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Nov 22, 2010 09:00 AM

Turkey Temperature Question

I read the thread that the temperature (and using an accurate thermometer) is the best guarantee for getting a moist turkey.
But, unless I missed it, no one mentioned what the temperature should be. I believe the thermometer should go in the thigh, but at what temperature is the turkey done and ready to be removed from the oven to rest?
I have a 14.5 pound bird, and wonder what the temp should reach, and approximately how long it should be in the oven (ie when should I start checking the temp?)

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  1. USDA recommends 165 degrees and be sure to avoid contacting the bone in the thigh area when taking the temperature. Try to get a constant read thermometer that you can leave in the bird while it's baking. That way you can better judge the time needed (it's' not a constant because no two ovens or turkeys are alike) and get a more perfect result.
    If you're stuffing the bird remember that the thigh temperature test isn't enough. You must also check the stuffing temperature to make sure it too has reached the food safe temperature.

    8 Replies
    1. re: todao

      Keep in mind the carry-over temperature effect. If you want 165, then you might remove the bird when it reaches 5-10 degrees below that. Tent it with foil and re-check the temp, which usually keeps increasing for a short while after leaving the oven to reach your desired temp. If you take it out at exactly 165, chances are it will be 170 shortly and less moist and tender than you'd want.

      1. re: markabauman

        Exactly what I am trying to explain to my father this year. Pull it at 150F, tent it and let it rest a good long while. It comes up to 165F every year, somehow he always forgets this.
        Also, turkeys don't always take three hours anymore, not sure what has changed. I am begging him to check it at 1 1/2 hours this year to avoid dry bird before I can get to their house and save it.
        You don't have to pull it out that soon, just check it and see where it's at. Please Dad?!?!

        1. re: rabaja

          Not sure how your father is cooking it, but I just cooked a 13 lb turkey last night and it took almost 4 hours to get to 165 in the thighs. I'm cooking at 350 in a convection oven, maybe that's different.

          Keep in mind, too, that while dark meat is technically done at 165, I think the texture is much better around 170 or even a little higher - the meat doesn't dry out, and more of the connective tissue dissolves so it's more tender. So if you're shooting for good dark meat, you may want to leave it in until 165 and then let it rise 10 degrees while it rests. Of course, your breast will be a little dry, but it all depends what you're going for.

          1. re: monopod

            Wow, maybe it's my memory that's failing here. Three to four hours, huh? I'm sure it's a big turkey too, we are expecting 20 people this year.
            I just hope to take it out somewhere around 160F.
            Thanks for your input, sounds like I am being a bit of a nag so I will try to back off the old guy.

            1. re: rabaja

              I think brined turkey tends to cook faster than a non-brined one. Alton Brown said a 14-16lb brined bird should take around 2 to 2.5 hours to reach 161F.

          2. re: rabaja

            oven temps vary a lot. + -10 to 30 degrees from what you set it at. I don't cave at the table so I pull the bird when the breast is 150. If the thighs don't measure up I remove them and either put them back in the oven or nuke them. If your breast are always dry you can inject them before cooking with broth(I like to dissolve salt in it for flavor) (and/or melted butter) and put butter and sage under the skin. I have found that if done in a cooking bag they are always moist and cook faster. Never had a 22-24# take more than 2.-21/2 hrs. Mine are unstuffed.
            Also if you raise the lower end (butt) of the turkey the thighs are more exposed and cook a bit faster.

        2. re: todao

          Here's the USDA info on temp/holding time - so the meat should be held at/above a given temp for the corresponding amount of time:

          Minimum Pasteurization Times For Selected Meat Temperatures*

          Chicken & Turkey With 12% Fat
          136°F (57.8°C) 82 minutes
          140 (60.0) 35 minutes
          145 (62.8) 14 minutes
          150 (65.6) 5 minutes
          152 (66.7) 3 minutes
          154 (67.8) 2 minutes
          156 (68.9) 1 minutes
          158 (70.0) 41 seconds
          160 (71.1) 27 seconds
          162 (72.2) 18 seconds
          164 (73.3) 12 seconds
          166 (74.4) 0 seconds

        3. You're going to get a lot of different answers on this one. It largely depends on how you're cooking the turkey, whether you're more concerned about food safety or moist meat, etc. For what it's worth, when I roast a whole turkey (not butterflied or otherwise altered in shape), I cook it until the thermometer stuck into the deepest part of the thigh is at 165 - the temp that reliably kills most of the baddies in the meat (e.g, salmonella). I usually have to poke it in a couple of places to find that deepest part - just see which one has the lowest temperature reading. When the thigh is at 165, the breast is probably a little overcooked (you can help by putting a foil shield over the breast for the last hour or so, or by icing down the breast before it goes into the oven to help it cook slower; I don't usually bother). I hate when the dark meat is undercooked (it's my favorite part), so I'd rather have the breast a wee bit dried out and the thigh/legs perfectly cooked.

          As far as when to check, the easiest thing is to get a probe thermometer (a metal probe on a long wire that connects to a readout outside of the oven) that you can just stick deep into the thigh a couple of hours in, and then watch the temp until it's done. If not, I'd start checking the temp about 3/4 of the way through the time specified in your recipe. For example, a 15 pound bird cooked at 350 in my oven takes in the neighborhood of 4 hours, so I'd start checking around 3 hours.

          1. i'm doing a mini thxgiving this year for two the day before. purchased a half turkey breast and a leg. would you all advocate putting the breast in well after the leg, or just wrapping in foil for awhile? and i would think the timing is reduced by a great deal, cooking only parts as opposed to the whole bird? i'll check temps, but do you think maybe an hour or so?

            2 Replies
            1. re: mariacarmen

              It depends on the size of the breast vs. leg, but yeah the leg will definitely take longer to cook, and actually benefits from a slower, longer cook time. i would personally start the leg first.

            2. Thank you all for your responses. I will definitely check the temp, and remove the bird when the temperature reaches 155- 160 degrees, and let it rest and reach the magical 165!!!
              I have a brined, not-stuffed bird, so I am guessing I should start checking at about 2 - 2 1/2 hours into the roasting?
              Thanks again.

              6 Replies
              1. re: bxgirl

                My turkey is usually done at about 2 hours -- if you can get to a cooking store, I'd buy one of the digital thermometers that stays in the turkey the whole time and alerts you when it's getting to the temperature, it makes roasting the turkey so much easier and stress free.

                1. re: JasmineG

                  the digital remote thermometer is one of the best buys I've ever made for the kitchen.
                  This year, with a new oven, I just might try the internal probe.
                  Very exciting!!

                  Now, if I could get to the bottom of exactly where to place the probe, thigh or breast????

                  1. re: monavano

                    Personally I'd put it in the breast. You can always pull the leg/thighs off and put them back in while the breast is resting

                      1. re: monavano

                        Just don't forget to turn on the alarm and take a look at the reading once or twice. Sometimes where it plugs in has a bad connection and needs tweaking.

                  2. I've been obsesssing over this question too. My turkey is about 16#, not brined, still debating the stuffing. I've found such widely varying time estimates that it's making me worried I'm going to way overestimate or way underestimate the timing and either not have anything else ready or have everyone waiting around for it to finish. When do people usually start testing the temperature?

                    8 Replies
                    1. re: i_eat_a_lot_of_ice_cream

                      I check at 2 hours and then every half hour or hour but I roast low and slow so I have some more leeway. If it's ready ahead turkey stays hot for a while, if it cools you can heat it gently in the oven or give it a blast whichever you prefer or just serve with really hot gravy. If people wait, well, they wait. There's plenty of other nibbles to be had I assume. Remember the food is a big part and we all get nervous but it's all about being together and enjoying the time and the dinner whether good or bad doesn't always make the event. I've had huge blunders which we now laugh about.

                      1. re: fldhkybnva

                        Thank you. It's nice to hear reassuring words. And yes, plenty more to eat and only close family members who know me well. :-)

                        1. re: i_eat_a_lot_of_ice_cream

                          Also, you read a lot of different timing schedules because in the the bird can dictate a lot and timing can vary at the same temperature every year depending on the bird structure, what temp it actually reaches when you take it out of the fridge, etc. I'm sure they will all be very appreciative and it's even more fun when it's close family members. They will love it no matter what. This does remind me of the time I decided to bake SOs special lasagna for a special occasion and no only did I not defrost it early enough so it took nearly three times as long to bake but at 2am when it finally finished I managed to slide it right off the sheet pan, down the side of the oven and right onto the flame underneath. I saved the 2nd pan which happened to also be in there, but within minutes the oven was ablaze and the fire department was knocking on the door. The fire went out, the oven was all clear, so I cranked it up, popped in the garlic bread and we enjoyed dinner at 3am. We laugh hysterically to this day, everyone was safe and we have great memories of that night that we'll never forget.

                          1. re: fldhkybnva

                            Haha! What a story! I'm sure we will have some surprises too (though hopefully no fire dept activity!) .... I'll try to take it in stride like you did. :)

                            1. re: i_eat_a_lot_of_ice_cream

                              Yup, one year completely overbaked the macaroni and cheese. Now mac and cheese at Thanksgiving is just a thing in my family and it's what many of us look forward to so I was mortified when I realized the bottom was charred black, but alas we moved on, enjoyed the rest of the dishes and we made mac and cheese the next day for leftovers. I'm a stressor so I'll try to practice what I preach :)

                            2. re: fldhkybnva

                              My brother made fried sliced potatoes for breakfast that were so over done I told him we could re-shingle the house with them. My son made instant mashed potatoes and misread the salt amount. He used tablespoons full instead of teaspoons.
                              Me..... I've never made a mistake lol

                        2. re: i_eat_a_lot_of_ice_cream

                          We've all made mistakes. I bet half of us have left the plastic bag inside at least once. (it doesn't melt) lol. You can let a bird rest up to as long as 1 1/2 hrs before carving. Ask the one that carves. They still burn their fingers after 45 mins of resting.
                          Not everything has to be's about the love and being together. Have a back up of turkey TV dinners lol

                          1. re: i_eat_a_lot_of_ice_cream

                            It doesn't have to be all that precise. If you start to carve and it's pink nuke it a bit or put it back in. It can take over cooking and still be fine. If it's dry you can melt some butter and drizzle over it or gravy will fix anything.