How To Check the Temperature on a Turkey

Citrus-Herb Roast Turkey(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

When it comes to Thanksgiving, turkey is usually the centerpiece of the whole holiday spread. So for hosts, there’s definitely pressure to get the turkey right — and that includes getting the bird to proper temperature before serving.

We’ve always found that being told how to check the internal temperature of the turkey in one quick line of instruction is very different than actually doing it. And when we’re talking about not only our own health but that of our guests as well, we don’t want to miss on that. Here is how to accurately take the temperature of your turkey and make sure that it has arrived at the safe internal temperature for eating.

The Right Temperature for a Turkey

When the internal temperature registers a steady 165°F in the thigh, your turkey is done.

How to Check the Turkey’s Temperature

The best way to check the temperature of a turkey to to stick an instant-read thermometer in the meatiest part of the thigh (see photo above). This is a part of the turkey that cooks the slowest and is also one of the thickest. That means if it’s at the right temperature, you can be sure the rest of the turkey has also finished cooking.

How to Find the Right Part of the Thigh

If you’re not familiar with turkey anatomy, look at it from above with the smaller neck cavity on top and the larger opening at the bottom. The little wings will be at the top close to the neck opening. The big, meaty legs — the thighs and drumsticks — will be at the bottom. The drumsticks stick out from the body and attach to the thigh at a joint, which in turn attach to the body of the turkey.

(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

In this picture, the neck opening is to the right with the bottom to the left. The turkey is breast-side up, so the thighs are a little under the drumsticks. To take the temperature, you might need to turn the turkey on its side.

How to Take the Temperature

  1. Insert your instant-read thermometer into the thigh meat so that the thermometer is parallel to the body of the turkey. You should feel some resistance as it goes into the meat. If it suddenly slides very easy, that means you’ve poked through into the turkey cavity. If you hit something solid, that means you’ve come to a bone. In either case, pull back a little so the thermometer is in the meat of the thigh.
  2. Also, make sure you know where the temperature sensor is on your thermometer. Some have it at the tip and others have it about half an inch above the tip. Position your thermometer in the thigh meat accordingly.
  3. Hold the thermometer still: Keep the thermometer there until the numbers stop moving. It’s best to actually take the turkey completely out of the oven and close the oven door so you don’t lose all the heat. Ovens take a surprisingly long time to come back up to temperature, and leaving it open while you check the temperature is one of the reasons behind the myth that turkeys take so long to cook!

When the turkey reaches the correct temperature, take it out of the oven, tent it loosely in foil, and let it rest so the juices have a chance to redistribute. If you leave the thermometer in the thigh, you’ll notice the temperature rising a bit before the turkey starts to cool again.

Another test to see if the turkey is done cooking is if the juices run clear. Cut a small slit in the meat at various places around the turkey and press just above the cut with the flat of your knife. If the juices that run out are clear, the turkey is done. If you see any red tinge of blood, keep cooking for a little longer.

Do you have any other tips for checking the temperature on a turkey?