When’s the Turkey Done?

By Christopher R. Raines

Shortly after Aunt Bethany recited the Pledge of Allegiance, Clark had the whole family excited about the turkey.  After Cousin Eddie requested the neck, the carving knife touched the bird’s crispy skin and the turkey unfolded into some sort of proteinaceous bloomin’ onion, erupting steam. And Cousin Catherine said, “I told you we put it in too early,” referencing the über-overdone turkey.  Was her timing the problem? Perhaps. Instead, what could have been done to avoid this overcooking? [Video of the dinner scene]

One strategy: meat thermometer.

Though there are other tricks and preferences such as roasting bags and basting, a meat thermometer will help you assess doneness.  You will also need to plan ahead and figure out your cooking time.  If roasting at 325°F, a general rule-of-thumb is to multiply the weight of the turkey (in pounds) by a factor of 15.  This will estimate the length of time (in minutes) you need to cook the turkey.  Example: 18 lbs x 15 minutes = 270 minutes (or 4.5 hours).  Mind you, that is for an unstuffed turkey.  Tack on an extra 15 to 20 minutes if the turkey is stuffed.

You can’t always rely on the little pop-up-thermometer gizmo.  When you’re about to the scheduled time, stab that turkey with an instant-read meat thermometer in thickest part of the turkey (which might be the thigh, unlike this picture — sorry).  Now, there’s a little confusion as to what temperature poultry should be cooked to, and presently the USDA FSIS recommendation is 165°F.  Some folks still recommend 180°F.  Adding to the confusion, what about the temperature of the stuffing?  Ah ha!  That needs to be at least 165°F, too.  If there were any little evil doers lingering about, they very would could have been soaked up by the stuffing.  Getting the stuffing to 165°F  may require the turkey meat to be cooked beyond 165°F.  Use that instant read thermometer and you should be good to go.  Lastly, remember to let the turkey stand / rest / set for about 20 minutes.  Juices will equilibrate / distribute / set and the turkey should be easier to carve.