Where to Put Meat Thermometer in Turkey

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Thanksgiving is right around the corner and it’s time to start thinking about cooking the perfect turkey. One of the best ways to ensure a delicious and juicy turkey is by using a meat thermometer to monitor its temperature. In this article, we’ll cover the importance of proper temperature monitoring and discuss various types of meat thermometers, as well as provide guidance on where to place the thermometer for optimal results. So, let’s talk turkey and get cooking!

Importance of Proper Temperature Monitoring for Cooking Turkey

It’s essential to monitor your turkey’s temperature while cooking to ensure a delicious, juicy, and perfectly cooked outcome. A meat thermometer is your best friend in this process, as it allows you to accurately gauge the internal temperature and avoid overcooking or undercooking the turkey. This not only improves the taste and texture of the dish but also helps ensure food safety, as undercooked turkey can harbor harmful bacteria. Furthermore, by monitoring the temperature, you can optimize your cooking time and be confident that your turkey is cooked to perfection, an essential component of a successful holiday meal or family gathering.

Selecting the Right Type of Meat Thermometer

When it comes to cooking the perfect turkey, selecting the right type of meat thermometer can make all the difference. The two main categories are digital and analog thermometers, and within these categories, there are probe thermometers and instant-read thermometers. Each type has its own benefits and drawbacks, so it’s essential to choose the one that suits your needs and cooking style.

Digital thermometers typically give quicker and more accurate readings, whereas analog thermometers, also known as dial thermometers, may be less expensive and more readily available. This tradeoff between speed, accuracy, and cost could be a deciding factor in your choice, especially if you’re cooking a turkey on a tight budget or have limited time.

Probe thermometers and instant-read thermometers are also important distinctions to make when selecting the right thermometer. Probe thermometers are designed to be inserted into the meat before cooking and remain there throughout the cooking process. This type of thermometer continuously monitors the temperature of the meat and often has an alarm or indicator for when the desired temperature is reached. This convenient feature helps ensure that you don’t undercook or overcook your turkey.

Instant-read thermometers, on the other hand, are not left in the meat during cooking. Instead, you insert the thermometer at various times throughout the cooking process to check the temperature. Many cooks prefer this type of thermometer because it allows them to check multiple areas for even cooking and to ensure optimal doneness.

Ultimately, choosing the right meat thermometer for your turkey is a matter of weighing the advantages and drawbacks of each type and considering your own preferences and cooking habits. With the right thermometer in hand, you’ll be well on your way to a beautifully cooked turkey, every time.

Digital vs. Analog Thermometers

So, now that you have your meat thermometer selected, it’s time to decide whether you should get a digital or an analog thermometer. Digital thermometers are more expensive but they offer several benefits. They provide quick, accurate temperature readings, typically within a few seconds, and usually have a broader temperature range. Some even come with additional features like timers or alarms. On the other hand, analog thermometers are less expensive but they can take a minute or two to provide an accurate reading. They have a more limited temperature range and usually don’t offer any extra features. Ultimately, your choice should depend on your level of expertise and your personal preferences.

Probe Thermometers vs. Instant-Read Thermometers

Now that you understand the differences between digital and analog thermometers, let’s discuss the two main types of meat thermometers you can use for cooking turkey: probe thermometers and instant-read thermometers. Probe thermometers are designed to stay in the meat throughout the entire cooking process, providing continuous temperature readings, while instant-read thermometers give you a quick temperature reading within seconds of being inserted into the meat. While both work well, many chefs prefer probe thermometers for their accuracy and the convenience of not having to open the oven door to check the turkey’s temperature, which can cause heat loss and increased cooking time.

Turkey on a smoker

Optimal Placement of Meat Thermometer in Turkey

Now that we’ve gone through the types and styles of meat thermometers, it’s time to move on to where exactly you should place it in your turkey for the best and most accurate results. Positioning your meat thermometer correctly is just as important as choosing the right thermometer itself. So, let’s get to it and find out the optimal placement for your thermometer!

First and foremost, it’s important to know that you should insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the meat. For turkey, that would be the breast. Make sure that the tip of the thermometer is right in the center of the thickest portion of the breast, without touching the bone, tendons, or the turkey’s cavity, as these could all potentially give incorrect temperature readings.

Additionally, you might want to monitor the temperature of the turkey’s thigh as well. To do this, place the thermometer in the thickest portion of the thigh while avoiding contact with the bone. This is especially important if you’re cooking a larger turkey, which might require additional cooking time for the thigh meat.

One more tip for getting the most accurate reading is to actually insert the thermometer at an angle, rather than straight down. This will ensure that the tip is in the center of the thickest part of the meat and not accidentally touching any other cooler parts.

The art of positioning your meat thermometer is all about hitting that sweet spot in the center of the thickest part of the turkey, staying away from bones and tendons. By doing so, you will get the most accurate temperature reading and ensure that your turkey comes out perfectly cooked, juicy, and delicious every time. Keep these tips in mind for your next holiday feast and you’ll be well on your way to culinary success!

Placement in the Thickest Part of the Breast

To ensure your turkey cooks evenly and to an optimal temperature, it is essential to place the meat thermometer in the thickest part of the breast. This is typically found in the center of the breast, slightly off to one side. By inserting the thermometer into this area, you can get an accurate temperature reading of the meat, providing a better idea of its overall doneness. Remember to remove the thermometer before carving and be sure to avoid any bones, tendons, or stuffing, as these can give an inaccurate temperature reading and potentially lead to an undercooked or overcooked turkey.

Avoiding Bone and Tendons

To ensure accuracy in measuring the internal temperature of the turkey, it’s crucial to avoid inserting the meat thermometer into bones and tendons. Bones conduct heat differently than the surrounding meat, which can result in misleading temperature readings. Similarly, tendons can also affect the accuracy of the thermometer. To prevent this, gently insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the breast, making sure not to come into contact with any bones or tendons. By properly positioning the thermometer, you will ensure that your turkey is cooked to perfection, both safely and deliciously.

Proper Temperature and Cooking Time

Now that you know how to properly place the meat thermometer in your turkey, it’s important to be aware of the recommended cooking temperatures and times to ensure a perfectly cooked bird. Following these guidelines can help you avoid overcooked or undercooked meat, as well as any potential foodborne illnesses.

The USDA recommends cooking turkey to a minimum internal temperature of 165°F (74°C) to ensure that any harmful bacteria are destroyed. Keep in mind that it’s possible for your turkey to be safe to eat at a lower temperature, but 165°F is considered the safest temperature for thorough cooking.

In terms of cooking time, it largely depends on the size of the bird, as well as the cooking method you choose. For instance, if you’re roasting a whole, unstuffed turkey in the oven at 325°F (163°C), the estimated cooking time can vary between 2 ¾ hours for a 6-pound bird and up to 5 ¾ hours for a 20-pound bird.

Keep in mind that factors like refrigerator temperature, oven accuracy, and variation in the size of the turkey could all impact your total cook time. As a result, it’s essential to use your meat thermometer to check the internal temperature of the turkey regularly towards the end of the estimated cooking time.

Lastly, it’s a good idea to let your turkey rest for about 20 minutes after removing it from the oven, as this allows the juices to redistribute and results in a more tender and juicy turkey. Keep in mind that during the resting period, the temperature of the turkey might still rise a few degrees, so pulling it out just a bit under the recommended temperature can help prevent overcooking.

Guidelines for Doneness

To ensure you have cooked your turkey to perfection, it’s important to follow guidelines for doneness. The USDA recommends a minimum internal temperature of 165°F (74°C) for poultry. However, some chefs prefer to remove the turkey from the oven once the temperature reaches 160°F (71°C), as the temperature will continue to rise a few degrees during the resting period. Keep in mind that white meat, such as the breast, cooks faster than dark meat, like the thighs. Be aware of this when checking for doneness, and always use the meat thermometer’s readings as your main guide to avoiding overcooking or undercooking your turkey.


Using a meat thermometer is essential for a perfectly cooked turkey. With the right type and proper placement, you can ensure your turkey is cooked to a safe and delicious level. Just remember to place it in the thickest part of the breast, avoiding bones and tendons. Happy cooking!

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