When we think of turkey, we often associate the dish with fall. Typically discussed in the same breath as candied yams and cranberry sauce, turkey is an unmistakable symbol of the fall season. This is largely in part due to Thanksgiving, a holiday when approximately 46 million turkeys are eaten every year.
As popular as this iconic holiday dish is, it also has a bad rap for being dry. Contrary to what you may have heard in the past, it’s not the turkey’s fault. Turkey is a delicious and juicy meat. So why does it come out dry? Because many people don’t know the secret to cook the perfect turkey.
So, What’s the Secret?
We all have our own methods for cooking the perfect turkey. Often, it’s a recipe passed down through generations. Others hop online and search ‘how to cook the perfect turkey’ to find the best recipe. There’s brining and stuffing and basting and roasting, all in hopes of cooking the perfect turkey.
Many people focus on the seasonings they use, the garnishes they serve it with, or the size of the turkey itself. However, what so many people don’t realize is that there is one essential and vastly underrated secret to cooking the perfect turkey. Dare to hazard a guess?
Temperature. I know what you’re thinking. Seriously, does temperature really matter? Trust me on this— the temperature is everything. Without the perfect temperature, you run the risk of ruining the entire meal.
Those seasonings you carefully rubbed all of the turkeys, burnt. The aromatics you painstakingly chopped and stuffed up that turkey’s rear end, stripped of flavor. The texture of the meat, dry as kindling.
These are just a few of the results of cooking the turkey at too high of a temperature. If you cook the turkey at too low of a temperature? Well, then you might very well wind up serving raw meat at Thanksgiving that nobody can touch. I hope you made lots of side dishes!
Perfect Turkey Cooking Temperature
Now that I’ve made it clear how important the right temperature is, I’m sure you are wondering what temp to cook turkey. What is that magic number that makes that roast turkey tender, flavorful, and perfectly cooked? Well, there are a few different temperatures to consider here.
For starters, you always want to cook the turkey until it reaches an internal temperature of 160°F. After removing the turkey from the oven or grill and letting it rest for a minimum of 20 minutes, it will continue to cook until it reaches 165°F.
This is the sweet spot. You want your turkey to reach exactly 165°F, no more and no less. To get this temperature exactly right, you’re going to need a meat thermometer.
Now that you’ve got the magic number, it’s equally as important to know how to cook a turkey. Think of temperature and time as partners. If the numbers are off, the partnership is fried—and so is your turkey!
How Long to Roast a Turkey
Now that you know the internal cooking temperature to shoot for, you also need to nail down the perfect oven or grill temperature. When roasting a turkey, you should start it at a high temperature of 450°F and cook the turkey for 30 minutes.
Once it’s roasted under high heat, you will need to cover the turkey with foil and reduce the oven temperature to 325°F. Once the temperature has been reduced, you can continue cooking the turkey until the internal temperature of the bird has reached 160°F.
Then, you can remove the turkey from the oven and let it rest until it hits a final internal temperature of 165°F. To check the temperature of the turkey, make sure to use a reliable meat thermometer.
Essential Tools for Cooking the Perfect Turkey
You don’t have to be a professional chef to cook a great turkey. Cooking a turkey is fairly simple and straightforward if you know what you are doing. As long as you have the right ingredients, an oven or grill, and a trusty meat thermometer, you will be in good shape.
Many cooking novices underestimate the power of a good meat thermometer, but any professional chef or grill master could tell you how important it is. Without a reliable meat thermometer, you run the risk of endangering your loved ones with undercooked meat.
The Finaltouch X10 thermometer from ChefsTemp gives an accurate reading not only for the inside of food but for surface temperatures as well. The diversity of the thermometer’s usage is second to none compared to other thermometers. By getting a reading within 1 second, the Finaltouch X10 from ChefsTemp is prepared to take on any task it is given.