When Thanksgiving and Christmas come around, everyone looks forward to a delicious dinner feast with a perfectly cooked and juicy turkey. To properly cook a whole turkey in an oven, you will want to use a thermometer to ensure the turkey is cooked all the way through.
Nothing is worse than an undercooked Thanksgiving turkey, so using the right cooking thermometer will ensure your bird is tasty and safe to consume. It can be overwhelming cooking a turkey for the first time, so you may forget to think about where on the turkey you are supposed to stick the thermometer for an accurate reading.
It may seem obvious once you know but sticking it in the thickest part of the thigh and breast is the best spot to find the real temperature. You want to stick the thermometer into the furthest spot as the turkey will cook from the outside in.
Oven Safe and Instant Read Thermometers
You can use two different types of thermometers, either an oven-safe thermometer or one you stick in once the turkey comes out of the oven called an instant read thermometer. Either will work well; however, it will be less work using an oven-safe thermometer as all you have to do is remove the turkey once you see it has reached the correct temperature.
An instant read thermometer is accurate, but you will have to check the temperature about an hour before the turkey is supposed to be done and every 15 minutes after that until the turkey has finished cooking.
When using an instant read or digital meat thermometer, stick it into the thickest part of the breast and inner thigh. These parts of the turkey will give you the most accurate reading for proper doneness since they are the thickest and will take the longest to cook fully.
Sadly the little pop-up turkey thermometers are not very accurate, so when roasting a whole turkey for your family on Christmas, we highly recommend one of the two other thermometers.
You can also get an analog thermometer or digital thermometer. Both of these thermometer types are accurate and fairly inexpensive. If you choose an analog or dial thermometer, it will need to be calibrated before using it to work properly.
To calibrate your dial thermometer, submerge the thermometer into ice water until it reads 32 degrees Fahrenheit, then it is ready to use.
When using a probe thermometer, insert the thermometer into the thickest portion of the turkey breast, the innermost portion of the thigh, and the innermost portion of the wing. Don’t let the probe thermometer touch the bone, the gristle, or the pan, or you will not get an accurate temperature reading.
The Safe Temperature for a Turkey
The correct and safe temperature a whole turkey should be cooked to is 165 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the USDA. If you choose to stuff your turkey before placing it in the oven, make sure to check the stuffing temperature as well. It should also be 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
When calculating the doneness of your turkey, you also want to determine how big your turkey is and how much it weighs. The bigger the turkey, the longer it will take to cook, so plan accordingly.
A 20-pound turkey can take up to five hours to cook, even longer if the bird is stuffed. You also have to set aside additional time for the turkey to rest once cooked, so you don’t carve it prematurely and lose all those tasty juices. No one wants a dry turkey, right?
Do you plan on smoking your turkey this year? Check out our reviews of the Best Thermometer for Smoking.
Does It Matter Where You Insert the Thermometer?
Like any other meat, a turkey will cook from the outside in. The skin can appear crispy and look done from the outside but still be raw and undercooked in the middle. This is why it is so important to insert your meat thermometer into the thickest parts of the turkey.
The thickest parts of the turkey will be the last areas to cook fully, so they should be where you need to check for doneness. Checking other places like the wings is important too, but ultimately the thickest part of the breast and inner thigh will give you an accurate and safe temperature reading.
Step-By-Step: How to Check a Turkey’s Temperature
- Figure out beforehand how much your turkey weighs and how long it will take to cook. Also, determine what kind of thermometer you will be using to check the turkey’s temperature
- If you are using an oven-safe thermometer, insert it into the thickest part of the inner thigh and place it into the oven
- Make sure the tip of the thermometer is not touching the bone, as this will give you an inaccurate reading
- If you are using an instant read thermometer, take the turkey out about 30 minutes before it is supposed to be finished to see if you are on track. Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the breast and innermost thigh, and wait until the temperature stops rising to get an accurate temperature reading
- Continue checking the temperature reading every 15 minutes until the turkey has reached an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure it is 165 degrees Fahrenheit in the breast, thigh, and wing to ensure the whole bird is fully cooked. This is the temperature at which you know the turkey is safe to eat
- Once the turkey is done, cover it with tin foil and allow it to rest for about half an hour. This will allow the juices to settle and reabsorb back into the meat, making it juicy and tender