As Thanksgiving approaches, many home cooks are planning how to prepare the perfect turkey. One of the most important considerations is knowing when the turkey is fully cooked and ready to be removed from the oven. The key question many wonder is: can you pull a turkey from the oven when it reaches 150°F?
No, pulling a whole turkey from the oven at only 150°F is unsafe, as it would be undercooked. Turkey needs to reach a minimum safe final internal temperature of 165°F in the breast and 180°F in the thigh and drumstick areas. Pulling it at 150°F runs the risk of serving undercooked meat, which can potentially cause foodborne illness.
What temperature should a turkey reach before pulling it from the oven?
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service, a whole turkey is safe to eat once it reaches the following minimum internal temperatures:
- 165°F in the breast
- 180°F in the thigh and drumstick areas
Reaching these temperatures ensures any bacteria that may be present are killed and the turkey can be safely consumed and enjoyed.
Why 165°F for the breast?
The breast meat on a turkey needs to reach 165°F because poultry meat can harbor Salmonella bacteria. Heating turkey to 165°F kills any potential Salmonella present, reducing the risk of food poisoning.
Why 180°F for the thighs and drumsticks?
The thigh and drumstick meat contains more collagen that needs additional heat to break down and become tender. Heating these parts of the turkey to 180°F ensures the meat is cooked through, tender and safe to eat.
What happens if you pull a turkey too early?
Pulling the turkey before it is properly cooked presents risks:
- Undercooked meat may contain harmful bacteria that can lead to foodborne illness.
- The texture will be chewy and unappetizing rather than tender and juicy.
- The turkey may still be pink and bloody, which is unappealing and unsafe to eat.
Eating undercooked poultry is dangerous, as it can potentially cause salmonellosis, a common foodborne illness that leads to symptoms like diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps and vomiting. In severe cases hospitalization may be required.
How to tell when your turkey is done
Checking the internal temperature in multiple areas with a food thermometer is the most reliable way to determine doneness. Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the breast, innermost part of the thigh and wing.
In addition to temperature, signs your turkey is fully cooked include:
- The juices run clear when piercing the turkey, not pink.
- The leg joints move easily.
- The meat is fork-tender.
Using multiple indicators ensures your turkey is cooked through and ready to serve.
Tips for safely cooking turkey to proper temperature
Follow these tips for perfectly cooked, safe turkey every time:
- Set your oven to 325°F to cook the turkey slowly and evenly.
- Cover the breast with foil to prevent overcooking while legs finish.
- Use a food thermometer to check temperature frequently.
- Allow the turkey to rest 20 minutes before carving to let juices redistribute.
- Refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours.
How long does it take to cook a turkey?
Cooking times vary based on the size of your turkey. Estimate about 13-15 minutes per pound for an unstuffed turkey:
|Estimated Cooking Time (at 325°F)
|8 to 12 pounds
|2 to 2.5 hours
|12 to 14 pounds
|2.5 to 3.25 hours
|14 to 18 pounds
|3.25 to 4.25 hours
|18 to 20 pounds
|4.25 to 5 hours
|20 to 24 pounds
|5 to 6 hours
Always use a food thermometer to check doneness rather than relying solely on time. Cook times are estimates and the size, shape and exact temperature of your turkey may vary.
Should you brine the turkey?
Brining is the process of soaking the turkey in a saltwater solution before cooking. While optional, it can help:
- Season the meat for extra flavor.
- Keep the turkey moist and tender.
- Allow the meat to absorb more smoke flavor if smoked.
A basic brine is 1 cup salt dissolved per gallon of water. You can add spices, herbs or citrus for extra flavor. Soak the turkey 8-24 hours before roasting.
How long can you keep a cooked turkey?
Properly stored leftovers last 3-4 days in the refrigerator or 2-6 months in the freezer. Store turkey meat separately from stuffing and gravy. Slice breast meat from the bone before refrigerating.
Reheat leftover turkey to 165°F. Reheating helps destroy any bacteria that may develop and prevents foodborne illness.
Can you recook a fully cooked turkey?
Yes, cooked turkey can safely be reheated and consumed again. Here are some tips for reheating turkey:
- Slice breast meat from the bone before storing and reheating.
- Use leftovers within 3-4 days for peak quality.
- Reheat turkey pieces to 165°F minimum internal temperature.
- Bring gravy to a boil before serving again.
- Use within 1-2 days after reheating.
Properly reheated turkey is a safe and delicious way to enjoy second helpings and create new meals throughout the week after Thanksgiving.
Pulling the turkey before it reaches a safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F in the breast and 180°F in the thighs can lead to undercooked meat and potential foodborne illness. Always allow the turkey to cook fully until the meat registers 165°F-180°F on a food thermometer. Use both thermometer temperature and visual signs like clear juices and fork-tender meat to determine doneness. With the proper temperature and resting time, you will have a perfectly cooked, juicy and delicious turkey to enjoy.