Rule #1: Don't trust the pop-up timer.

By Melanie Fincher
September 23, 2020
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Roast turkey on roasting rack with thermometer inside
Credit: Jason Donnelly/Meredith

When it comes to cooking turkey, half the battle is knowing when to take it out of the oven. Temping a turkey is the best and safest way to know when your turkey is done cooking. You can't go by sight alone — this may cause you to end up with a dry bird. Believe it or not, a little pink does not necessarily mean the turkey is underdone. The safest and most surefire way to know that your turkey is done is by taking its internal temperature. 

While adorable, those little pop-up timers that come with store-bought turkeys are often faulty and don't pop up until the turkey is overcooked. This method is going to rely on the use of a meat thermometer ($9; Amazon), so you get the juicy, flavorful turkey of your Thanksgiving dreams. Here we'll break down step-by-step how to temp a turkey.

How to Temp a Turkey the Right Way

Person taking internal temperature of turkey on thigh
Credit: Mike Dieter/Meredith

What Should the Internal Temperature of a Turkey Be?

You'll find that most people (including the USDA) consider the turkey to be done once it's reached a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees F in the thickest part of the thigh. While you might be tempted to insert your thermometer into the breast meat, dark meat takes longer to cook than light meat, meaning the thigh will give you the most accurate reading as to when your turkey is done. 

Here's What You'll Need

An instant-read meat thermometer is going to be the most accurate tool for temping a turkey. We've already established that the pop-up timer can't be trusted. Fortunately you can get a top-rated instant read thermometer for as little as $9 on Amazon. However a mechanical meat thermometer ($11; Amazon) may also be used as well. 

Instructions: 

  1. When you're ready to temp your turkey (refer to our turkey cooking time guide here), remove the turkey completely from the oven and close the oven door. This helps to preserve the heat in the oven in the case that it needs to go back in. 
  2. Insert your thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh. To find the thigh, look for the drumstick (which sticks out from the body). The thigh is where the drumstick attaches to the body of the turkey. 
  3. If you hit bone or if your thermometer slides right in (meaning you've hit the turkey cavity), remove the thermometer and insert it in a different spot. If you've hit the meatiest part, you should feel some resistance as you press the thermometer in.
  4. Hold the thermometer in place until the numbers stop moving (or the red dial stops moving in the case of a mechanical thermometer). 
  5. If the turkey has reached 165 degrees F or higher, it's done! But it's not ready for carving just yet. Let it rest in the pan for anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes. This will allow the juices to settle into the meat, rather than pour out onto your cutting board. 

Note: If you stuffed your turkey, you'll also need to check that the stuffing's internal temperature has reached a minimum of 165 degrees F. 

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