Tracking your turkey’s internal temperature is another critical step in the success of your holiday bird, and it’s all about helping you know when to remove it from the heat source. Whether you’re roasting, smoking, or deep-frying, an oven-safe thermometer like the ChefAlarm® will help ensure a succulent and flavorful turkey that’s also safe to eat.
➤ For a quick refresher on our first video in the series, check out our post, 1: Proper Probe Placement in Turkeys. We’ll be covering verifying FINAL turkey temperatures in an upcoming post.
Know When to Pull the Turkey From the Oven
So many of us overcook poultry for fear of possibly undercooking it. A turkey pulled too early could possibly still contain foodborne illness, while a turkey pulled too late will be dry. With accurate temperature tracking, you’ll never overcook a turkey again and, more importantly, you’ll be certain your family is safe!
Target Pull Temperature
The whole point of accurate probe placement as discussed in the last installment of our “5 Things” turkey series, is to accurately track the internal temperature of your turkey’s thermal center. And knowing exactly when to remove it from the heat source is what tracking the thermal center is all about.
➤ Set the Alarm
We have found that a pull temperature of 157°F (69°C) works best to account for the rise in temperature that will occur during the rest and achieve the optimal final cooking temperature of 165°F (74°C). Set the ChefAlarm’s high alarm to 157°F (69°C) and the alarm will sound when its internal temperature on target. Once the probe is placed and your high alarm is set—get cooking!
➤ Pull at the Target Temp and Not a Degree Later
Once the meat’s temperature reaches 150°F (66°C), its protein fibers begin to tighten, contract, and start expelling moisture more rapidly. Cooking the turkey to temperatures substantially above 165°F (74°C) will yield dry breast meat. Even 5°F (3°C) above the target temperature will significantly impact your results. Our target pull temperature of 157°F (69°C) is calculated to allow both for the carryover rise to 165°F (74°C) and to meet the USDA’s alternative recommendation that turkey be held at 157°F (74°C) for 49.5 seconds in order to achieve the same level of pathogen reduction. It’s good to meet both USDA safety criteria, just to be safe.
How Long Will the Turkey Take To Cook?
We all want the answer to this question. Thanksgiving Day food preparation, and when to schedule your dinner, revolves around when the turkey will be ready to serve.
➤ Cook Time Variables:
Cooking times called out by charts and recipes are only approximations of how long it will take for a whole turkey to cook, based on oven temperature and weight of the bird. According to the USDA, many other variables affect the length of the cook, including:
- Whether the turkey is completely thawed, or still partially frozen
- Stuffed or unstuffed
- Uneven heating in your oven
- Oven accuracy
- The type of roasting pan: whether it’s dark, shiny, or dull
- Depth and size of the pan
- Tenting with foil
- Using a roasting pan with a lid
- Use of an oven bag
- Where the turkey is positioned in the oven
- A turkey that is too large for the oven, resulting in insufficient heat circulation
The truth is that charts and recipes with cook time recommendations are a very rough estimate, not a gauge of doneness at all. The only 100% reliable way to know when the turkey is ready to be pulled from the heat is through tracking its internal temperature. We couldn’t say it better than Harold McGee…
A number of different guidelines have been proposed for predicting how much time it should take to roast a given piece of meat. Minutes per inch thickness and minutes per pound are the usual approximations. However, the mathematics of heat transfer show that cooking times are actually proportional to the thickness squared, or to the weight to the 2/3 power. And the cooking time also depends on many other factors.
There is no simple and accurate equation that can tell us how long to cook a particular piece of meat in our particular kitchen. The best we can do is monitor the actual cooking, and anticipate when we should stop by following the temperature rise at the center of the meat. —On Food and Cooking, Harold McGee
Why the Probe’s Sensor Matters
➤ Temperature Gradients and the Thermal Center
With food cooking from the outside inward, a difference in temperature exists from the outer surface of the bird to the center of the deepest area in the breast meat where it takes the longest to cook. This difference in temperature, or temperature gradients, can be as much as 45°F (25°C), with many gradual temperatures in between. This lowest temperature area, or thermal center, is a very small space to measure.
➤ The Pop-Up Timer
Millions of Thanksgiving turkeys are pre-embedded with a pop-up timer every year. Consumer Reports performed tests with several pop-up timers and discovered that nearly all yield unacceptable results. Most of them popped up well above 165°F (74°C) yielding dry turkey meat, with a few indicating doneness at unsafe temperatures—one as low as 139°F (59°C). Eating turkey cooked to this temperature will make your family sick!
These devices that are supposed to gauge doneness don’t even give a measured reading and are very unreliable. If your turkey comes with a pop-up, ignore it. For more info check out our post, Turkey Temperature: Don’t Rely on the Pop-Up Timer.
…neither can you trust the pop up thermometer that comes inserted in the bird. The plunger that pops up is anchored in metal that is supposed to melt at a set temp, often at 185°F (85°C). At that temp a turkey breast is more particle board than party. —Meathead, AmazingRibs.com
➤ Bi-Metal Stem Thermometers
A typical bi-metal stem thermometer’s reading merely reflects an average temperature as measured over the length of the sensor and whole probe length—it doesn’t necessarily sit in the small target area. A dial thermometer’s sensor length is typically 2-1/4″, and it can’t tell you the lowest temperature in the breast meat because it is averagint termpeature over a very wide area in the breast. Its poor accuracy makes the dial thermometer very unreliable to measure the target pull temperature.
Sensors You Can Count On:
➤ Oven-Safe Pro Series® Probes
We’re using a ChefAlarm to track the internal temperature here, and all Pro-Series probes use thermistor sensors that are located in the first 1/4″ of the probe’s tip. This small sensor is perfect for measuring the temperature in a narrow area such as your turkey’s thermal center. The reading is not an average temperature, the ChefAlarm’s display is the actual temperature from the precisely targeted area in the meat at the probe’s tip.
Maintain Stable Oven/Cooker Temperature
➤ Opening Oven Door=Heat Loss
➤ Heat Loss=Longer Cook Time
In an Oven: If you’re relying only on an instant-read thermometer like a dial thermometer or even a Thermapen® to track your turkey’s temperature during the cook, you will need to open the oven door for each spot-check. Every time the oven door is opened, its temperature can drop by 50°F (28°C)! Decreased oven temperatures will inevitably extend the time it takes for your bird to cook. So, be sure to use a leave-in probe thermometer that can track your turkey’s internal temperature from outside the oven, like the ThermoWorks ChefAlarm.
In a Smoker: The same goes for your smoker. Once the lid is opened, a multitude of problems can occur. The temperature initially drops, but the oxygen introduced to the burning coals acts as fuel, eventually causing a temperature spike. Tracking the temperature with a leave-in probe and external meter allows you to keep the lid closed and more easily control the cooker’s temperature.
Accurate temperature tracking is another critical step in the success of your holiday bird, and an oven safe thermometer like the ChefAlarm makes it easy.