How To Know If a Turkey Is Done Without a Thermometer

Basting a Turkey

The easiest and safest way to check if your meat is done is by using a meat thermometer. This works for all kinds of meat, including turkey.

But what if you don’t have a meat thermometer to check how well your turkey is? Rest assured that there are other ways to check on your cooking meat, even without such a useful tool! 

  1. The fork method is the most common way to check how cooked your turkey is without using a meat thermometer.
  2. Knowing the cooking time will also help you decide if your turkey is done or not. The best way to check if your turkey is done is by using both methods.
  3. When the cooking time indicates that your turkey is done, give it a fork check to ensure it is well cooked before you take it out of the oven. 

Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about checking how well your turkey is cooked without a thermometer!

Check if your turkey is fully cooked without a thermometer

If you don’t have a meat thermometer, there are two most common ways to check if your meat is cooked. But once you understand these methods, you will see that combining them will give you the best result. 

The fork method 

Use a regular fork and pierce the turkey in the mid-thigh muscle area. If you do that, the juice of the meat will run out, and if it is evident in color, it means your turkey is well cooked.

If the juice is pink or red, it means it is not done. For pink juice, try again in 30 minutes, while for red liquid, you will have to try the fork test in an hour. 

Remember that if your oven is not cooking meat evenly, you want to check with your fork in different areas of the turkey.

Try doing the fork test in opposite regions of the bird to ensure it is cooked evenly. A vital tip to consider is that you want your turkey to be thawed entirely to have a better chance of getting cooked evenly.

If there are frozen spots on the meat, those spots will also cook for a longer time than the thawed areas. 

More: How To Keep A Turkey Warm Without Drying It Out

Keep an eye on the cooking time. 

The cooking time can greatly indicate how well your turkey is done. However, the amount of time it will take for your turkey to be fully cooked will depend on its weight of it. 

A turkey with a weight between 8 pounds and 12 pounds will need about three hours to cook all the way through if it is not stuffed.

For stuffed turkeys of the same size, it will take between three and a half hours and four hours. 

If your turkey comes at a considerable size of 20 pounds or more, it can take a minimum of five hours to have it well done. 

Also, you will have to preheat the oven to a temperature of 450 degrees F before you put the turkey in.

After you place the turkey in the oven, reduce the temperature to 350 degrees F.

The temperature is also critical if you are calculating the cooking time your meat needs to be done so you can be accurate. 

The general rule says that it takes a turkey 20 minutes to cook per pound. This rule can help you estimate the cooking time your turkey needs according to its weight. 

Note that the best way to check if your turkey is cooked is to combine these two methods.

Using only the cooking time as an indicator of how well your meat will not be enough to give you an accurate estimation.

The cooking time is more of a hand for the time when you should check the meat with a fork. 


How do you tell if a turkey is fully cooked?

Checking the turkey using both the fork method and taking into account the cooking time is the best way to decide if your turkey is well done or needs more time in the oven.

If you check your turkey with a fork at the approximate time when it should be done according to its size, you can conclude that your meat is ready.

It is essential to not peek at the turkey while it is cooking by opening the oven door. This is a common mistake, but it never brings any good results.

You want the temperature inside the oven to be constant so your turkey cooks in the estimated time and an even manner.

Any wave of coldness or a different temperature than the one inside the oven will interfere with the cooking process. 

If you don’t have a fork to use the fork method, you can always try using a thick stick or the tip of the knife.

Just ensure you only pierce the meat and don’t slice it too deeply. One inch maximum should be enough depth to show how well your turkey is made clearly. 

More: Do You Cook A Turkey At 325 Or 350?

How to check if the turkey is cooked with a thermometer

Checking if your turkey is cooked with a thermometer is much easier. Meat thermometers register the temperature inside the meat, which is the best indicator for the cook to know when the dish is done. 

If you use a meat thermometer to check your turkey, you want to look for three different spots and three different temperature values that will indicate your meat is done.

If you check the temperature in the thigh of the turkey, you are looking at a value of 180 degrees F.

For the temperature in the turkey breast, you will need a value of 170 degrees F, and finally, for the temperature in the stuffing, you need at least 165 degrees F to decide whether your turkey is done.

You want to insert the meat thermometer close to the bone but ensure it doesn’t touch it.

How you use the thermometer will also depend on the model you have and the features it comes with, so make sure you read the instructions beforehand. 


How to tell if the turkey is undercooked

Using a meat thermometer, you will know precisely if your turkey is undercooked because it will not have the temperature you expect it to have.

Any temperature value registered inside your turkey below the predicted value means the meat is undercooked. 

If you don’t have a thermometer, using the fork method will also give you a pretty good idea. If you pierce the turkey and the juice that comes out is not clear but rather pink or red, this is a reliable indication that it is undercooked. 

It is essential to know that eating undercooked turkey and poultry, in general, can lead to food poisoning and particularly salmonella.

Symptoms of this type of food intoxication include abdominal pain, fever, and diarrhea, which could appear within 12 hours of consuming the meat or within two to three days. 

How to tell if turkey breast is cooked

The easiest way to tell if the turkey breast is cooked is by checking the meat temperature in the breast area with a meat thermometer. If the temperature reads 170 degrees F, you can count on the breast is all the way cooked.

You can also try the fork method if you don’t have a meat thermometer. Turkey breast is one of the most challenging areas to get cooked in a turkey, but it is also one of the most appreciated types of meat. 

However, if you are cooking just the turkey breast, you can expect it to be done in as soon as 20 minutes at a temperature of 350 degrees F.

If you cook turkey meat that you cut off the turkey prior, it will cook faster than when you cook an entire bird as the sizes will also be smaller.

If you are frying the turkey breast slice and piece, you want to fry it for 15 to 20 minutes. The meat temperature, in this case, should be around 160 degrees F. 

Note that you will only get to this temperature if you control the oven temperature to the right levels. 

Final thoughts 

Cooking a turkey is not difficult if you know what temperature to cook it at and the amount of time it needs in the oven.

Unlike on the stovetop, when you bake your turkey in the oven, checking its internal temperature is a mandatory requirement to decide whether it is well cooked or not.

But if you don’t have a meat thermometer, you can use the methods in this guide, and you will be just as accurate.

You will not know what the temperature is inside your turkey by using the fork method, obviously, but you will know if your turkey is all the way cooked! 

Enjoy your most delicious turkey recipes and a perfectly cooked Thanksgiving turkey that all your guests will look forward to devour! 

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