Fahrenheit (-30 to 500 degrees Celsius) and has an impressive accuracy of just 1.5% of the reading in Celsius and 1 degree in Fahrenheit.
The infrared thermometer has a distance to spot ratio of 10:1 and dual bright laser target pointers for accurate measuring.
It can be used for scanning and will display the maximum and minimum temperatures of a surface, as well as the average temperature.
The tool is IP54 certified for protection against splashes and dust. The thermometer is also drop-resistant to up to 4.5 feet.
The body of the thermometer is ergonomically designed and easy, and comfortable to hold even with wet hands. The display is large and backlit for easy visibility, even in low light conditions.
It is powered by one AA battery which comes with the thermometer.
- It one of the most durable infrared thermometers which we have tested, being drop-proof, splash-proof, and dust-tight, which makes it perfect for outdoor use and even for professional kitchen use
- It has accuracy with a variation of just 1%, so you will never get the temperature and the timing for the cooking wrong
- There are dual lasers for easy and accurate targeting and guiding
- It can scan surfaces and display min/max and average temperatures
- The laser pointer can be turned off for safety reasons
- It is backed by a 3-year warranty
- Since it is powered by a single AA battery, you cannot expect a very long battery life out of the Fluke 62 Max
- The instructions it comes with are not as detailed as some people would like
Related content: The Best Bluetooth Meat Thermometers for 2021
Why buy an infrared thermometer?
With a reliable infrared thermometer, you will be able to get immediate and accurate readings of the temperature of your grill, pizza oven, or other cooking surfaces. This is important if you want to prepare your food and meat to perfection every time. Plus, it is essential for making delicious steak to the preferred doneness every time.
With a thermometer like this, you do not need to get dangerously close to the cooking surface and just need to point the laser to the area you want to measure.
A contactless measurement tool like this is a much easier, safer, and more accurate method for telling whether the cooking temperature is right than by using your hand and holding it above the grill.
Even when you are not using this infrared thermometer for cooking, grilling, or smoking, you can still use it for a number of tasks around the house or at work.
Some of the other uses of an infrared thermometer like this include measuring the HVAC ventilation, keeping track of the temperature when making homemade soap, checking for hot or cold spots on walls, checking the temperature in the fridge, for electrical, mechanical, HVAC, and hazardous location and process maintenance and other use.
With a tool like this, you can check any surface inside or outdoors at any moment, easily and within seconds.
How does an infrared thermometer work?
Infrared radiation or heat is released from hot surfaces and objects. The hotter it is – the more infrared energy will be released.
An infrared thermometer will measure the infrared radiation emitted from a surface through the lenses of the tool.
The laser point is just a pointer around or in between which the temperature will be measured.
Once the lens is focused on the chosen area or spot, the thermopile in the thermometer will turn this thermal energy into electricity. Then this electricity is measured by another detector in the thermometer and converted into readable temperature in Fahrenheit or Celsius.
How to use an infrared thermometer
Infrared thermometers are easy to use with one hand. Since most of them are point-and-shoot gun models, all you will need to do is point the tool to the spot or surface you want to measure and pull the trigger. Within seconds or up to a minute, the result is displayed.
For more accurate readings and measurements, most good quality IR thermometers have useful laser pointers – one, two, or more. These pointers will direct the lens to the exact location you want to be measured.
But keep in mind that there are some factors to consider when using an infrared thermometer if you want to get quick and accurate readings every time.
The distance to target ratio (DTR)
The distance to target ratio is also known as the distance to spot ratio and is the measurement for the circle’s diameter on the surface, which will be measured from a specific distance.
For example, the common 12:1 distance to spot ratio means that the thermometer will measure a circle with a diameter of 1 inch from a distance of 12 inches, a circle with a 2-inch diameter from 24 inches away, and so on.
It is essential to keep this distance to target ratio in mind when you are using the thermometer. It would be best if you made a quick estimation of the distance you are pointing the thermometer from to the surface in order to establish the size of the circle or area which will be measured.
To make this task easier, most of the top-rated infrared thermometers have one, two, or more laser pointers which will help establish the area or spot which will be measured.
Point the thermometer at the exact circle you want to measure from a sufficient distance, without pointing the tool at background surfaces or objects, and making sure that the surface doesn’t have large holes. If you are pointing an infrared thermometer at a hole in the grate of your grill, the tool will measure the temperature of the surface under the hole rather than that of the grate itself.
In order to find a solution for this potential problem, it is recommended that you place a pan or iron plate on the grill, and let it reach the heat of the grill, and then measure its temperature.
Can IR thermometers measure everything?
While infrared thermometers are great for measuring the temperature of many types of surfaces, these nifty tools cannot measure surfaces that are behind translucent objects such as water, glass, or clear plastic. This means that if you point at a window, the thermometer will display a reading of the temperature of the glass itself rather than what is behind it.
Plus, some infrared thermometers cannot accurately measure the temperature of some highly polished surfaces, such as polished silver, aluminum foil, shiny stainless steel, and more. These materials have a low emissivity, which means that they absorb and emit lower levels of thermal energy.
Thankfully, some of the top-rated infrared thermometers have settings for adjusting the emissivity, which means that you can adjust them when planning on measuring such shiny and polished surfaces.
Last but not least, these infrared thermometers should not be mistaken for the similarly-looking thermometers used for measuring the temperature of humans and animals. While a thermometer like one of these included in our list is not harmful to humans, it is not capable of getting an accurate reading of the human temperature. As it cannot be used to check the internal temperature of the meat, bread, or other food you are cooking.
The features to consider when buying an IR Thermometer
You should check the temperature range of the infrared thermometer you are planning on buying and determine whether it is sufficient for your needs.
If you are going to be using the tool for measuring very high cooking and grilling temperatures, then you should opt for a thermometer that can measure higher temperatures. The same goes for lower temperatures.
So, consider what you will be using the tool for and then select the one with the suitable temperature range.
Getting the temperature of a grill, pan, or other cooking surface right is essential for the end results of your cooking. This is especially true if you want to make the perfect pan-seared or reverse-seared steak.
The selected IR thermometers on our list are all very accurate when used properly.
For the best results, you should opt for a thermometer with an accuracy of up to 2%. This is quite accurate for most grilling and cooking purposes. Of course, you may want to choose a thermometer with even greater accuracy of 1% or less if you are a perfectionist or if you will be using the tool for measurements that require perfect accuracy.
What you will be using it for
Like all other tools, infrared thermometers are designed and meant for different uses and conditions.
The standard infrared thermometers like the ones on our list are made for cooking, industrial, scientific, home, and other similar applications.
There are other thermometers, such as the medical infrared temporal scanners, which are used for measuring the temperature of humans and animals.
You cannot use the two types interchangeably because the human temporal scanners have a much more limited temperature range than the regular IR thermometers.
And vice versa, you cannot get an accurate reading of human temperature with a regular infrared thermometer because the medical devices have special sensors and use special algorithms to convert the temperature of the forehead to oral temperature readings.
If you’re shopping for a good IR thermometer for humans, then you may want to opt for a thermometer like this one.
As we explained earlier, some surfaces and materials have lower emissivity than others. The materials with low emissivity do not absorb and emit as much thermal radiation as others, which may cause a deflection of the IR detection and reading.
Surfaces such as polished stainless steel, aluminum foil, anodized aluminum, copper, and other similar surfaces have a low emissivity and can be difficult to measure with an infrared thermometer. These materials are commonly found in most home and professional kitchens.
Most of our top picks for the top-recommended infrared thermometers have settings for adjusting the emissivity. This will allow you to use the thermometer for many shiny cooking surfaces, objects, and tools which are commonly found in the kitchen.
No lens infrared thermometers have a reflective funnel instead of a lens used to focus the energy onto the thermopile.
These types of thermometers are usually the least expensive of all IR thermometers and are more compact, drop resistant, and durable due to the lack of delicate lenses.
Another benefit is they are the most accurate when used in cold spaces.
The main downside of these thermometers is that they have a distance to target ratio of 1:1, and thus you will need to hold the thermometer as close to the surface as possible, which can be dangerous when using it during grilling.
This makes no lens infrared thermometers the least suitable for grilling and for cooking.
Fresnel lens is the most commonly used one for infrared thermometers for use in the food industry. Our top pick and other selections from our list use the Fresnel lens.
They are made of plastic rather than glass, which makes them less expensive and more durable than the mica lens.
A thermometer with a Fresnel lens is much more likely to survive a drop to the floor than one with a mica lens.
They can be used for measuring small areas from larger distances than the no lens thermometers and are the most efficient for making measurements from distances of 6-12 inches.
The problem with the Fresnel lens thermometers is that they offer a much narrower temperature range than the mica lens. Plus, due to being made of plastic, these lenses can become distorted and suffer a thermal shock if you suddenly walk from a hot room into a walk-in-freezer. But this can be resolved by letting the thermometer sit for about 20 minutes at the new room temperature before using it for measuring.
Being more durable than the mica lens thermometers, and being so accurate when measuring temperatures from a distance of 6 to 12 inches, makes the Fresnel lens thermometers among the best options for home and professional kitchens and pits.
Mica lens thermometers are capable of measuring accurate temperatures of up to 1000 degrees Celsius and have 20:1 distance to spot ratios.
They are also less prone to thermal shock than Fresnel lens thermometers but still need to be left to acclimatize for about 10 minutes prior to use at extreme ambient temperatures.
The problem with mica lens thermometers is that they are generally the most expensive type and are also the most delicate ones, which are most likely to break if accidentally dropped.
Myths about Infrared Thermometers
They use a laser to measure the temperature
The laser, which is emitted when you point the infrared thermometer to the surface, is simply a guide for targeting the exact spot or area you want to be measured. It is the thermopile in the thermometer which measures the heat emitted.
They can be used to measure internal food temperatures
No, this is not true at all. In order to measure the internal temperature of meat, baked goods, and other food for doneness and safety, you will need a thermometer with a probe that can penetrate the food and reach its center.
The Taylor Precision Products Splash-Proof Dual Temperature is an infrared thermometer that is combined with a meat thermometer in one unit.
They can read temperatures on any surface
No, as we discussed earlier, infrared thermometers are not so efficient for measuring highly polished materials and surfaces unless they have adjustable emissivity settings.
Also, these thermometers cannot measure the surface of a grate with very large holes because they will measure the temperature of the surface behind the hole instead. This can be resolved by placing a pan on the grill and measuring its temperature instead.
They also will not read a background behind glass or water and are not capable of measuring the temperature of humans and animals accurately.
How to calibrate an infrared thermometer?
The calibration of infrared thermometers for accuracy of measurement is performed by accredited calibration laboratories. So, it is not something that ordinary users can perform at home.
Since these thermometers come pre-calibrated, you may check whether they measure the temperature accurately by performing the following quick and easy ice bath test:
- Fill a glass tank or container to the top with crushed ice
- Pour cold water in the container until it reaches about 1/3 inch below the ice on the surface
- Stir the water with the ice and let it sit for a couple of minutes
- If your IR thermometer has an adjustable emissivity setting, then set it to 0.95 – 0.97
- Hold the thermometer exactly above the glass container at a minimum distance according to the distance to target ratio of the thermometer and point it at the ice
- Press the trigger and check the reading on the display
- A properly calibrated IR thermometer will display a reading of 32 degrees Fahrenheit. If the reading is different, check it again. If the results of the ice bath test continue to differ from the expected, then you may want to contact the manufacturer of the thermometer
Are infrared thermometers safe?
There is no known evidence of any safety issues and risks from using infrared thermometers. The only risk comes from the laser pointer rather than the thermometer. You should avoid pointing the laser directly in the eyesight of people. Some of these thermometers can have their laser pointers turned off to avoid accidental shining into the eyes of somebody.
Hopefully, we have helped you decide whether you need an infrared thermometer and which one is the most suitable for you.
With one of these excellent infrared thermometers, you can eliminate the guesswork and risk of getting burned and will ensure that you sear your steaks and burgers to perfection every time.
Plus, these nifty and affordable tools can be used for a number of household tasks, for repairs, maintenance, work, research, and more.
So, go ahead and enjoy your new infrared thermometer!