Yikes! Is This Turkey Done?
Seeing pink as you're slicing into your beautifully browned holiday turkey is enough to strike fear into the heart of any cook, no matter how experienced they are. Follow these few tips to avoid that scene this holiday season.
First, make sure your turkey is completely thawed before being prepped for the oven. Thaw in the refrigerator, on a tray, to catch any juices; and allow five hours per pound to complete the thawing process. Depending on size, this can take from two to five days. To speed things up a bit, remove the giblet packet and neck from inside the turkey and thaw them separately. Be sure to check both the body cavity and the neck cavity for these – sometimes they are stored in two packets.
If time is short, leave the turkey in its original wrapper, place breast side down in a large container and cover completely with cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes and allow an hour per pound total thawing time.
If you don't own an instant-read thermometer, put that at the top of your commissary shopping list. An oven-safe thermometer works, too, but it is simply not possible to judge doneness without one or the other. While you're preparing the turkey for the oven, take note of its anatomy so you'll be able to insert the thermometer properly.
Lift the leg and feel along the thigh to help visualize how deeply into the interior the thigh meets the body. Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh just beneath, but not touching the bone, reaching all the way down to the joint. Take note that the breastbone runs through the center of the breast from the neck to the body cavity. To test the breast meat, insert the thermometer parallel to the breastbone deep into the neck end of the breast where the meat is thickest.
The temperature you will roast to is somewhat a matter of preference. The breast is perfectly cooked when the thermometer reaches between 160 and 165 degrees. But the leg is a different story. At 170 degrees, the leg meat is safe to eat but will be firm and have a ruddy glow, with the thigh meat slightly stiff and pinkish. Continuing to roast to a temperature of 175 degrees will take care of those issues, but the breast meat will suffer from the longer roasting time. If you prefer not even a trace of pink, continue to roast to a temperature of 180. Just accept that the breast meat will be overdone, and be sure to offer plenty of good-tasting gravy.