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How to Tell When Your Turkey Is Done

How to Tell When Your Turkey Is Done

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Use a meat thermometer to make sure your turkey is cooked completely

It’s Thanksgiving turkey time, and you’re getting geared up to take on the task of cooking the turkey once again. Last year you overcooked it, and you don’t want to mess up again this time around. So, how do you know when your turkey is actually done?

The most accurate way to check for doneness is with a meat thermometer. The thermometer should register just a couple of degrees below 165 degrees, which is the safe temperature for poultry to be served, and it should be taken in the thickest part of the thigh or in the center of a stuffed bird. If you don’t have a meat thermometer you can cut into the joint between the thigh and the body to see if the meat near the bone is still pink or not. (It shouldn’t be pink when it’s done.) The reason you want to take the bird out right before it reaches 165 degrees is because once you have removed your turkey from the oven it will continue to cook and the internal temperature will rise a few degrees.

You can also determine doneness according to approximate cooking time. The suggested cook time is 20 minutes per pound for a defrosted turkey, and 10 to 15 minutes per pound for a fresh turkey. And don’t be fooled by a crisp skin. Color and crispness do not tell you anything about the doneness of your bird. Refer to the chart here for average cooking times, and remember to use your meat thermometer if you have one.

For more turkey talk, visit The Daily Meal's Guide to Thanksgiving!

8 Secrets For a Moist & Juicy Roast Turkey

The biggest challenge when roasting a turkey is making sure it’s fully cooked—but not overcooked. In this video, you’ll learn how—and when—to check your turkey for doneness, so your turkey is juicy, tender and delicious.

The first rule for roasting a turkey is that if your bird comes with one of these pop-up timers, throw it away. It’s really not a reliable indicator. By the time it pops up, your turkey may be as tough as shoe leather. Instead, use an instant-read probe thermometer either an analog or a digital one is fine.

Start checking for doneness on the early side and insert the thermometer in the thickest part of the turkey’s thigh. Be sure you’re not hitting the bone, which will give you an inaccurate reading. Give it a minute to settle on a temperature. What you’re looking for is a reading of 170°F in the thigh.

It’s also a good idea to check both thighs, because if your turkey has to fit sideways in your oven, you might find that one side cooks faster than the other because of hot spots in the oven.

If you’ve stuffed your turkey, you also have to take the temperature of the stuffing to make sure it’s fully cooked as well. Stick the thermometer probe right into the center of the stuffing now you want a reading of 165°F.

If your turkey is fully cooked, but the stuffing is not, scoop the stuffing into a baking pan and continue baking it until it reaches 165°F.

Meanwhile, take the turkey out of the roasting pan, place it onto a cutting board, cover it with a big piece of foil, and let it rest for 30 to 40 minutes. Resting a turkey after roasting lets the juices redistribute so the meat is equally juicy in the leg and the breast.

How do I know when my turkey is cooked?

To make sure your turkey is cooked to a safe temperature but the breast meat doesn&apost dry out, cook it to 165 degrees. The old methods, like checking if the juices are clear or the thigh pulls easily away from the bone, do not ensure the bird is cooked to a safe temperature. The only other foolproof method to ensure your bird is safe is to horribly overcook it!

To the surprise of many cooks, turkey meat can be light pink near the bone when cooked to a safe temperature, especially on the leg. (And, it can be completely white when not cooked to a safe temperature, which is why using a thermometer is so important).

As long as the turkey meat is at least 165F it is safe to eat, but most of us find pink poultry unappetizing and worrisome. An easy solution is to cook the legs longer: because they are dark meat, they won&apost dry out the way the breast will. To make this work and not interfere with serving the meal, I suggest you bring the whole glorious bird to the table for some oohs and ahs, then back into the kitchen for carving. Immediately remove the legs and return them to the oven for 10-15 minutes. Meanwhile, the breast is resting for the necessary 20 minutes or so before carving, and guests are enjoying their first course. By the time you are ready to carve the breast, the legs should no longer be tinged with pink.

Although it's tempting to check on your turkey, opening the oven only lowers the temperature and prolongs the process, potentially screwing up your initial estimated time. Keep the oven closed until you're about two-thirds of the way through to check on it for the first time. If the turkey breasts are getting too browned too quickly, cover the turkey in a tent of foil. If they don't look browned, feel free to skip that step.

The deepest part of the thigh muscle is the very last part of the turkey to be done. The internal temperature should reach 180°F. To check for doneness without a thermometer, pierce the thigh and pay attention to the juices: if the juices run clear, it's cooked, and if the juices are reddish pink, it needs more time. Put the turkey back in the oven and check again after a short time.

Recipe Summary

  • 1 onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, coarsely chopped
  • 1 carrot, coarsely chopped
  • 1 (12 pound) whole turkey, neck and giblets reserved
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 4 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • ½ bunch chopped fresh sage

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C).

Place onion, celery, and carrot in a large, shallow roasting pan.

Place turkey, breast side up, on top of the vegetables in the roasting pan. Pat the outside and inside of the turkey dry with paper towels.

Combine salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper in a small bowl. Season the inside of the turkey with about 1/3 of the salt mixture. Fold wing tips under the bird.

Melt butter in small saucepan over medium heat until the edges begin to turn golden, about 2 minutes. Cook and stir rosemary and sage for 1 minute.

Place rosemary and sage inside the cavity of the turkey reserve melted butter. Tie the legs together with twine.

Brush outside of the turkey completely with the melted butter. Season with remaining 2/3 of the salt mixture.

Bake turkey, uncovered, in the preheated oven until no longer pink at the bone and the juices run clear, about 3 hours. An instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh, near the bone should read 180 degrees F (82 degrees C). Remove the turkey from the oven and allow to rest in a warm area 10 to 15 minutes before slicing.

How to Tell When Meat Loaf Is Done

Choose your favorite meat loaf recipe and set the oven for the meat loaf cooking temperature specified. Toward the end of the cooking time (our standard 2-pound meat loaf takes about 1 hour), follow this simple method to always know when meat loaf is done.

  • To tell when meat loaf is done, use an instant-read thermometer ($13, Walmart). The meat loaf&aposs internal temperature should register 160ଏ when inserted into the center of the loaf.
  • Alternatively, use an oven-safe thermometer ($18, Target) that can be placed in the meatloaf before it goes into the oven. Insert the stem of the thermometer into the thickest part of the meatloaf and make sure that the tip of the thermometer is not touching the pan.

Because the color of cooked ground meat mixtures won&apost always indicate doneness, our Test Kitchen (and the USDA) recommends always using a meat thermometer. Now that you know how to tell when meat loaf is done, discover some new meat loaf recipes to serve for easy weeknight dinners. Move on from the classic and give your meat loaf some Southwestern flair, make it taste like pizza, or add cheese and wrap it in bacon.

I use an instant-read thermometer. It's by far the simplest method.

My old Taylor died a few weeks ago. After reading rave reviews from Cooks Illustrated, and Alton Brown's recommendation, I splurged and got a Thermoworks Thermapen. It is amazing!

In addition to a thermometer you can use the "touch" method which takes some getting used to and is difficult to explain clearly via text:

Touch the tip of your ring finger to your thumb. Then with the index finger on your other hand touch the fleshy portion between the thumb and index finger on the hand that has the ring finger and thumb touching. The fleshy portion should feel more firm than soft, this is about the way that medium-well should feel in meat. If your turkey burger feels the same way, it should be done.

As for other doneness using this method:

-index finger to thumb = medium rare

-middle finger to thumb = medium

-ring finger to thumb = medium well

-little finger to thumb = well done (aka "shoe leather")

Note that for some people there can be very little difference in firmness of the muscle changes as you switch fingers so it's something that really mainly comes with experience for most people using the "touch method".

This is only for individual cuts/burgers etc. Roasts and whole birds require a thermometer.

Related wikiHows

The Right Temperature to Cook a Turkey

When you use the regular meat thermometer method, you’re checking for an internal temperature of 165 degrees F all the way through the turkey to know that your bird is done. You’ll want to check the temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast to be sure that the turkey is cooked through everywhere. This means if you decide to stuff the turkey, make sure the stuffing is heated through as well.

Roasting Chart

Turkey Weight8 to 12 lb.12 to 14 lb.14 to 18 lb.18 to 20 lb.20 to 24 lb.
Unstuffed2¾ to 3 hr.3 to 3¾ hr.3¾ to 4¼ hr.4¼ to 4½ hr.4½ to 5 hr.
Stuffed3 to 3½ hr.3½ to 4 hr.4 to 4¼ hr.4½ to 4¾ hr4¾ to 5¼ hr

Times above assume an oven temperature of 325°F. and are approximate based on recommendations of the USDA. Always use an instant-read thermometer to check the internal temperature of the turkey and stuffing.

How to Make Stuffing

Stuffing is a side dish commonly associated with turkey and Thanksgiving but it can also be enjoyed throughout the year and with many types of meat. The basis for different stuffing recipes is generally the same. They contain dried bread, cooking liquid and seasoning. Together with the basic ingredients, many other ingredients can be added to produce a unique dish. The recipe can be cooked in the cavity of a turkey or chicken or it can be cooked in a separate dish. When cooked in the cavity, it is referred to as stuffing and when it is cooked outside the cavity in a separate baking dish, it is referred to as dressing. Included below is information on different ingredients and instructions on how to make stuffing. The process is very similar when making it for turkey as it is when making it for other meats such as chicken, pork or beef.

The three basic ingredients, bread, liquid and seasoning, each have many options that can be used. Together with these ingredients, there are many other ingredients that can be added to produce great flavor and texture. The information below describes some of the options that can be used.

Most any type of bread will work as long as it has a firm texture and has been dried properly. Using moist bread will result in a soggy stuffing. Some good bread choices are listed below:

  • White, firm textured
    sandwich bread
  • Wheat
  • French
  • Italian
  • Whole-grain
  • Rye
  • Sourdough
  • Cornbread

The most common seasonings used are salt, pepper, and sage, but there are many others that can be added to create different flavors or to compliment other added ingredients. Some common seasonings are listed below:

  • Salt and pepper
  • Sage
  • Poultry seasoning
  • Thyme
  • Parsley flakes
  • Celery salt
  • Rosemary
  • Marjoram
  • Cinnamon
  • Ground cloves
  • Nutmeg
  • Allspice

Before preparing the stuffing, determine the quantity needed on the basis that you need 3/4 to 1 cup per person. Have the stock or broth and other ingredients prepared before you begin to mix the stuffing ingredients together. Do not mix ingredients together until just before you are ready to stuff the turkey. The instruction below for preparing the stuffing are for a basic stuffing recipe that includes onions, celery and pork sausage.

Ingredient Type Description

  • 12 c. half inch cubes of white or wheat bread (about a 1 lb. loaf)
  • 1 lb. ground pork sausage
  • 3/4 c. margarine
  • 1/2 c. chopped onion
  • 2 c. chopped celery (about 4 or 5 stalks)
  • 1 tsp. sage
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. pepper
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1 1/2 to 2 c. turkey or chicken broth or stock.

Slice bread into 1/2 inch thick slices if it is not presliced. Cut the slices into 1/2 inch cubes. Spread the cubes out on baking sheets and allow to set out overnight to dry or bake in an oven at 275°F for approximately 20 minutes or until cubes are dry.

Stir the bread cubes occasionally while drying so they dry evenly. Be sure bread is fairly dry before using. Do not use moist bread because it will result in soggy stuffing.

Preparing Other Ingredients

Fry ground sausage and crumble into small pieces. Drain grease and set crumbled sausage aside.

Clean and chop the onion into small pieces and set aside.

Clean and chop celery into approximately 1/4 inch size pieces.

Begin adding the broth or stock gradually. Only add enough liquid to moisten the stuffing enough for it to hold together. Begin by adding 1 cup or less.

Note: Homemade stock, broth made from chicken bouillon, or store bought broth can be used.

If necessary, more liquid can be added after the eggs are added in to further moisten the stuffing but it should not be tasted again until it is cooked properly.

Keep in mind that if the stuffing is going to be cooked in the cavity of the turkey, that it should be drier than if cooked in a separate baking dish. It will take on additional moisture from the turkey's juices as it cooks.

Basic Stuffing with Sausage

Store bought croutons or stuffing mix can be used in place of drying your own bread cubes if desired. They are available cubed, crumbled, in strips, seasoned and unseasoned. They are also available made from different varieties of bread.

If they are purchased from the store, keep in mind that if they are seasoned you will want to adjust the seasoning you add to the stuffing.

Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and celery to the melted butter and cook until onions begin to soften and turn a light golden brown. The celery should still be slightly crunchy.
Remove the onions and celery from the heat and add the sage, salt and pepper.
The bread cubes should be placed in a bowl large enough to mix all the ingredients together. Add the onion and celery mixture and sausage to the bread cubes and stir until the ingredients are well mixed.

When adding liquid, remember that the eggs still need to be added, which will add a little moisture also. The eggs should not be added until the stuffing has been taste tested to see if it is properly seasoned.
Add more seasoning if necessary after taste testing. When stuffing is properly seasoned, add the beaten eggs and stir until they are well distributed.

In order to prepare the turkey for stuffing, remove the neck and giblets, which are usually placed inside the body cavity. Wash the turkey inside and out with cold water.

Do not stuff the turkey until just before you are ready to cook it. The stuffing should be completely cooled before placing it in the turkey to reduce the risk of bacterial growth.

Turn the turkey so the breast side is down. Lightly insert stuffing in the small cavity of the neck.

Pat the inside cavity and the surface dry with paper towels.

Fold the neck skin over the stuffing and hold in place by bending the wing tips back to hold it in place. If the wings will not hold the skin in place, trussing needles or skewers can be used.

If using trussing needles or skewers to close the neck skin over the stuffing, be sure to fold back the wings before turning the turkey over to stuff the breast cavity.

Turn the turkey breast side up and lightly fill the breast cavity of the turkey. Do not pack the stuffing too tightly in the cavity because the stuffing will expand as it cooks. If the stuffing is too dense, it will not cook thoroughly all the way through. If there is stuffing that does not fit in the cavity, it can be baked in a separate baking dish.

After filling the cavity, tuck the legs in at the bottom of the turkey or tie them together with kitchen twine.

Roast the turkey until the thigh reaches 180°F, the breast reaches 170°F and the dressing is 165°F in the center. Remove the turkey from the oven, tent foil over it, and allow it to stand for at least 20 minutes before carving. Leave the stuffing in the turkey during standing time. The temperature of turkey and stuffing will rise during this time. Remove the stuffing before carving to avoid possible cross contamination.

If the turkey gets done before the dressing reaches 165°F, remove the dressing from the cavity of the turkey and place it in a baking dish and continue to bake in the oven until it reaches the appropriate temperature.

See Roasting Turkey for more information on cooking instructions and turkey cooking times.

Preparing and Cooking Dressing

Many cooks prefer to place all of the stuffing in a baking dish to cook it rather than cooking it in the turkey. They prefer this method because an unstuffed turkey cooks to the proper temperature faster than when stuffed and it is easier to cook the dressing to the proper temperature without worrying about the turkey becoming overdone. Some people also prefer the crispy top that results from cooking the dressing in a separate baking dish. See the instructions below on preparing dressing.

Dressing is the same as stuffing only it is baked in a separate dish rather than stuffed in the cavity of the turkey to be cooked.

Prepare the stuffing mix in the same manner as stated above for the stuffing.

Butter the sides and bottom of a baking dish large enough to hold the dressing.

Pour dressing into the baking dish and pat lightly.

Pour 1/2 to 1 cup of additional liquid over the dressing in the baking dish. When baking separate from the turkey, the dressing will not be getting the juices from the turkey so additional liquid needs to be added to prevent the dressing from drying out too much.

Cover the dressing with foil and seal tightly around all edges. Place in an oven preheated to 350°F.

The dressing will need to bake for 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the quantity. If baking a large quantity, the cooking time may need to be increased to have the dressing reach 165°F in the center. Remove the foil from the dressing during the last 15 to 20 minutes of cooking time to allow the dressing to brown.
When dressing is nicely browned and its internal temperature reaches 165°F, it is ready to serve.

There are many different stuffing/dressing recipes available that call for different ingredients but the basic instructions above can be used for most any type. The ingredients and ingredient preparation may vary but the same basic steps can be followed and the same safety concerns should be recognized.

Stuffing Other Types of Meat

Other types of meats can also be stuffed with a stuffing mixture similar to the stuffing shown above. Meats that do not have a cavity for stuffing can have a slit cut to form a pocket or the stuffing can be rolled up in the meat.

Stuffing can be used in crown roasts, extra thick chops or steaks, rolled roasts or rolled into flattened tenderloin. The stuffing can be made from a simple bread base or a wild rice mixture, with ingredients such as onions, garlic, lemon, herbs, and spices added for extra flavor. A variety of other ingredients, such as sausage, vegetables, mushrooms, pecans, and chestnuts can be added to make up a more complex recipe with a unique flavor. It is common to use eggs for binding and stock or broth to moisten the stuffing.

When stuffing a crown roast, fill the center of the roast with the stuffing and then cover the stuffing with foil. Remove the foil during the last 45 minutes to an hour of the cooking time so that the stuffing can brown. To stuff extra thick chops or steaks make a slit along the side, through the middle of the chop to form pocket to hold the stuffing.

To stuff extra thick chops or steaks make a slit along the side, through the middle of the chop to form a pocket to hold the stuffing.

Stuffing Rolled Roasts or Tenderloins

Stuffed rolled roasts and flattened tenderloins generally have a layer of the stuffing spread over the meat and are then rolled up and tied before cooking.

Stuff the chop lightly, being careful not to over stuff. Any remaining stuffing can be placed in a glass baking dish and baked separately.