The Thanksgiving turkey is the undisputed star of the show on Thanksgiving Day and carries a “laser focus” that is unique among holiday foods. If the turkey isn’t right, the day gets an asterisk. But don’t worry. We’ve got you covered.

thanksgiving turkey

The key to cooking a perfect Thanksgiving turkey is the proper control of turkey temperature. Follow this guide, you will learn everything from the ideal turkey internal temperature to finding out what temperature is turkey done – i.e. properly cooked.

Let’s start with some of the most common questions.

How long does it take to cook a turkey?

The process of cooking turkey begins with the thawing. It would be best if you allowed your turkey to thaw out before you try and cook it fully. The general thawing for turkey is around one day for every 5 lbs that the turkey weighs.

Generally, you should cook a turkey for around 13 minutes per pound of meat. Add another minute or two for a stuffed turkey – so about 15 minutes per pound of meat.

RELATED: How long to cook a stuffed/unstuffed turkey per pound

However, this is just a base time, nobody can really tell you how to cook each specific turkey that you buy – the weight, size, thawing process, etc. will all determine the time required.

This should give your turkey enough time to cook properly until it reaches an ideal internal temperature checked by a wireless meat thermometer.

At what temperature to cook a turkey?

When trying to determine what temperature you cook a turkey, you can find more than a few differing answers online.

Our answer?

We recommend starting the turkey in a 425 degree oven for 30-45 minutes before tenting the pan with foil and lowering the temperature to 350 degrees until a meat thermometer reads 157°F (69°C) when inserted into the thickest part of the bird.

Yes, the perfect internal temp for moist, juicy turkey is 157°F (69°C), not 165°F (74°C) or 180°F (82°C).

Is it safe to eat turkey cooked at 157°F?

As noted above, you cook for a certain length of time, but your best bet for determining if your turkey is properly cooked is to check the internal temp for turkey meat.

According to the food safety tables put out by the USDA, the safe internal temp for turkey is 165°F. Noticed that achieving a reduction of the poultry pathogen Salmonella is a function of both time and temperature, if you maintain a turkey at 157°F (69°C) for a mere 50.4 seconds, it accomplishes the same feat in neutralizing Salmonella as a turkey swiftly cooked to 165°F (74°C).

As an intriguing twist, the temperature continues its ascent even after you’ve liberated it from the clutches of the oven or smoker. This culinary phenomenon is known as Carryover Cooking.

Now, don’t forget to pull your turkey from the oven or smoker at 157°F (69°C). But remember to verify with a meat thermometer!

At what temperature is a turkey done?

Now that you have more of an understanding of turkey cooking temperature and times, we have an interesting conundrum. When cooking turkey, you will have the ‘white’ meat – typically the breast and the ‘dark’ meat – typically the thigh.

Since dark meat needs higher temperatures for the collagen to melt, our recommendation for tender dark meat is 175-180°F (79-82°C)!

It should be the case that by the same time your breast meat needs to reach around 157°F, and your thigh meat needs to reach 175°F. How it can work? May take a bit of juggling around and timing.

How do you get hotter dark meat than white meat?

Thankfully, dark meat is safe to eat once it reaches the temperature of 165°F. To ensure it is hotter than the breast, you could try below solutions:

Icing the breasts: Place ice packs or bags of ice on the turkey breasts before roasting, the ice helps keep the temperature of the turkey breasts lower than the rest of the bird. This initial temperature differential allows the dark meat to catch up and cook to a higher internal temperature while the white meat remains cooler.

icing breast of turkey

Positioning in the Oven: Place the turkey in the oven in such a way that the dark meat (typically the thighs and drumsticks) is closer to the heat source. This will expose the dark meat to more direct heat and help it cook faster.

What’s the best thermometer for checking the temperature of a turkey?

The uneven shape and size of a whole turkey can indeed lead to varying cooking speeds in different areas. Therefore, it is crucial to use a wireless thermometer to track changes in meat temperature across different parts of the turkey.

Additionally, using an instant-read thermometer to quickly verify the turkey’s doneness is essential to ensure the entire turkey is cooked safely. Both of these tools can help chefs more accurately control the turkey’s cooking process, ensuring that both white and dark meat reach their desired levels of doneness.

Leave-in meat thermometer (Typhur Sync)

typhur sync wireless meat thermometer

The Typhur Sync wireless meat thermometer is the best leave-in meat thermometer. It allows you to leave in the meat while it cooks, and monitor the temperature changes on your mobile. It comes with 2 probes which allow you to check the temperature of turkey breast and thigh separately. Then, once it reaches the desired internal temp for turkey, an alarm will sound. The use of 5 sensors allows for extremely accurate internal temperature readings.

Instant read meat thermometer (Typhur InstaProbe)

typhur instaprobe meat thermometer

The Typhur InstaProbe will get the internal temperature of turkey at 0.5s, and is the fastest instant read meat thermometer ever. This will mean that you can just come in, pop the InstaProbe into the meat, and find out the internal temperature in 0.5s.

Cons: Need to open the oven or smoker to insert the probe on the part of the meat. Each time you open the oven door or smoker lid, you can cause a significant drop in the internal temperature, potentially by as much as 50°F (28°C), and this occurs every time you check.

Both thermometers are perfect for cooking turkey to perfection. It just depends on what kind of time you can commit. You might find it best to have a duo of Typhur Sync thermometers in the meat whilst you then use a Typhur InstaProbe to rapidly check the overall internal temperature of each part of the breast, legs, thigh, etc.

RELATED: Where to put the thermometer in turkey?

FAQs about internal temp for turkey

Does turkey really need to be 165°F?

No, you can comfortably cook a turkey at 157°F in the breast area. Dark parts of meat are cooked at 165°F and thus can be safely eaten, but you might find you get the best results by going to 175°F. In general, though, you can eat turkey cooked at 157°F over 165°F. So long as the lowest internal temperature for turkey is 157°F, not the highest, you should be safe.

Cooking your turkey to 165°F is also acceptable but know that this can come at the penalty of taste and juiciness.

Is Pink turkey OK to eat?

So long as your lowest internal temperature for turkey is 165°F, then pink turkey is completely safe to eat.  Various forms of turkey – such as smoked turkey – will always look pink regardless of how long it has been cooked. However, we would always ensure the lowest internal temperature is 165°F for the white parts of the meat before feeling confident about eating pink turkey.

Tips for taking a turkey’s temperature

Now that you have a better idea of the temp to cook turkey at and roughly how long for, use the following tips to ensure you get the right temperature every time:

Stick to the above; you should be near-certain to get a top-quality, fully cooked turkey that avoids being too dry or tasteless. Good luck – it might take a few attempts to perfect, but the above steps should lead to a turkey cooked to a high standard. Enjoy!