The best guide to sumptuously succulent turkey. Why? Because life is too short for a dry holiday dinner. Shun the turkey jerky!
Sadly, far too many people do not like turkey because they have had bad experiences: Aunt Edna’s flavorless cardboard with the texture of sawdust that must be choked down with enough gravy to drown a rat. Little do they know that when properly prepared, turkey can be filled with flavor that sets your senses alight, and meat so moist that juices squirt when the bird is carved. This is not your Aunt Edna’s turkey jerky! How, you ask? Follow my steps below to an unbelievably juicy bird.
Recipes with Too High Final Temps:
But 180° Fahrenheit is too high of a final temp! Following these recipes all too often results in exactly the type of turkey we are trying to avoid: turkey jerky. Alright, so I’m exaggerating a bit but not a lot. This is particularly true if you are aiming for 180° but then overshoot your mark! In each of the recipes above, a significantly better bird would result from a final temp that is lower but still safe. What’s the magic minimum temperature? Food safety experts recommend a much lower final temp of 165° Fahrenheit in the thickest parts of the bird! Think I’m crazy or unsafe? Here’s proof from the U.S Food Safety & Inspection Service. Foodsaftety.gov indicates the same for all fowl here.
Checking Final Temp
How do we know when our fowl has reached the correct temperature and ensure we don’t overcook our bird bonanza? Two pieces of advice here to set you on the right path:
Remote Digital Temp Sensor During the Cook
Use a remote digital temp sensor with a meat probe such as this wireless one or this wired unit. Wireless remote models can even be used in your BBQ pit on your back deck to check the temp of your pork roast or brisket, or the bird in your kitchen oven while you watch the game on the couch (note: the braided wire leads that connect to the meat probe cannot stand the high temps of grilling but work great for oven roasting, smoking, and barbecuing at lower temps). Also, using a remote temperature sensor allows you to check your chick without opening the oven door, saving precious heat and humidity in the cooking environment. You may think remote temperature sensors as somewhat of an extra. But consider this: how much is preventing a dinner disaster worth? Money can’t buy the marvel of friends and family who will rave about your roasted bird.
Use a Quick-read Digital Thermometer to Check Final Temp
When you think your bird is close to done, carefully check the final temp by using a quick-read digital thermometer with a thermocouple such as this one for pin-point accuracy. These tools are essential for determining accurate internal temperature and are immeasurably helpful in the kitchen. A very reasonable $30 unit can get you a reading in only 6 seconds and it is even water-resistant with a couple of programmed functions. There will be no question if your bird reaches 165° with one of these babies! The serious cook can get near instantaneous and accurate reads with the Super-Fast Thermapen for under $100.
Avoid Grandma’s Meat Thermometer
Steer clear of bimetal meat thermometers. Typically they are notoriously inaccurate, often aren’t, or can’t be, calibrated, especially the inexpensive models. Models designed to be left in during the cook will tend to yield inaccurate readings since the metal will conduct heat from the oven environment into the surrounding meat. Lastly, they can themselves be the cause of turkey jerky. As a young cook, I trusted an inexpensive poultry thermometer that gave the same unnecessarily high temp of 180° — the cheap thermometer cost me an expensive meal and my pride. Learn from my mistakes and spring for the $30 digital model I mentioned. If a bimetal meat thermometer is all you have, at least check it for accuracy with boiling water and tongs. Remember, water boils at 212° Fahrenheit at sea level, but at lower temperatures the higher the elevation. Do a web search for your area if you need to confirm
For a juicy turkey, use an accurate thermometer and don’t overcook it. If you are wary about the government’s standard minimum safe temperature of 165°, then add 5° (but no more!) and sleep easy. Keep the oven closed and check progress with remote sensor.
For other simple steps to End Turkey Jerky, be sure to read my article about cooking at a reasonable reasonable temperature — it is equally important as final temp!