A reader and friend, Laurie Steele, just called to tell me she’s brining the turkey for Thanksgiving this year. Her questions about how to tell if it’s done led me to recommend using a meat thermometer for the best results.
What kind of thermometer works best? I’ve got all these styles listed below, and of them, here are the ones I like and recommend. If yours is old (I have my mom’s), replace it with one of the new, more accurate ones.
One note: The beauty of leave-in vs. quick-read thermometers is that you’re not opening the oven so often to check them, letting precious heat escape and lowering your oven temp. That adds time to the cooking, which can make hungry guests antsy.
The one on the left is a CDN DTQ450X ProAccurate Quick-Read Thermometer – a digital type like the chefs use and keep in a sleeve pocket. I recommend this version for checking your stuffing and for last-minute checks of the turkey or roast. This does not stay in the oven, however – so if you’re the cook who likes to watch the temperature rise, try a traditional kind.
The Taylor Classic Roast/Yeast Thermometer on the right is a “can’t go wrong” choice. It’s the one you want for the turkey if you like watching it through the oven window or want to check it once in a while without having to pull the turkey out and insert a probe.
One thing that could sway you is the height of this thermometer in the oven. As a flat, flag-like display, it can be difficult to fit in an oven already tight with a fat bird if it’s poked into the bird straight up, and hard to read if it’s at an odd angle.
But it’s good, too, as stated, for yeast – and if you’re making homemade bread, use it for that, to check the dough as you go.
Another choice is the Polder 12454 Meat Thermometer.
It can be placed in the bird, left there, and read easily from the dial-type face when placed into the turkey or roast at an angle. The silicone rim of it keeps it cool to the touch – so you can pull it out without needing a hot pad. The correct temperatures for all kinds of meats is labeled on the face as well.
Thermometers with probes
The Rosle Digital Roasting Thermometer is a two-fer – the probe at the end reads the meat temperature, while the handle will read the actual oven temperature. You can set a desired temp on it, and it will alert once it reaches the correct temperature – another one that’s good for cooks who have better things to do than sit around poking a turkey.
The Maverick Two-In-One Oven and Roasting Digital Thermometer with Timer does it all: It’s a thermometer, with pre-set capabilities, and it’s a timer. A godsend for those who rely on the 12 minutes-per-pound roasting method.
Grilling or smoking turkey parts?
Check out the Taylor Weekend Warrior Grill /Smoker Thermometer.
Grilling is usually a guessing game – and whether the meat or turkey leg is done is always the biggest guess – usually solved with a slice into the meat to check – or a taste for the cook.
This thermometer takes the guesswork away. The cool part is the short probe – for shallow meats and poultry parts that most often are grilled. The dial is suited for the low-light conditions that grills are usually set in, as well – so you can read the thing even at night.
OK: We concede that most grills are manned by men. Men love gadgets. This last one’s for them. The Grillmark Remote Probe Grill Thermometer is right up their alley. It’s a wifi-type thermometer that can be read remotely from the hand-held receiver, even from a distance. So, insert the probe and hang out by the pool with the buds and your Bud – glance at your grill temp now and then to check it.
When is it done?
While beef is often subjective – I like mine rare or barely medium-rare – poultry is not. Poultry should be cooked through – no pink juices running through it.
Most roasts, according to the charts at USDA.gov, should be cooked to 145 degrees at their center.
But a turkey and chicken is done when the thickest part of the breast is at 165 degrees. BUT! I recommend pulling a turkey out at 160 or even 155 degrees F., then tenting it with foil. It will continue to cook as it sits, and it should rest for 15-30 minutes before carving to let the juices settle in. Leave the meat thermometer in it as you let it sit and watch to see that it does reach 165. Overcooking a turkey makes it dry – the most common complaint about turkey.
Guessing doesn’t work well – too many cooks, believe or not, can’t do the oven time/meat weight math. So take my advice and cook like a pro – real chefs use thermometers.