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We Subtly Tell You What We Think of Pop-Up Thermometers

Can you brine a 20-lb turkey that has a pop-up thermometer?

Of course you can brine a 20-pound turkey.

That was your question, wasn't it? Because we're pretty sure you're not asking about that cheap, useless piece of plastic that will ensure your turkey is overdone. Right? Please tell us you're not asking about that!

If you are, it is remotely possible that the sugar in the brine could caramelize in cooking and glue the thermometer parts together (a rub we use on chicken always causes the thermometer to stick). The brine is so diluted, though, it is unlikely to cause that problem.

We discern — since you are going to the trouble of brining the turkey — that you are seriously in search of flavor, however, so we counsel against relying on the pop-up thermometer in any case. We find them to be inconsistent, and to err consistently on the side of overcooking.

Some information we turned up indicates that poultry thermometers are calibrated to pop when they reach temperatures between 176F and 185F — and they are always located in the breast! Even the US Department of Agriculture now says the breast should not be cooked beyond 165F. And, since the temperature continues to climb after you take the meat out of the oven, there is a distinct possibility of having breast meat that reaches 195F. if you rely on a pop-up thermometer.

The difference in flavor and texture between even 165F and 175F is huge; you might as well serve shoe leather if you cook the breast 30F above the recommended temperature. We think people spend too much money and have too much riding on these holiday dinners to overcook their turkeys and roasts.

If you are terrified about using an instant-read thermometer, get over it. It's not hard and they're not expensive. Stick the thermometer in the thickest part of the breast and don't let it touch the bone. Note the temperature. Then stick it in the thickest part of the thigh, again, not touching the bone. If the temperature of the breast is right around 160F and the thigh is approaching 165F, it's time to take the turkey out of the oven and let it rest.

(We blatantly lifted this image from the National Turkey Federation Web site, but hope — since we're all trying to create a better turkey experience for everyone — that they won't send their lawyers after us.)


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