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What Temp For Safe Turkey? Stop The Madness! Charts, and Source Data Links.

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    What Temp For Safe Turkey? Stop The Madness! Charts, and Source Data Links.

    I’ve only been hanging around here for a couple months, so I don’t know if it’s an annual ordeal, but there seems to be a lot of confusion about the safe minimum temperature to which to cook a turkey. I accepted Meathead as my personal meat savior back in 2019, so we cooked our turkey to 155 in the breast per his turkey ebook and it came out great - our best ever.

    That had been our plan for weeks, but when when we brought out the turkey to cook, the Butterball label said this:

    "To check for doneness, temperature on a meat thermometer should be 165°F in the breast/180°F in the thigh. However, Butterball recommends that the temperature in the breast reach 170°F for best eating experience."

    After thinking about it for awhile I decided to stick with Meathead, but after seeing last night’s posts I decided some additional research was called for.

    My first stop was "The Food Lab" and this chart from page 362 which the author says is from the USDA.

    It emphasizes that a safe cooking temperature is a function of both the final temperature AND the time spent at that temperature. I now had two sources that I trust recommending lower temperatures than the USDA, but neither of them provided links to their source data, so I went to Google.

    All I could find on USDA.org is their recommendation of a minimum of 165°F for safe turkey, and no discussions of time spent at lower temps as recommended by Lopez-Alt and Meathead, but I finally stumbled on Foodprotect.org, who I had never heard of. Here’s how they describe themselves on their home page:

    "The Conference for Food Protection is a non-profit organization which originated in 1971. It was created to provide a formal process whereby members of industry, regulatory, academia, consumer, and professional organizations are afforded equal input in the development and/or modification of food safety guidance. Such guidance is incorporated into food safety laws and regulations at all levels of government throughout the United States."

    This chart from http://www.foodprotect.org/issues/pa...i_018__all.pdf appears to be where Meathead and Lopez-Alt got their data.

    The amount of fat in poultry affects how long it must be held at a given temp to be safe, and there are 12 charts with the times for each 1% increment of fat. I’m only showing the 12% chart here because it has the longest times, but the 6% chart shows 3.8 minutes at 150°F, which is what’s on the chart from "The Food Lab", so Lopez-Alt apparently thinks his turkeys are 6% fat. My Butterball said it was 8% fat.

    So there you have it. Even if your turkey has 12% fat, keeping it at 150°F for 4.9 minutes will make it 99.9999999% safe. In addition to old wive’s tales and out-of-date cook books, the USDA insists on dumbing down everything by recommending 165°F, the temp at which food is instantly safe, and I assume Butterball’s attorneys are responsible for their recommendation being even higher.
    Attached Files
    Last edited by Sid P; November 26, 2021, 03:52 PM.

    Thanks, I was thinking of posting something like this. 165F is just there because it's easy to remember and you get bacteria kill instantly, so it's a guarantee of safety.

    Sadly, people seem to latch onto it and figure that anything lower must be unsafe. Then they complain the bird is dry and, well... yeah.


      I've been cookin' chicken to 158° for years without ill effect, but I'm sure it takes more than 20 some seconds to get it from the grill to my mouth...


        I have written about this on this page
        and here

        Keep in mind, although you can make poultry safe at, say 140F, I don't think people will like the color or texture. I find 155-160 is ideal.


        • Sid P
          Sid P commented
          Editing a comment
          Dangit! The free side is amazing, and yet I almost never think to use it. Thanks for this great resource!

        Sous vide is ideal to incorporate time/temp for varying textures, eg. chicken at 140 for pulled chicken.

        I've temped the breasts on a chicken exiting a chiller with a 5.0-F difference b/n the two. Can't imagine the inconsistency in a smoker. Can't imagine someone nailing the fat content.


          Originally posted by Meathead View Post
          Keep in mind, although you can make poultry safe at, say 140F, I don't think people will like the color or texture. I find 155-160 is ideal.
          I did a bone-in turkey breast, pulled it at 155, it floated up to 160. Tasty, still moist, could easily have dried out with another 10F (and I slathered herb butter under the skin).

          I've done chicken breast sous vide for chicken salad and 155 works there too. Lower is... a little gelatinous and you're right, the texture is unappealing.


            Sous vide timelines for safety and research here including thoughts on texture and taste. I did mine at 145 for 2.5 hours and it was perfect.



            • IFindZeroBadCooks
              IFindZeroBadCooks commented
              Editing a comment
              fzxdoc I broke the turkey into parts (breasts, legs, wings) and did the breasts sous vide with Simon and Garfunkel rub plus earlier dry brine. I roasted everything else in the oven with the rub until 170 and it turned out well. I was going to do the skin as Kenji suggested but everyone else said they would not eat it so…I was outvoted and it did not warrant the effort. I actually removed as much of the skin as possible from everything so the rub wouldn’t be wasted when everyone removed the skin.
              Last edited by IFindZeroBadCooks; November 26, 2021, 05:54 PM.

            • IFindZeroBadCooks
              IFindZeroBadCooks commented
              Editing a comment
              fzxdoc I used Chef JP’s approach to carve of course.

              I actually would have eaten the crispy skin myself but I already had so many other things cooking that skipping the skin step was relatively easy.

            • IFindZeroBadCooks
              IFindZeroBadCooks commented
              Editing a comment
              Next time I have a turkey, I think I will try and sous vide everything (whole or in parts).

            What I have discovered over the years is that chicken OR turkey breast with an internal temp of 155F when you pull of the smoker or out of the oven is safe and well cooked. BUT most of my family prefers the breast to be slightly more cooked and the thighs/legs to be nicely done as well. My findings mirror Meathead, so I figure I must be doing something right

            Here’s what I found

            Chicken - breast should be 160F when you pull it, but you should carve at about the 8-10 minute mark after pulling

            Smaller turkeys (8-12 lbs) - Breast about 160F like chicken, but give it 15 minutes and then carve

            Larger turkeys (12-20 lbs) - Breast about 157F, and give it 25-30 minutes and then carve

            Above that size on a turkey, I really don’t know. I do know that on larger turkeys, if you take the breast to 160F or higher, the breast will be dried out. I also know that if you don’t follow those temp guidelines, in my experience, the thigh will be undercooked.

            For what my input is worth :-)


            • rickgregory
              rickgregory commented
              Editing a comment
              Yeah you have to do white and dark meat to different temps. 165F dark meat is (to me at least) unpleasant.

            • ecowper
              ecowper commented
              Editing a comment
              rickgregory if the thighs don’t hit 175F I find them to be undercooked.

            • Polarbear777
              Polarbear777 commented
              Editing a comment
              With a spatchcocked bird the legs usually hit 175 about the time the breast is 150.

            Agreed, 155-160*F for chicken is the sweet spot for me and mine.
            PBR at 40-45*F,



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