The One Thing You Need to Do Before Roasting Your Thanksgiving Turkey

published Nov 6, 2023
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Credit: Lauren Volo

A gorgeous, gleaming whole turkey on a platter is the centerpiece of most Thanksgiving dinners, but the road to has many stops along the way. Besides buying the right amount of turkey, thawing it properly, and figuring out how you want to cook it, there’s one more thing you need to do before Thanksgiving that has nothing to do with the turkey itself.

Leading up to the holiday, you need to check and calibrate your meat thermometer. I heard this great piece of advice during a visit to the ThermoWorks headquarters, and these temperature experts know what they’re talking about. No one wants to serve undercooked or overcooked turkey, and the only way you’re going to know for sure is by taking the temperature of the turkey with a properly functioning thermometer.

Why Do I Need to Calibrate My Thermometer?

You probably have some kind of food thermometer in your kitchen, but how accurate is it? A thermometer’s accuracy can drift over time, so by calibrating it, you ensure it’s taking exact readings. For Thanksgiving, a precise temperature reading will tell you if your turkey needs to cook longer or if it’s done and it’s time to stop cooking it.

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When Should I Check My Thermometer?

Thanksgiving Day is not when you want to discover that your thermometer is broken or needs to be calibrated. Check your thermometer a week or at least a few days before Thanksgiving to allow some time to purchase a new one or replace batteries if needed.

How to Calibrate a Thermometer

Follow these three steps to make sure your thermometer works properly.

  1. Look it over. Give your thermometer a thorough inspection. Buy a new one if it’s analog and you can barely see the display anymore or there are cracks in it. If it’s digital and it either won’t turn on or the display is faint, it may need a new battery.
  2. Check its accuracy. If it seems to be in good condition, check the accuracy of the thermometer by performing one of the following tests:
  • Ice bath: Fill a quart-sized tall container (like a yogurt tub) to the top with ice. Add cold water to fill the spaces, then let it sit for a few minutes so the temperature stabilizes. Place the probe of the thermometer into the center of the ice water and stir. The thermometer should register 32ºF. (Hold it for at least 30 seconds to get a reading.)
  • Boiling water: Bring at least 4 inches of water to a rolling boil in a deep saucepan or pot. Insert the tip of the thermometer a few inches into the water without touching the bottom. The thermometer should register 212ºF if you live in a location at sea level. If you’re not at sea level, perform the ice bath test instead, as the boiling temperature can vary with elevation changes.

3. Calibrate if necessary. If your thermometer isn’t registering the correct temperature, first check that the reading you got is within the manufacturer’s margin of error for digital, instant-read thermometers (generally about 2ºF higher or lower than the targeted temperature). If it’s not within that range, calibrate the thermometer as directed by the manufacturer. For a digital thermometer, you can press a reset button if there is one, and if that doesn’t work, try new batteries. On an analog thermometer, you’ll need to turn the calibration nut beneath the display with a wrench or pliers (many devices come with a tool) until it registers the correct temperature.

If you can’t get an accurate reading on your thermometer after calibration, invest in a new piece of equipment before the holiday.

Once you have a functioning, accurate thermometer, you can with the peace of mind that you know exactly what temperature it’s at (165°F is ideal) and that your guests will be eating properly cooked turkey.

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