Image of pop up turkey thermometer

How to Get Your Turkey Timing Right

Whether you’re cooking your first turkey or your thirty-first one, you have probably seen a good number of “how-to’s”, “whether-you-shoulds”, or “what-to-dos” when it comes to preparing a turkey. Turkey related topics are all over your TV, internet, and magazines, leaving many with information overload.

One of those very topics is related to the inner temperature of a completely cooked turkey. How to check it, where to check it, and what it should be may vary from expert to expert. Once upon a time the USDA recommended that the internal temp be 180 degrees Fahrenheit to ensure that bugs like salmonella wouldn’t make an appearance at our dinner tables. Still true, but the standard was changed to 165 degrees Fahrenheit a few years ago.

But the USDA doesn’t regulate flavor and dryness, so how do you get a fully-cooked Thanksgiving bird that’s not dried out, undercooked, or missing that crispy skin everyone loves? With just the right amount of cook time and rest, your turkey can come out with all its parts cooked, moist, and flavorful.

America’s Test Kitchen took the time to demonstrate how to check a turkey’s temperature to make sure it’s done. Even though store-bought turkeys come with thermometers that automatically pop up when the inside of the bird reaches 178 degrees Fahrenheit, dry breast meat can be a likely result. Just grab a meat thermometer, and let’s take a look at a different method below.

  1. Check the Breast’s Temp

    To check the temp of the breast meat first, insert the thermometer into the deepest section of the breast, careful not to touch bone. You want the temperature to register at 165 degrees Fahrenheit to indicate it’s done and will still be moist.

  2. Repeat

    Repeat on the other breast.

  3. Check the Thigh Temp

    Next, check the temperature of the thigh by inserting the thermometer into the meatiest part of it without hitting bone. The reading should be between 170 and 175 degrees Fahrenheit for the dark meat. You can double check the other thigh too.

  4. Take It or Leave It

    If the temperatures for each part line up, then it’s okay to remove the bird from the oven. Otherwise, leave it in the oven a bit longer until they do.

  5. Rest It

    After removing the bird from the oven, allow it to rest for at least 45 minutes.

 

Have you taken the bird out the oven, cooled it, carved it, and noticed slight pink tinge to your meat? According to America’s Test Kitchen, this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s undercooked. The pinkish color is likely due to a muscle pigment called myoglobin. Don’t go by the color, go by the thermometer’s reading to tell you if the turkey’s cooked. An accurate temperature means it’s okay to eat!

Another thing to note is that since dark meat (found in legs and thighs) is composed of more active muscle groups, it takes longer to roast. This is why the temperature needs to be higher to ensure thorough cooking.

Instead of building an aluminum tent over the bird, which can make the skin soggy, simply allowing the bird to rest openly will help it to retain its juices. With proper rest, the juice won’t dribble and dry out the turkey upon carving it. We’re sure you have your own surefire techniques, but how do check your turkey for done-ness? Do you take readings from different parts of the bird? Tell us in the comments!