Throw Away Your Turkey’s Worthless Pop-up Thermometer

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Knowing when the turkey is “done” is the most anxiety-inducing part of cooking a turkey. You don’t want to food poison anyone, but you don’t want to serve dry, stringy meat (and shame) to you friends and family. A thermometer is imperative, but the little plastic “turkey timer” that comes stuck in your bird should be tossed directly into the trash.

If you’ve been cooking turkeys for a while, you probably already know this, but first-time bird roasters might be tempted to lean on the built-in temperature indicator. The problem is that it sucks. It’s garbage. It’s not your friend.

It is, however, a nifty little piece of technology; it’s just calibrated wrong. According to Cook’s Illustrated, it’s not that it doesn’t work, it just works at far too high of a temperature:

A harmless compound with a known melting temperature is liquefied in the bottom of the timer device. A spring is compressed into the molten material as it cools and hardens. The timer is then inserted into the thickest part of the breast. When the material at the bottom of the timer melts again during cooking, the spring is free to expand, and the plastic stem pops up. Most of these timers are calibrated to “pop” at 178 degrees Fahrenheit, a temperature chosen to make sure that the legs, which take more time to cook than the breast, will be completely cooked through.

As we’ve covered previously, a turkey is a thermodynamic nightmare. It’s bulky and unwieldy, and the dark and light meat should (ideally) be cooked to two different temperatures. I cook the breast to 155℉ (it will rise another five degrees while resting) and the legs to 175-180℉ (or as hot as I can get them without the white meat over cooking). It does not, therefore, make sense to set a timer that pops up at 178℉ into the breast of the beast. Your turkey will be safe, but incredibly unpleasant to eat.

Instead, remove the blasted thing and get a digital instant read or probe thermometer. I have one with multiple probes so I can temp both regions of the bird at once (and it’s bluetooth enabled so I can check it right from my phone). This, coupled with spatchcocking or completely breaking down the bird before roasting, will ensure your turkey comes out safe and tasty.


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