how to tell if turkey is done without a thermometer

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Last Updated on: 21st October 2022, 10:58 pm

Thermometers are really helpful in cooking turkeys because they can tell you when to check for doneness based on the internal temperature of turkey.

But it is only possible if the thermometer is accurate and you have enough time to poke the probe into every chunk of the turkey.

Some people can’t afford to buy a good quality thermometer, while others find it difficult to use one.

Moreover, if they are faculty, then it will require some effort to calibrate them .

So you might be thinking about how to tell if turkey is done without using a thermometer. Let’s get deeper into it.

Checking if the turkey is done without a thermometer

Although it’s better to use a thermometer to decide whether a turkey is done or not, it is still possible to tell if a turkey breast is done without a thermometer.

But because this method is mainly based on your intuition and guesses, you should be careful about making the final decision.

You can easily tell if the turkey is done or not depending on the various aspects of the turkey.

These aspects include if the color of meat juices is clear , if meat deep inside the turkey is pink and various others that we are going to explain here.

So let’s get started.

By examining the appearance

If you want to know if a turkey  has been smoked completely or not , then you should probably start by examining its color first.

It has been traditionally used for centuries, even before the invention of temperature. A finely smoked turkey  will have a unique appearance.

The color of the turkey  should have darkened a little bit to assume that the turkey  has been exposed to smoke for enough time .

You should not worry about the other factors at this point because we are going to examine all of them one by one .

Furthermore, if you are smoking the turkey, then you should also consider checking the smoke ring to it is smoked completely or not.

If it has a smoke ring then it is done smoking. But if it doesn’t have one, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t cooked yet.

The reason is that turkey has  a lean meat and can be cooked perfectly without the development of smoke ring.

A smoke ring usually develops on the red meat because it contains a higher hemoglobin count. Smoke ring is developed after the breakdown of hemoglobin.

By meat juices

After you have examined the color of turkey  , both interiorly and exteriorly , you should probably have a good idea of whether the turkey  is done or not.

But you should follow the process to confirm your decision .

After examining the color of meat , you should examine the color of fluid present in the turkey .

These fluids are usually known as meat juices, because they enhance the flavor of turkey  when smoked properly.

To examine the meat juices, you should consider poking the turkey  with toothpicks or any other pointy object.

A small amount of the meat juices will seep out of the turkey  at the point where you have poked the toothpick.

You should consider examining the color of the meat juices carefully regardless of their amount. If the color of meat juices is clear, then it means that the turkey  is done .

If it’s red or pink, it means the turkey isn’t done yet.The pinkish color is due to the blood present in the juices.

Check the interior color

Now that you have looked at the appearance of the turkey  and have a good idea if the turkey  has been smoked or not, we are going to move into the deeper portion of the turkey  to make sure that the turkey  chunks  have been cooked properly.

For examining the interior color , you should take a fork and knife and cut out a piece of smoked turkey .

The color of the turkey indicates if the meat has been cooked properly or not  but you should not completely rely on color but rather take it into account along with other factors..

yu can also use his method to check he doneness of turkey burger. if the meat patties are still pink then the burger is no done yet. here is a detailed guide how to tell turkey burger is done or not.

An undercooked turkey chunk  will have a light pink color on the inside. It turns into a white or opaque color when cooked properly.

The color change  is mostly  due to the breakdown of meat proteins at higher temperatures.

One thing that you should keep in mind is that the interior and exterior of the turkey  should be examined separately.

A turkey  chop can be smoked properly but can be undercooked due to presence of lower temperatures. While it can be cooked properly, it should require more time for smoke deposition.

turkey size

The size of the turkey is also a good indicator of whether the turkey has been smoked or not.

When a turkey chunk is uncooked, it will have a larger size due to the presence of moisture inside it which is evaporated during smoking.

So when you are checking whether the turkey has been done yet or not , then you should probably see if it has decreased in size or not.

If the turkey has decreased in size, then it means that it has been exposed to heat for enough time to evaporate it’s moisture.

Finger test

Finally, after you have examined the colors and meat juices of the turkey, you should consider checking it’s texture to make the final decision about whether it’s done yet or not.

If the turkey is done, then it will be firm on the outside.

The raw turkey will be soft and tender on the outside. A test called the finger test is used to check the doneness of turkey by its texture.

The finger test means comparing the firmness of your fingers with the turkey to decide if it’s done or not.

A raw turkey will be as soft as  the palm area of your hand below thumb, when hand is relaxed .

If you touch your thumb with the middle finger, then you will feel a little bit of firmness, it will be the same as the medium rare cooked turkey.

If you touch your thumb with your ring finger, then it will feel like the turkey, which is medium cooked.

A done turkey will have the texture of touching your thumb with your pinkie finger. So you can imagine that the turkey becomes harder as it cooks.

Get the feel of turkey

I know it might look philosophical, but you have to get the feel of turkey before making the final decision about whether it’s done yet or not.

After we have examined its exterior for smoke deposition and interior for tenderness, now we have to examine it as a whole.

Feel of the turkey refers to touching the turkey to determine whether it is done or not based on your intuition.

Make sure to wear heat-safe gloves before doing so. You should consider checking it’s heat to estimate the temperature.

There are various methods for estimating the temperature of the turkey but you should choose one that you are most comfortable with.

As you are not using a thermometer, you will have to estimate the temperature by touching.

Testing temperature by back of hands

The FDA advises that the turkey should be cooked at least 165°F to kill the bacteria present within it .

In this case , due to the absence of the thermometer, we have to estimate the temperature by placing the turkey chunk on the back of your hand.

First of all you will have to cut a small piece of turkey by a knife and take it off .

You should consider wearing gloves to avoid any injuries. After cutting the piece, you will have to put the chunk on the back of your  hand.

If the turkey has been heated up to 165°F and cooked properly, then the piece of turkey will feel like a hot cup of coffee on the back of your hand .

You should be extremely careful about doing this because if the turkey is too hot, it can burn your hand.

Testing temperature by a using a metal object

If you are not able to decide the temperature of the turkey by the above method, then you can try checking the temperature by this method.

It is much safer than the above one because you don’t have to place the meat in direct contact with your body.

To test the temperature by this method, you will have to take a pointy metal object like a skewer or a knife and insert it into the middle of the turkey chunk.

Let it stay there for a while until it reaches equilibrium, i.e. the same temperature as the turkey.

After that, pull the skewer off the turkey and place it on your lips . This way you can tell if the internal temperature of turkey is higher or not.

If the skewer feels hot, then it means that the internal temperature of turkey is higher than your body temperature.

On the basis of temperature, you can decide further if it’s hot enough to kill the bacteria or not.

But if it’s too cold, then you should avoid putting it on your lips because it can be contaminated by bacteria.

Finally, you should pick up the turkey in your hands and shake it gently. If it shakes easily and feels like jello, then you can assume that it is done .

By following the complete process described above, you can decide whether the turkey is done or not without a thermometer.

Is it safe to eat undercooked turkey?

Now that we have discussed how to check if the turkey is not yet cooked or not , it would be better to also discuss the consequences if you go wrong with your decision.

We are going to discuss both the results of over-cooking or undercooking turkey.

Undercooked turkey is as dangerous as overcooked because it can contain several pathogens inside it.

These pathogens are present inside the turkey naturally, so you can’t remove them from the turkey even by following different SOPs .

The most common pathogen present inside turkeys is a bacteria known as salmonella.

Salmonella is a pathogenic bacteria which is associated with typhoid fever and several other diseases. Eating undercooked turkey can also result in vomiting and diarrhea.

Usually, pitmasters prefer to cook turkeys at 165°F because most of pathogens die at this temperature and your turkey becomes safe to eat.

So it’s better to decide carefully if your turkey is done yet or not. If you are sure, then you can place it in an oven for a while to kill pathogens and make it safe to eat.

Is it safe to eat overcooked turkey?

So now that you are familiar with why you should consider avoiding undercooked turkey, we want to give you another surprise:

overcooked turkey is also equally hazardous as undercooked turkey, and it can also have a mushy appearance.

Overcooking is especially hazardous when you are cooking your turkey by smoking or grilling. Over-smoking can result in the bitterness of the turkey due to the extra deposition of smoke.

No one  wants to  serve a turkey with a mushy appearance and a bitter taste on Thanksgiving.

In addition to bitter taste , an over-smoked turkey will also dry out due to the prolonged smoking process.

The moisture present within the turkey is responsible for the tenderness of the turkey. If it evaporates, then the turkey will become rubbery.

In the case of grilling, overcooking can also result in the drying out of turkey and charring.

Charring is the presence of black mass on the surface of turkey due to exposure to heat for a longer time . Charring is normally considered to be associated with stomach cancer.

Why should you buy a thermometer?

After discussing the consequences of eating overcooked and undercooked turkey, it will not be difficult for you to understand why you need a thermometer.

the internal temperature of turkey should be above 165 ºF to be considered done.

A thermometer can tell you accurately when to take off or wrap your turkey to avoid over and undercooking.

The final Verdict

It’s possible to tell whether a turkey is done or not depending on its various features. However, you may need to be careful about making a final decision because it can affect your health if you go wrong with it.

Jakob miller
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