Welcome to Playing Favorites, a new monthly series that puts our most beloved tools and gadgets front and center. Check in each month as our favorite cooks, authors, designers, and experts share what they reach for over and over again. From the dust-buster that misses nothing to the blender that tackles anything and the packing cubes that make travel a cinch, it’s the one time when playing favorites is a good thing.
Almost half a century later, Barbara “Babs” Costello still remembers being so embarrassed about serving undercooked oven-fried chicken to her cousin at a dinner party. “I thought the chicken looked totally done,” says the social media personality, viral TikTok star, and now author of Celebrate with Babs: Holiday Recipes & Family Traditions. “We took our knives and dug in, but the pieces in the center were red, almost blood red, and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, stop eating!’ I was so worried about food poisoning, it was not good. It went back in for 15-20 mins and we tried it again.”
Babs blames it on being a young newlywed, but really, the blame goes to the lack of a meat thermometer. It took a few decades and at least five thermometers with traditional gauges (read: slow) before she discovered the Thermapen, an instant-read meat thermometer by ThermoWorks. She’s had hers for at least 10 years now and it still works as well as when she first bought it.
ThermoWorks is akin to KitchenAid for stand mixers, or Le Creuset for Dutch ovens, or Vitamix for blenders; it’s the one brand you’d think of when someone says “meat thermometer.” But the Thermapen uses go beyond meat—Babs also uses it to temp casseroles which can be hot and bubbly on the outside, but cool and undercooked inside, as well as anything that goes on the grill.
“It’s taken out a lot of the guesswork,” says Babs. “I don’t have to make little cuts around a piece of meat to see if it’s still pink.” Or in some cases, throw it again on the stove. “There were nights where I was taking out a frying pan and sauteing chicken after it’d come out of the oven because it wasn’t the right temperature.”
The Thermapen’s instant-read display makes it easy to figure out when dinner’s ready—no doubt that it would’ve come in handy during the unfortunate dinner mishap with her cousin. Just fold out the metal probe and stick it into the meatiest part of your dish (pun intended). Cleaning up couldn’t be easier, either. Babs spritzes the probe with a DIY solution of 1-part rubbing alcohol and 4-parts water to clean and sanitize, folds it back up (to keep fingers from getting stabbed), and drops it in a drawer.
But like a KitchenAid, Le Creuset, and Vitamix, the Thermapen is an investment—especially for something as small as a meat thermometer. “It’s pricier than older slow-read thermometers, but it's worth it. I mean, look at how long I've had it.” It’s also not as ergonomic for lefties—Babs has no problem switching between her dominant right hand and her left when temping, but it does lack an auto-rotating display; for that, you’d have to turn to the Thermapen One, another popular pick.
At the end of the
dinner day, the impact that the Thermapen has had on Babs’ cooking is priceless. “It’s totally helped me feel like I know when dinner is done and that it’s gonna be done to the right temperature whether you like it medium-rare or medium. It’s just that exact.” And she hopes it’ll impact the lives of her loved ones after gifting it to her son and son-in-law for Father’s Day—and yours, too. “If I find something I love that's quality and that lasts, I like to spread the word.”