Skip to main content

Cooking a Thanksgiving or Friendsgiving meal can seem like a daunting task. All those nostalgic dishes need to be delicious and timed to perfection – and the most intimidating of all is the turkey. Knowing how long to cook a turkey is tricky: go too long, and it’ll be dry; too short, and you risk the health of your guests. And why is it always Thanksgiving Day when you realize you don’t have a meat thermometer?

Truthfully, the only way to know for sure if your turkey is done is to take the internal temperature with a thermometer, according to Butterball. That’s the recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, too. Your turkey should reach at least 165°F, according to the CDC, and you should measure it in three different places: the thickest part of the breast; where the body and thigh join, aiming toward the thigh; and where the body and wing join, aiming toward the wing. Even if your turkey has a pop-up timer, the CDC recommends using a thermometer to be sure.

But if it’s already Thanksgiving day and you don’t have a thermometer, you’re not out of luck. We talked to the experts behind the Turkey Talk-Line at Butterball for help. Here are some tips to help ensure you fully cook your turkey, including how to tell if a turkey is done without a meat thermometer.

1. Find Out the Cooking Time Based on the Weight of Your Turkey

Using Butterball’s turkey-cooking calculator is the easiest way to find out how long your turkey will need to cook based on its weight. For example, a 20-pound turkey without stuffing will take three and a half to four hours to cook at 325°F.

2. Don’t Open the Oven Door to Check the Turkey Frequently

Although it’s tempting to check on your turkey, opening the oven only lowers the temperature and prolongs the process, potentially screwing up your initial estimated time. Keep the oven closed until you’re about two-thirds of the way through to check on it for the first time. If the turkey breasts are getting too browned too quickly, cover the turkey in a tent of foil. If they don’t look browned, feel free to skip that step.

3. Check the Thigh to Know When the Turkey Is Done

The deepest part of the thigh muscle is usually the last part of the turkey to be done. To see if your turkey is done without a thermometer, pierce the thigh with a fork and pay attention to the juices: if the juices run clear, it’s cooked, and if the juices are reddish pink, it needs more time. Put the turkey back in the oven, and check again after a short time.

And do yourself a favor for next Thanksgiving? Go ahead and buy a meat thermometer right now.

Additional reporting by Lauren Harano