Accurate temperatures, both in the oven and the turkey are important for quality and
safety. A meat thermometer is the cook?s best friend when it comes time to prepare a
meal. Here are some guidelines to ensure thermometers are properly used.
Check the oven thermostat and oven temperature to verify the oven setting.
Recalibrate if necessary because a 25 degrees F. variation can make a five percent
difference in cooked turkey yield. An oven that is too hot will dry and shrink the bird.
Recent NTF surveys indicate only 38 percent of home cooks use a meat thermometer
to determine the doneness of a turkey and/or stuffing. In fact, every turkey should be
checked with a thermometer to ensure quality and safety. The current turkey breeds
yield a higher proportion of white meat which cooks faster than dark meat. Other
factors, including oven calibration, roasting pan dimensions, and starting turkey
temperatures affect the length of time it takes for a turkey to reach the correct internal
temperature for doneness.
When purchasing a thermometer, look for an easy-to-read dial, made with stainless
steel and a shatterproof clear lens. Meat thermometers that can be calibrated for
accuracy and digital thermometers are good choices. These types of thermometers
are available at grocery, kitchen and hardware stores.
This should be inserted into the turkey at the beginning of the roasting time and
remain inserted in the bird throughout the cooking time. The temperature indicator will
rise slowly as the turkey cooks. An oven-proof thermometer is ideal for the whole
turkey and the turkey breast. Be sure to sanitize the thermometer before each use.
Wash it; then immerse the stem in 170 degrees F. water for 30 seconds or wipe with
a sanitizer. You may sanitize the stem with a mild solution of chlorine bleach and
water or an antibacterial kitchen cleaner. Rinse with clear water before inserting into
Instant-read and Digital Thermometers
These thermometers are not designed to stay in the food during cooking. If you use
this type, pull the turkey out of the oven far enough to insert the stem about 2½
inches into the thickest part of the bird but not touching the bones or roasting pan.
The sensing tip is a small indentation located about 1½ inches from the end of the
stem and must be fully inserted into the bird. (Look for a tiny dimple on the stem.) The
temperature should register in about 15-20 seconds. Wipe with a sanitizer after each
use and before the next use.
These are commonly found in the whole turkey and turkey breast. The ?pop-up?
thermometer device indicates the turkey has reached the final temperature for safety
and doneness. Experts suggest the temperature be verified with a conventional
Check for Thermometer Accuracy
The accuracy of both new and old oven-proof, instant-read and digital thermometers
should be verified and the thermometer calibrated. Ideally, these thermometers should
be calibrated when first purchased as well as checked for accuracy before the holiday
rush. Accuracy can be altered if the thermometer has been exposed to extreme
temperature changes or has been dropped. There are two simple ways to test for
In a cup prepare a 50/50 mixture of ice and water to form a water slush. Place
at least two inches of the thermometer stem into the cup, making sure the
sensing tip is fully inserted. The tip should not touch the bottom or side of the
cup. Wait about five minutes or until the needle is steady and verify the needle
registers 32 degrees F. If the needle does not register 32 degrees F., an
adjustment should be made by turning the small nut on the back end of the
Boiling Point Method
Fill a pan with about three inches of water and bring to a rolling boil. Place at
least two inches of the thermometer stem into the water, making sure the
sensing tip is fully inserted. Use caution to avoid burns. The tip should not
touch the bottom or side of the pan. Wait about one minute or until the needle
is steady and verify the needle registers 212 degrees F. (NOTE: Water boils at
a lower temperature at higher altitudes, for example, 202 degrees F. at 5,000
feet.) If the needle does not mark the boiling point, an adjustment should be
made by turning the small nut at the back of the dial.
An important part of using any thermometer is the proper placement in the turkey.
Insert the thermometer 2½ inches in the deepest portion of the turkey breast or into
the inner thigh near the breast. Make sure the thermometer does not touch a bone.
When inserting the thermometer in the turkey breast, insert it from the side. The
thermometer is easier to read and more accurate than when inserted from the top.
The internal temperature should reach 170 degrees F. in the breast or 180 degrees F.
in the thigh and 160 to 165 degrees F. in the center of the stuffing. Both the NTF and
the USDA recommend using a meat thermometer to ensure a delicious and safe