How to Check If Your Turkey's Cooked to the Right Temperature

A video with everything you need to know about taking the temperature of roast turkey.

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taking the temperature of a turkey with a thermapen

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Straight to the Point

Our favorite instant-read thermometer is the ThermoWorks Thermapen ONE. For a budget-friendly pick, we like the ThermoWorks ThermoPop 2.

Want to guarantee that your turkey will be tender and juicy? Throw out the timing charts and forget about cooking "until the juices run clear." Just use a thermometer. It's the only way to guarantee perfectly cooked meat—provided that you know where to check the turkey's temperature and know what temperature it should be. For the best results, you want to check the turkey's temperature in three different locations: the deepest part of the breast, the joint between the thigh and the body, and the joint between the drumstick and the thigh.

This video will show you exactly how to do that.


The Right Way to Take the Temperature of Your Turkey

The government recommends cooking turkey breast to 165°F (74°C). I prefer my turkey breast at 150°F (66°F), at which point it is far, far juicier (especially if you dry brine it!). But is it safe?

ThermoWorks Thermapen ONE

ThermoWorks Thermapen ONE

King Arthur Baking

Thermoworks ThermoPop 2

Thermoworks ThermoPop Probe Thermometer


Well, here's the thing: Industry standards for food safety are primarily designed to be simple to understand, usually at the expense of accuracy. The rules are set up in a way that any cook can follow then, no matter their skill level, and so that they're easily enforceable by health agencies. But for single-celled organisms, bacteria are surprisingly complex, and despite what any ServSafe chart might have you believe, they refuse to be categorized into a step function. The upshot is that food safety is a function of both temperature and time.

What the USDA is really looking for is a 7.0 log10 relative reduction in bacteria. That is, a reduction that ensures that out of every 10,000,000 bacteria living on that turkey to start, only one will survive.

Take a look at this simplified chart I drew using data from a USDA guide.

Pasteurization Time for Poultry With 5% Fat Content (7-log10 lethality)

Temperature  Time 
136°F (58°C)  65.3 minutes 
140°F (60°C)  29 minutes 
145°F (63°C)  10.8 minutes 
150°F (66°C)  3.7 minutes 
155°F (68°C)  1.2 minutes 
160°F (71°C)  26.1 seconds 
165°F (74°C)  Instant 

According to the USDA's own data, as long as your turkey spends at least 3.7 minutes at or above,150°F (66°C), it is safe to eat. In other words, by the time it's done resting (you do let your turkey rest before carving, right?), you should be good to go.

Check out the video for how to take the temperature of your roasted turkey for more details.

Checking temperature of turkey in the oven
Vicky Wasik

The Thermapen remains the Cadillac of kitchen thermometers, with incredible speed, a nice long probe, high accuracy and precision, waterproof design, and a number of other nifty features. But if you don't want to spend $100 on a thermometer, opt for one of the winning models from our review of the best inexpensive digital thermometers (like the $35 ThermoPop 2). Both are accurate and reliable.