Thermometers: How Do I Take a Turkey's Temperature?

When cooking have you ever just ignored that line in the recipe that says “Cook to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.”. Thinking “When it looks done, it’s done” or “I’ll just cook it the length of time it says in the recipe.”. C’mon. Admit it. We’ve all done that. Why? It's easier. And anyway, many of us don't have or know how to use a thermometer properly. But unless you like to gamble with fun things like salmonella and E.coli, I’d suggest using a thermometer.

Learning to use a thermometer properly can take a lot of the guesswork out of our cooking. So here ya go. A quick lesson on using a meat thermometer.

We all Have a Type

You should know that there are several types of meat thermometers to choose from. It all depends on your preference. The instant-read digital ones tend to cost more (sometimes A LOT more). But they tend to be the most accurate and fastest. I personal think they are worth the difference. And although some can push $100, you don’t have to spend that much on them. High-quality ones can be had in the $15-25 range. Here’s a quick run-down.

Instant-read digital meat thermometers
These are designed to be used at the end of the estimated cooking time. They provide a very fast readout which is especially nice when your hand is in an oven or over a hot stove.

Leave-in digital meat thermometers
These (of course) stay inside the meat as it cooks with a long cord that’s attached to a base unit with a digital screen. Some are even wireless. These allow you to monitor the temperature without opening the oven door. Very handy! They often have a lot of other features such as alerts, timers, etc.

Instant-read analog (dial meat thermometers)
These are those probes with the dial on the end that we’ve all seen. They are not exactly instant-read since they are pretty slow to register. They are made to use at the end of cooking. 

Leave-in analog (dial meat thermometers)
These are the dial thermometers just like the ones above, only they are made to remain in the meat. They can also be used as an instant-read thermometer.

Oh, and by the way, make sure you are buying  meat thermometer. There are different types - like a candy thermometer.


The good news is that in a recent meat thermometer test Consumer Reports noted that most of the ones they tested were within 2-4 degrees of their reference thermometer (and none was off by more than 5 degrees). 

The differences that I’ve seen have to do with speed and ease-of-use. Digital instant-read thermometers are just that - they read instantly and register a temperature instantly. The analog versions may read quickly (maybe not as quickly) but you have to wait for the results to show up on that slow-moving dial. Look for one that’s easy to read (big numbers help). Also, I’d suggest one that can hold up to the heat - made from stainless steel and with a shatter-proof clear screen. We’re talking a pretty hot environment. Pick something that can stand up to it.

Also, know where the probe reads it’s temperature. Sometimes the sensor is in the very tip, sometimes about a 1/2 inch up from there.

I have been using a pretty cheap-o one from Taylor. It’s not bad - but the numbers are small and are not instantaneous (so my hand is over a hot pot of in a hot oven waaaaaaaay too long!). 

What’s the Best Way to Take A Turkey’s Temperature?

A good question. Just like with people taking a dish’s temperature in the right spot is important.All the technology in the world isn’t worth too much if you don’t use it right. As a general rule of thumb you can stick the probe in the center of the thickest spot of the meat. Put it in at least two inches if possible. And avoid bones and fat - they throw off the reading.

Wanna get more specific? Here you go:

Insert the meat thermometer into the inner thigh area near the breast of the chicken or turkey but not touching the bone. This is the thickest area of meat and it cooks the slowest. When inserting the thermometer, it should be parallel to the body of the poultry.

Beef, Pork, Lamb, Veal, Ham, Roasts, Steaks or Chops
The thermometer should be inserted into the center of the thickest part, away from any bones and fat.

Ground Meat & Poultry
The thermometer should also be placed in the thickest area of ground meat or poultry dishes like meatloaf. The thermometer may be inserted sideways in thin items such as patties. Just be careful not to push too far - and out the other side. If you do, you’re actually measuring the temperature of the pan it’s sitting on.

Casseroles and Egg dishes
The thermometer should be inserted into the thickest portion.

And just another quick tip. It’s often helpful to remove the food from  the oven when you are checking temperature - especially if you are using an analog instant-read thermometer. The oven is losing heat as long as it’s open.

Which one should I buy?

There are plenty of good meat thermometers out there. Some factors you might look at (and decide how important they are to you) would include:
•    Easy to read
•    Simple to use
•    Auto-shutoff
•    Maximum temperature

Some of the top-rated ones are:


ThermoWorks Thermapen MK4. This one’s top-notch, with a price tag to match - about $95. It’s very accurate and easy to read. And it reads in about 2 seconds! It’s foldable - which is a very nice feature for storing. It allows for temperatures up to 572 degrees.

CDN Proaccurate TCT572. This one gets very good ratings in all respects. It’s fast and easy to use and read. It’s also foldable. These run about $70-75.


Thermoworks Super Fast ThermoPop. This one looks like a nice little lollipop (hence the name) It works great. It’s quick and easy to read. And only runs about $25-30.

ThermoWorks Super-Fast Pocket Thermometer RT600C. Another winner from ThermoWorks. The screen is on the side - which makes it a little easier to read (vs. one on the end). It’s maximum temperature, though is a low 302 degrees. These run about $24.

CDN ProAccurate Quick-Read Thermometer. It’s quick and accurate with a good temperature range. Some say its small buttons might be a little too easy to hit the buttons while gripping the head. It’s about $17.

Polder Stable Read THM-379. It is a quick, thin thermometer with a nicely angled head. It’s only about $16-$18. 

Leave-In Digital

Oregon Scientific Wireless BBQ/Oven AW131.  This one gets really good ratings and runs about $40.

Thermoworks Splashproof ChefAlarm. This is another leave-in digital thermometer that gets great ratings. It has great temperature range - up to 572 degrees. It has a really thin probe and measures in under 5 seconds, so it can be used as an instant-read thermometer also. It runs around $50.


Trust me. You don't want to rely on those old hints and tips for checking for doneness. While that's fine to tell if meat is approximately done, it's not accurate enough. There are so many variables in ovens, stoves (and varying temperature spots within them) and cuts of meat, it’s virtually impossible to tell when something is really done. This is about your health, people! Let's do it right! use a thermometer.


Wishing You All A Happy Thanksgiving!