Of the many Thanksgiving cooking tips I can give you, this is perhaps the most important. It can be the difference between a triumphant meal and an undercooked case of food borne illness.
I get many questions on email about correct roasting temperatures. “What temperature should my oven be for turkey”? “What is the correct temperature for chicken”? “How hot should my oven be for…?”
All these questions can be answered simultaneously with the one important tip I told you about. Forget your oven temperature. Your oven is wrong anyway. It’s probably been lying to you. Your oven temperature is different from your neighbors, and it’s much different from my commercial kitchen, so why cook by EXTERNAL bird temperature?
Cooking by INTERNAL temperature is the only way to assure and quantify that your item is fully cooked. An instant read digital thermometer will tell you EXACTLY when your thanksgiving cooking efforts are complete.
You don’t need to guess. You don’t need to poke anything with a fork or gash it with a knife. A thermometer is insurance from overcooked turkeys and especially from the dangers of under-cooked poultry.
Most people’s household ovens have a range of 200F to 500F. What’s in the middle? 350 degrees is exactly in the middle. Is this why most recipes just say “cook at 350 degrees”? Would your turkey be ruined if you cooked at 375 degrees or 325 degrees? No, probably not.
Your turkey is completely cooked and safe when the thickest part of the bird reads 165F. This means if its cavity is filled with stuffing, take the temperature there. If it’s not stuffed, at the deepest part of the thigh.
You can choose any roasting temperature, as long as you understand the basic cooking method of roasting. Roasting is a dry-heat convective cooking method. It uses hot air to transfer heat to food.
Roasting is the best way to dry out an item because of the indirect use of hot air to cook foods. The higher the temperature, the faster that moisture will evaporate, proteins will stiffen, and sugars will caramelize and turn brown.
Whatever temperature your oven tells you it is, whatever temperature you choose to roast your bird, just assure you have a thermometer to tell what the internal temperature is. Internal temperature is much more important than external when it comes to thanksgiving cooking.