Thermometer Guidelines from the National
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 36 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 the
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 2 1/2 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 1 1/2 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
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 thermometer.
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 accuracy.
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 dial.
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 2 1/2 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 holiday feast.