The 2 Thermometers Alton Brown Says Every Kitchen Needs

Alton Brown knows a thing or two about cooking steak. The amusingly quirky chef, author, actor, TV host, and producer, has grilled, baked, barbecued, pan-seared, and reverse-seared his way through more cuts of beef than we can count. He knows how to play with fire and has touted the benefits of a low-and-slow cook. But regardless of the cooking method at hand, Brown says every home cook needs two reliable thermometers.

In a 2018 episode Cooking Channel's "Good Eats: Reloaded," Brown revisited the very first episode of his long-running Food Network show, "Good Eats," which was all about — you guessed it — cooking the perfect steak. Through the magic of television, Brown confronted his younger self, we'll call him Alton 1.0, in the kitchen gadgets department of a hardware store just as he was about to explain the pros and cons of circa 1999 meat thermometers, jumping into the scene and declaring, "Look, I'm sorry, kid, but these things are antiques ... thermometers have changed more in the last 20 years than any other cooking technology."

The heat is on

Although digital thermometers were beginning to appear more commonly in 1999 – the first was invented in 1970 –most Americans were still relying on instant-read analog (the kind with a dial) thermometers to check the temperature of meat. That's if they were using any cooking thermometer at all. A 2000 poll conducted by Wirthlin Worldwide for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, via Supermarket News, revealed only 2% of the 1,002 consumers surveyed routinely used instant-read thermometers. Almost two decades later, in 2019, a Purdue University report confirmed little change, leaving us to wonder why. On a practical level, there's no better way to ensure food safety, but there's also the glorious feeling of presenting a perfectly done steak. As Brown put it, "No piece of hardware, not even a scale, can up your cooking game more. As far as I'm concerned, every carnivore should aspire to two thermometers."

Yep. That's right. Two thermometers. Brown recommends a digital instant-read thermometer for quick checks during cooking. His favorite is a folding variety with a narrow probe, an orientable readout, and a backlight. The other is a simple remote probe thermometer that stays in the meat while it cooks and is connected to an external temperature display via a heat-safe cable.

While some thermometers can be pricey, Brown stands by his recommendation: "You skimp on this kind of stuff, kids, and every time you cook a steak you're going to be rolling dice. Big, fat, meaty dice."