Whether you are hosting a huge Thanksgiving dinner or an intimate gathering, you need to know if your turkey is done.
If you don’t know when a turkey is done, you could end up with dry, overcooked, or undercooked turkey.
What Happens if You Eat Undercooked Turkey?
It does not matter if you got distracted by playing games with your family or making Thanksgiving Day side dishes. Do not eat undercooked turkey.
Eating the turkey is tempting, especially when you’ve put in so much work to prepare it. It’s only slightly undercooked turkey. It won’t kill anyone if they eat it.
However, eating undercooked turkey is more dangerous than it seems. Eating undercooked turkey opens the door for bacteria. Bacteria is responsible for foodborne illness.
Pathogens found in turkey include Campylobacter, Clostridium perfringens, and Salmonella. Symptoms of these foodborne illnesses include diarrhea, abdominal pain, vomiting, fever, and vomiting.
While eating undercooked turkey may not necessarily kill you or anyone who eats it, it will undoubtedly be remembered as the day when everyone got sick from eating your turkey. So do not eat undercooked turkey.
How To Tell When Turkey Is Done
Knowing how to tell if your turkey is fully cooked is essential. Without knowing, you will end up with an overcooked turkey or undercooked turkey.
Luckily, these 3 methods will ensure you end up with a juicy, perfectly moist bird.
To test the turkey for doneness using the fork method, pierce the thigh meat with a fork. Do push the fork through the thigh. Stop about halfway down.
If the turkey’s juices run clear, the turkey is cooked. However, if the juices are not clear, the turkey needs to be baked a little longer.
It’s best to test the turkey in multiple pots if you are using the fork method.
Ovens have hot and cold spots, which causes some parts of the turkey, like the breast, to cook faster than the thigh. Checking the turkey at multiple locations will verify that it is fully cooked.
You can also use the cooking time to determine if the turkey is finished cooking. However, the cooking time will depend on the bird’s weight and whether or not it is stuffed.
If unstuffed, turkeys that weigh 8-12 pounds will take about 3 hours.
However, stuffed 8-12 pound birds will take 3 1/2 hours to cook. Larger turkeys weighing 20-24 pounds can 5 hours to cook if they are unstuffed.
Nevertheless, it’s always best to cook smaller unstuffed turkeys so you can ensure the turkey does not dry out and that the stuffing is fully cooked.
Compared to the other two methods mentioned above, the temperature is the best and will always be the best way to determine if a turkey is cooked.
That’s why most turkey recipes tell you to check the bird’s internal temperature. The temperature is the most accurate and reliable method.
To test your turkey for doneness, insert the thermometer into the thigh meat. The thermometer should be parallel to the turkey’s body.
There should be some resistance when you insert the probe into the turkey. You’ve probably pierced the turkey’s inner cavity if the probe slides in easily.
However, you’ve hit the bone if the probe hits something solid. It’s essential that the probe does not touch the turkey’s bone, and it can give an inaccurate reading.
If you hit the bone, pull the thermometer back, so it is touching the thigh meat.
Alternatively, you can also use an infrared thermometer and point it at the thigh meat.
Keep the thermometer still until the numbers stop moving. If the turkey has an internal temperature of 165°F, it is finished cooking. However, if the turkey has a temperature less than 165°F, it needs to be cooked a little longer.
Place the turkey back into the oven. Cook the turkey, checking it every 15-20 minutes until it has a temperature of 165°F.
How To Roast a Turkey
You can cook a turkey in many ways, including frying, smoking, and roasting. Roasting is the easiest method since you don’t have to set up pots of hot oil or your electric smoker.
To roast your turkey, season it with your preferred seasonings. You can also brine the turkey before seasoning it or marinate it.
Set the oven to 325°F and let it preheat. Place the turkey onto a rack set in a shallow roasting pan.
Do not stuff the turkey. Stuffing the turkey can cause it to cook unevenly. Prepare your stuffing and bake it in a different pan until it has a temperature of 165°F.
If you choose to stuff your turkey proceed with caution. Stuff the turkey right before it goes in the oven and pack the stuffing into the cavity loosely.
Do not over-stuff the turkey, or it will lead to uneven cooking. Bake the turkey for 3-5 hours, depending on its size.
It’s best to check the turkey after 3 hours to ensure it does not overcook.
Once the turkey has a temperature of 165°F, remove it from the oven.
If you stuffed your turkey, take the stuffing’s temperature before removing the bird from the oven. If the stuffing has a temperature of 165°F, it is cooked.
Cover the turkey with foil and let it rest for at least 15-20 minutes before carving it. Yes, I know it’s impossible to let a sizzling golden-brown turkey you just took out of the oven rest.
However, if you skip the resting process, the juices will spill all over your butcher block instead. The result is a tough, dry turkey, so let the bird rest before carving it.
Once you have carved the turkey, arrange it onto a platter. If you baked the stuffing in the turkey, don’t forget to remove it from its cavity.
Knowing when a turkey is done is imperative, especially if you want a juicy moist bird. If not, you’re guaranteed to end up with an overcooked or undercooked turkey.
Luckily, dry turkey won’t be an issue as you have just learned 3 new ways to determine turkey’s doneness.
You might also be interested in the following:
- How To Tell When Lobster Tail Is Done
- How To Tell When Corn on the Cob Is Done
- How To Tell When Salmon Is Done
- How To Tell When Chicken Is Done
- How To Tell When Shrimp Is Done
- How To Tell When Bacon Is Done
I have been smoking and grilling meat from an early age and enjoy sharing my knowledge and expertise through the hundreds of articles I have written about BBQ. I hope to make everyone’s BBQ journey that little bit easier.