Not sure if your Thanksgiving dinner is done? Check your turkey’s temperature with this easy technique that doesn’t require a metal thermometer.  

By Nora Horvath
Updated October 08, 2018

Cooking a turkey on Thanksgiving takes days of prep work, and the last thing you want is to be left without the right tools at a crucial moment while cooking. If you find yourself without a meat thermometer to test the doneness of your bird right as dinner is supposed to start, or your thermometer becomes uncalibrated at the last minute, try this easy hack for how to take a turkey's temperature without a thermometer instead.

According to Nicole Johnson, the co-director of the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line, the only special kitchen tool you need to test for doneness if you find yourself without a thermometer at the last minute is a fork. “Pierce the turkey mid-thigh muscle and when the juices run clear, and no longer reddish or pink in color, it’s a good indication that your turkey is done,” Johnson says. Since imperfect ovens can cause certain parts of the turkey to cook faster than others, Johnson suggests checking for doneness in multiple areas of the bird to be sure that it’s truly done cooking and safe for your family to eat.

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Johnson also stresses while this technique will help guide you, the most reliable way to check a turkey's temperature is with a meat thermometer. To ensure that your turkey will cook evenly, make sure it's fully thawed before you start cooking it.

The Right Temperature to Cook a Turkey

When you use the regular meat thermometer method, you’re checking for an internal temperature of 165 degrees F all the way through the turkey to know that your bird is done. You’ll want to check the temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast to be sure that the turkey is cooked through everywhere. This means if you decide to stuff the turkey, make sure the stuffing is heated through as well.

How Long to Cook a Turkey for

How long you cook a turkey for completely depends on its weight and whether you decide to stuff your bird or not. Lighter birds, around 8-12 pounds will cook for around 3 hours unstuffed, but will take an additional half hour with stuffing. Heavier turkeys, anywhere from around 20-24 pounds, could take up to 5 hours to cook unstuffed. Find out exactly how long to cook yours for with our easy chart.