Budget Instant Read Thermometer…And It Shows | Maverick PT-51 Review

I am one of those guys who cheers for the underdog without exception. As a Minnesota sports fan, that almost goes without saying. As a mechanical engineer, I have a heart for value. I’m not all function and no form, but I do favor utility for the money. That is what I love about product research and testing – finding the value that others overlook and getting exceptional performance for my money.  So when I saw the Maverick PT-51, its stated features, AND its price I was licking my chops. Could this be the value-buy instant-read thermometer I’ve been searching for?

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Maverick PT-51 Instant Read Thermometer
$19.96

Maverick PT-51 Instant Read Thermometer

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05/24/2024 05:23 pm GMT

TL;DR

Pros

  • Easy-to-read backlit LCD display
  • Waterproof (IP67)
  • 270° Probe rotation
  • “Hold” feature

Cons

  • Touchy and non-intuitive “hold”/display rotation button
  • Excessively stiff probe rotation

Use Cases

  • Ideal for any type of meat, especially:
    • Burgers
    • Chicken
    • Thanksgiving Turkey
    • Fish
    • BBQ

Quick Verdict

While the Maverick PT-51 appears to be a good value on paper and can often be found on Amazon for less than $30, I do NOT recommend it as an entry-level instant-read meat thermometer.  We have not yet tested any other entry-level instant-read meat thermometers, but I think you would be better served by waiting for Thermapen Classics to go on sale and picking up one of those, which will serve you for a lifetime. You can thank me later.

Performance

Temperature Range

The PT-51 does not have as wide a temperature range (-4 to 482°F) as most of its higher-priced competitors, but that in and of itself is unlikely to cause any issues for backyard grill masters.  The stated accuracy (+/-0.9°F) is substantially worse than that of instant-read thermometers like the Thermapen Classic (+/-0.7°F), Thermapen ONE (+/-0.5°F), and Typhur InstaProbe (+/-0.5°F).  In my opinion and experience the accuracy of the PT-51 will not be a hindrance for most cooks and will still help you achieve high-quality results more consistently than grilling without using an instant-read. That being said, accuracy only applies up to temperatures between 32 and 212°F.  So for most grilling applications, you should be fine (for the love of all that is holy please don’t grill your meats past this temperature range), but for other applications like making caramel, this could be problematic.  This accuracy range is even borderline problematic for pork butts and briskets that often finish between 195 and 205°F (or so).  

Response Time

The stated response time is on par with the Thermapen Classic.  In use, it seemed to me that the probe was a little slower to respond especially when the temperature being measured was significantly warmer or colder than ambient.  For example, when we did our boiling water test the probe took over 5 seconds to settle out near 210°F (accurate boiling temperature for our elevation), but if I took it out and put it back in when the probe was still warm it settled out much faster.  The same thing happened when temping our ice bath.  This makes sense and is a bit annoying, but again nothing that is going to make or break your backyard barbeque.

Maverick PT-51 boiling water test
Maverick PT-51 ice bath test

Battery

I do appreciate that the battery was included with the PT-51 (though that seems to be pretty standard for instant-read thermometers). However, I HATE that it does not use a more common battery type. The PT-51 uses a CR2032 coin battery.  Every single other instant-read that I own (4 in total) uses (2) AAA batteries. Maybe I’m an outlier, but as a dad of small kids I have 1 metric crap-ton of AAA batteries in my basement so when a toy (or my TV remote) dies, I can quickly replace the batteries. Know what I don’t have in my basement? CR2032 coin batteries. Is it a deal-breaker? No, but it is another annoyance.

Probe

Now let’s talk about the metal probe.  I LOVE that the probe has 270° of rotation.  This makes the PT-51 suitable for both left and right-handed users. Beyond that, it makes it much easier to get temperature readings from all angles. The utility of the 270° probe rotation would be even greater if the display auto-rotated, but it doesn’t (more on that later). While the range of motion on the probe is top-notch, it takes what feels like an excessive amount of force to rotate the probe and the rotation doesn’t feel smooth. This made me question whether or not I may break the probe. Not really the peace of mind you’re looking for from your instant-read.

Maverick PT-51 showing 90 degrees of probe rotation
Maverick PT-51 showing 270 degrees of probe rotation

Another issue I have with the PT-51 probe is that while there is a rubberized recess to protect the probe when it is folded up (a HUGE plus), the probe is slightly misaligned so it doesn’t fit into the protective groove without some finagling.

Maverick PT-51 probe misalignment

A Few Positives

Now I know I’ve been a negative Nancy through most of this review, but here is something I really like about the Maverick PT-51: there is a meat temperature guide printed right on the back of the probe.  Genius! I think this food safety guide should be on the back of EVERY instant-read thermometer. Super handy! Another great feature is the very large and easy-to-read backlit LCD display.

rear image of the Maverick PT-51 showing the meat temperature guide and Celsius/Fahrenheit button

The button to switch between Celsius and Fahrenheit is easily accessible on the back of the probe. I actually think this is a BAD thing. Most instant-reads have this button inside the battery compartment. Most users aren’t frequently switching back and forth between °C and °F so locating the button inside the battery compartment allows you to set your units and then never have to worry about inadvertently switching them mid-cook or mid-measurement. Again, this isn’t a deal-breaker by itself (I feel like a broken record), but all of these little issues are adding up!

The “Button”

My final gripe with the Maverick PT-51 is the button that enables the hold function and the display rotation. It’s that lighter gray rectangle on the right side of the screen in the image below. Shame on me for not reading the (admittedly brief) instructions that were included with the thermometer, but to me this is the most unintuitive button imaginable! It has no text on it to indicate that it is a button AND there is an actual rubber button on the back of the unit which would indicate (to me at least) that if there was another button it would be a similar style. Needless to say, it took me a while to even figure out that this was a button.  

Maverick PT-51 close up of the button on front of thermometer

Turns out that doesn’t particularly matter because getting the button to function (at least to enable the “hold” function) is infuriatingly inconsistent. There is no tactile or haptic feedback and sometimes the “hold” function works, and sometimes it doesn’t. It doesn’t seem to be related to pressing a specific portion of the button or with a specific amount of pressure.  It is REALLY annoying. Oddly enough, pressing and holding 3 seconds to rotate the screen 180° works almost all the time.

Maverick PT-51 showing rotation of screen, position 1
Maverick PT-51 showing rotation of screen, position 2

If it hasn’t become clear, I really don’t like this instant-read thermometer.  There are a couple of “fatal flaws” in my opinion as well as a bunch of small annoyances that add up to making this probe a pain to use for someone like me who is used to a Thermapen Classic (technically a Mk4).

Price

While the overall user experience of the Maverick PT-51 is less than ideal (to say the least) it is competitively priced. You can regularly find it on Amazon for less than $30.

Durability

The Maverick PT-51 is lightweight and feels durable albeit cheap, but it is priced accordingly so what did I expect? Most of the external construction is comprised of lightly textured plastic which helps hide scratches and improve grip. This is great especially if you’ve got greasy hands from working with your BBQ meats!  The Maverick PT-51 is IP67 rated so you can wash or forget it outside and it shouldn’t cause any issues. 

Who Is It For?

While I can’t in good conscience recommend the Maverick PT-51 because of its many issues it is still better than not having an instant-read thermometer at all. So if your budget is $30 or less and you just need an instant-read so you can start improving your grilling game then go ahead and roll the dice and give it a try. When you decide you want something that just works and you’re willing to pay more for that come on back and check out the Typhur InstaProbe, Thermapen ONE, or ChefsTemp Finaltouch X10.

Do You Really Need An Instant Read Thermometer?

The short answer is no.  With enough patience and practice, all you need to cook delicious food for your family and friends are the ingredients and a fire.  That being said, assuming you already have a grill, an instant-read thermometer is THE MOST CRITICAL piece of grilling kit you can buy.  It offers peace of mind, it levels the playing field for beginners, and for cooks like burgers, chicken breast, and fish an instant-read thermometer will have a massive impact on the quality of the food you cook. I would go so far as to say that an instant-read thermometer will help you consistently cook burgers, chicken, and fish better than any of your friends and family that don’t use an instant-read thermometer.  It would be very difficult for me to overemphasize the importance and impact that an instant-read thermometer can have on the quality of the food that you cook, particularly as a beginner.

Final Thoughts

The Maverick PT-51 is inexpensive and is better than no instant-read thermometer, but not by much.

Specifications

Sensing Range-4 to 482 °F (-20 to 250 °C)
AccuracyWithin 0.9 °F (0.5 °C) for temperatures between 32 and 212°F
Screen Resolution0.1 °F
Response Time3 seconds
Display TypeBacklit LCD w/ 0.75” tall digits
Water ResistanceIP67*
Battery(1) CR2032 Battery (included)

*IP67 indicates complete protection from dust as well as protection against submersion in water up to 1m deep for short periods of time

Photo of author

Adam Truhler

I am the resident Patio Daddy-o and outdoor chef for my wife and 5 children! I’ve been grilling for 15+ years and smoking meat for over 7 years. Grilling is a part of my family’s cooking culture. I have butchered and grilled Ribeye and New York Strip steaks and smoked brisket, ribs, pork butt, and sausage for multiple events with 70+ attendees.

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