A digital meat thermometer is a very useful if not vital BBQ tool.
They take any guess work out of the cooking process - when food reaches the right temperature, it is safe to assume that all bacteria are killed and the meat is safe to eat.
It should have a metal probe with a sharp point which is pushed into the meat, and ideally a digital display.
Some are analog, and that's OK, but these tend to be less accurate, and slower to operate - and that results in the lid of your grill or smoker being kept open longer, making the temperature more unstable thereby increasing the cooking time.
So for starters, go digital.
There are instant read thermometers, you push them into the meat, press a button, and after a few seconds they give a reading.
While this better than guessing, it still leaves your BBQ smokers lid open for heat to escape.
So, the speed that they give a reading is the key thing. This ThermoWorks Super-Fast Mini Thermometer is fast, giving a reading in under 6 seconds - and it gets glowing reviews.
There are instant read thermometers, you push them into the meat, press a button, and after a few seconds they give a reading. While this better than guessing, it still leaves your BBQ smokers lid open for heat to escape.
So, the speed that they give a reading is the key thing. This Thermoworks Super-Fast Mini Thermometer is fast, giving a reading in under 6 seconds - is reasonably priced and it gets glowing reviews.
Another instant read thermometer, and also made by Thermoworks in Britain, is even quicker (under 4 seconds) is the Thermoworks instant.
It's more expensive, but it's 600+ Amazon reviews are almost all 5 star.
If you are grilling, and want to check the temperature of chicken pieces say - which can be tricky to get right - a good quality instant read is ideal.
For true barbecuing or smoking a thermometer that is designed with a probe that is left in the meat for the duration is the way forward. Many models also have a probe to monitor the ambient temperature of the smoker as well.
The probe is on a heat proof cable that trails outside to the display unit - so it is pushed into the meat as cooking starts and remains in place until the correct internal temperature is reached.
Many models have are preset with an alarm that sounds when the correct temperature is reached. This can be set for any type of meat, and possibly vegetables and seafood.
The tip of the probe is pushed into thickest part of the meat, but must not touch bone. Bone conducts heat better giving a overestimate of the meat temperature. i.e. it won't be anywhere near cooked when you think it is!
There are plenty of good meat thermometers that can be left in place during cooking - the Maverick ET732 is a good example, but there are plenty more like this.
This has two probes, a transmitter unit, and a wireless receiver you can carry round and monitor temperature as well (and a warning when temperature goes out of your defined range).
You can disappear into the kitchen to prepare more food, whilst monitoring proceedings in the smoker from where you are. Although the range is said to be 300 feet so you go a bit further if you like!
Where would we be without smart phones?
The igrill thermometer that can be connected by Bluetooth to an iphone/ipad/Android app to give a constant readout of the temperature both of the cooking chamber and the internal temperature of the meat.
Where this idea comes into it's own is with the graphical user interface, especially if you use the app on an ipad/tablet. Along side the obvious image of an analog temperature dial is readout in the form of a graph of the temperature throughout the cooking session.
Use one of the probes to monitor the ambient temperature of the barbecue, and one for the food. This is really useful information, the ambient needs to be consistently right, and the graph lets you see where it isn't.
In which case you can work out where you're going wrong.
e.g. so if the cooking time is getting way too long - perhaps either the ambient temp isn't getting high enough, or the lid is being opened too often (any deviation on the temperature axis of the graph will clearly indicate when, how often and how long it takes to get back up to temperature).
The timing depends on what you are cooking and how long it is being cooked for.
Grilling is hot and fast - an instant read thermometer is best for this. For long and slow, like smoked pork shoulder and so on - any thermometer with leave in probes is obviously better.
Here is a guide to safe cooking temperatures of various BBQ foods.
Bear in mind a good digital meat thermometer will have presets for each type of food, and an alarm that sounds when the correct temperature is reached.