If you judge the doneness of your Thanksgiving turkey by taking it out of the oven when the skin turns golden brown, you risk giving food poisoning to everyone at your holiday feast. Let’s not do that.
The best way to know when your turkey is done is by sticking a meat thermometer into the space between the thigh and the breast, and making sure it’s cooked to the USDA-recommended internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. (We recommend removing the turkey from the oven around 160, and then letting it come up to 165 while it’s resting outside of the oven.)
But since many home cooks aren’t roasting whole birds throughout the year, a ton of people are caught off guard on Thanksgiving Day when they realize they don’t have a thermometer that’ll do the job. We’re here to help!
First, a note on pop-up timers and why they don’t work
You know the red pop-up timers that come in many store-bought turkeys? They’re one of the most unreliable kitchen gadgets of all time. That’s because commercial turkey buttons are set to pop at 180 to 185 degrees Fahrenheit, meaning your turkey will be overcooked and as dry as sawdust by the time the popper pops.
If you need any more proof that pop-up timers are bad, just know that Butterball turkey doesn’t use them, Consumer Reports doesn’t recommend them and food writers despise them. “If I had my way, the world would be rid of it,” said J. Kenji López-Alt, a James Beard-nominated columnist, of pop-up timers in an interview with The Washington Post in 2015.
The types of meat thermometers that do work
Our favorite type is a digital instant-read thermometer, because it’s fast, sleek and relatively affordable. Next, there’s a traditional instant-read thermometer, which is usually a little more affordable but takes longer than the digital version (the other downside is that waiting for a reading forces you to leave the oven door open, causing your oven to lose heat). The third type of thermometer you can use is a probe-style digital thermometer, which can be inserted into your bird with a wire leading out of the oven door to a digital display that monitors the temperature. It’s a little clunkier, but it gets the job done.
A few of our favorites are below. Once you have your thermometer, you’ll just need to know the weight of your turkey and you’ll be able to calculate approximately how long to cook it.
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