During the holiday season, there are few things that are as important as being able to cook a roast turkey.
Turkey is basically the go-to holiday food and it’s a smart choice for people who want a savory bird that will remain a family treat.
Of course, getting a turkey is the easy part. Cooking it is the hard part. How do you tell if a turkey is fully cooked?
A meat thermometer is the most reliable way to see if your turkey is thoroughly cooked. A reading of 180 degrees in the breast and 170 degrees in the thigh means you’re ready to serve your turkey. Some birds come with a pop-up thermometer that pops when it has finished cooking.
Eating a raw turkey or a badly cooked one is never enjoyable, nor is it safe. Before you decide to carve up a turkey for your family, read our guide to help you out.
What Happens If You Eat Undercooked Turkey?
Eating undercooked turkey is a terrible idea. Like all other poultry, eating turkey when it’s undercooked can put you at risk of foodborne pathogens.
More specifically, eating raw turkey can cause you to have e.coli, salmonella, and even tapeworms.
Generally speaking, the most common outcome of eating undercooked turkey is a form of food poisoning. This means that you may get any of the following symptoms:
- Abdominal Pain
48 million cases of food poisoning happen every year in the United States.
Over 128,000 of these cases go to hospitals. 3,000 people die as a result of food poisoning annually. As a result, it makes sense to avoid eating undercooked turkey.
Can You Eat Turkey That’s Slightly Pink?
Turkey is not like beef. A little pinkness can mean that the turkey is not safe to eat, but it all depends on the location of the pinkness.
Certain parts of the breast and thighs can be pink if cooked in a certain way. This is usually a sign of hemoglobin in the meat—and that’s harmless.
The best way to check if your turkey is currently safe to eat is to use a meat thermometer.
The lowest temperature a turkey slice should be is 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
If your meat thermometer shows 165, it may not be in the “official” safe range of heat, but it will still be edible.
What Color is Turkey Supposed to Be?
While a little pink near the breasts and thighs is possible, most turkey meat is a light white or darker brown.
The coloration is not unlike chicken. However, most people agree that light turkey meat is flakier than chicken. Dark meat from the turkey is a little chewier than chicken, too.
How Long Are You Supposed to Cook a Turkey?
Whole Turkey Cooked at 325º
|Weight||8 to 12 pounds||12 to 14 pounds||14 to 18 pounds||18 to 20 pounds||20 to 24 pounds||24 to 30 pounds|
|Unstuffed||2¾ to 3 hours||3 to 3¾ hours||3¾ to 4¼ hours||4¼ to 4½ hours||4½ to 5 hours||5 to 5¼ hours|
|Stuffed||3 to 3½ hours||3½ to 4 hours||4 to 4¼ hours||4¼ to 4¾ hours||4¾ to 5¼ hours||5¼ to 6¼ hours|
Whole Turkey Cooked at 350º with Oven Bag
|8 to 12 pounds||12 to 14 pounds||14 to 18 pounds||18 to 20 pounds||20 to 24 pounds||24 to 30 pounds|
|1½ to 2 ¼ hours||2¼ to 2¾ hours||2¾ to 3½ hours||3½ to 4 hours||4 to 4½ hours||4½ to 5 hours|
How to Check If Your Turkey is Done Using a Meat Thermometer
A meat thermometer is the most reliable way to ensure that your turkey is done. So, if you don’t have one already, it’s time to invest in one. Here’s how you use one properly:
- Remove the turkey from the oven and place on top of your stove. You don’t want the meat thermometer in the oven if you can help it.
- Poke the meat thermometer in the center of the breast. Wait until the meter stops rising, and read the temperature. It should be 180 degrees at the highest. Some food safety pros allow it to be as low as 165.
- Poke the meat thermometer into the thigh. Dig deep in there so that the thermometer reaches the center of the bird’s thigh. This should read between 165 to 170.
If your turkey isn’t quite done yet, pop it back in the oven for a bit, then check again in 20 minutes or longer—depending on how long it’s been in there.
Is Turkey Done at 165 or 180?
While turkey recipes suggest that you should keep the temperature at 180, turkey meat is always safe to consume at 165.
So if your thermometer reads 165, it’s generally okay to eat it—though the texture may not match what the recipe would offer.
How to Check If Your Turkey is Done Without a Thermometer
It’s important to preface this with the fact that a meat thermometer is the best and most reliable way to measure a turkey’s internal temperature.
However, there are some ways you can eyeball it with relative safety. These are the best picks:
- Poke the center of the turkey thigh with a fork and observe the juices as they run down the thigh. A cooked turkey’s juices will run clear, not pink or red. It almost look like oil or water when done.
- Check the pop-up timer on your turkey. Many companies add a free pop-up cooking thermometer in the flesh of the turkey. When the turkey’s internal temperature is high enough to be edible, the timer will pop up.
- You can also use timing to get a general idea of when your turkey should be done cooking. Most packages will give you a timeframe based on weight, in the form of a chart. You can use the chart readings to roughly estimate whether your turkey has finished cooking. To ensure that you don’t bite into something raw, it’s best to follow the timing up with a fork poke or a glance at a thermometer.
Author’s Personal Tip:
If you don’t have a thermometer, it’s best to double-check your turkey for doneness. Don’t just poke your turkey thigh with a fork once. Check multiple spots, as some turkeys may not heat as evenly as you would expect them to.
How to Check if Ground Turkey is Done Without a Thermometer
Press the turkey patty with a fork and check to see if the juices are pink, or if they run clear. If the burger’s juices run clear, then your turkey is good to go.
What Should You Do If Your Turkey Is Done Before It’s Supposed to be Done?
Though it’s not quite common, there is a tendency for turkeys to finish cooking before they are supposed to be fully done.
You have several options that you can choose to do if you want to enjoy turkey safely:
- Let it rest for 20 minutes and start carving. The extra rest time will let it soak up juices, thereby avoiding the dreaded “dry turkey” debacle many people have.
- Turn the oven off but keep it in the oven, covered in foil. This can keep the turkey’s temperature up at a safe (and edible) 140 degrees for several hours. However, if you keep it too long, you may end up drying out the bird.
- If your cooked turkey needs to be held for several hours, you will need to carve it and refrigerate it. This may not be what you want to hear, but if your turkey has to wait for more than two to three hours in the oven, your best bet is to carve it up. Make sure to store the turkey in loose boxes with an airtight seal.
How Long Can Cooked Turkey Last in the Fridge?
If you recently had a holiday feast, the amount of time you have for leftovers might not be what you think it is.
Turkey only stays fresh in a refrigerator for 1 to 4 days, depending on the way it’s stored. If the turkey was cooked in milk or was part of a casserole, it may only last 1 to 2 days.
Most turkey that was part of an oven roast will remain safe in a fridge for 3 to 4 days, according to the USDA.
If you want to keep your turkey for a longer period of time, freezing is the best option.
How Long Does Cooked Turkey Last in a Freezer?
Like most other meats, cooked turkey can last for up to six months in a freezer without any major damage to the texture.
(This is, of course, provided that the freezer is in good working order and that the door isn’t leaking.)
How Can You Tell If Your Turkey is Spoiled?
Because it’s really easy to get food poisoning from bad turkey, knowing how to determine if your turkey is spoiled can help you avoid getting sick.
Do not cook, reheat, or ingest turkey that has these traits:
- A Foul Smell. Most people note that turkey that has gone bad smells like burning rubber, sulfur, or almost eggy. However, any bad smell should make you rethink your food consumption.
- A Rubbery Texture. Dry meat will start to crumble apart and look chalky. Dark meat, on the other hand, will have a very rubbery texture.
- A Slimy Feel. Meat shouldn’t be slimy. If it is slimy, then what you’re feeling is a bacteria colony making itself at home on top of the meat. Slime is not the same as wetness. Slime is slippery and oily to the point that there’s a slickness to it.
- Past The Expiration Date. If it’s been in your fridge for longer than seven days or is past the expiration date, it’s best to assume that it’s not good anymore. Even if it looks okay, it may not be okay.
Have Fun, But Eat Safely!
Eating turkey is one of those traditions that almost every family partakes in, particularly during Christmas or Thanksgiving.
It’s a delicious type of meat that is treasured as a staple among American families.
However, it still is a form of poultry, and that means that you still have to exercise some caution during prep and storage.
As long as you keep an eye on your turkey’s storage and temperature, you should be perfectly fine enjoying all the flavor that a good roast turkey can offer.
We are a team of passionate moms and homemakers. Among us are certified nutritionists, chefs, certified food handlers, accountants, financial gurus, and other professionals. Our joint goal is to educate homemakers. Check out the about us page for more information about our team’s credentials.