It’s always important to cook meat to the minimum recommended temperature. But with ground meat—and especially poultry—it’s critical. Here’s our guide on how to know when ground turkey is done.
How To Know When Ground Turkey Is Done
Ground turkey is fully cooked when it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. As the meat cooks, it will lose its translucent appearance and turn opaque. Depending on the preparation method, it can take anywhere from 10 to 50 minutes to reach the proper serving temperature.
Why It Matters
All poultry should cook to a minimum of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the USDA. That’s true whether you’re cooking a whole turkey, a batch of drumsticks, or turkey burgers.
When you consume undercooked poultry, you run the risk of contracting salmonella poisoning. Cooking the meat to 165 degrees will reduce that risk to the point where you don’t need to worry about it.
The same guidelines apply to all ground meat products. Even pork and beef, which can otherwise be consumed at 145 degrees, need to cook to 165 if they’ve been fed through the grinder.
The reasoning behind this involves the nature of the bacteria that causes food poisoning. These bacteria set up camp on the surface of the animal’s flesh. That means when you sear a steak or pork chop, the bacteria on the surface are destroyed by the high heat.
Ground meat plays by a different set of rules. Once the meat goes through the grinder, you can’t tell which parts were on the surface, so any of it could be potentially contaminated by bacteria. Cooking it thoroughly is the only way to ensure safety.
How To Know When Ground Turkey Is Done
Now that you understand why the turkey needs to be cooked through, how can you tell when this has happened? There’s only one foolproof method, but as you grow more confident, you should be able to recognize other telltale signs.
The only way to be absolutely certain that ground turkey has cooked to the proper temperature is to test it with a meat thermometer.
When you suspect that the turkey is close to being done, insert the thermometer probe in the center of the meat. If it registers 165 degrees, you can stop cooking.
Be careful when taking the temperature if you’re scrambling the meat in a skillet. If the thermometer probe touches the pan itself, you’ll get an inaccurate readout.
When you’re browning ground turkey in a frying pan, it should take 13 to 16 minutes to reach the optimum temperature. You’ll want to stir it frequently to break up any lumps and to ensure that it cooks evenly.
Add about 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the skillet for each pound of ground turkey. The meat is so lean that it will stick to the pan if you don’t provide any lubrication.
If you want to add seasonings to the ground meat, put them in when you’ve been cooking the turkey for about 5 minutes. As the meat finishes browning, the spices will release their flavor.
For turkey burgers, set the grill to medium-high. Form the patties about 1/2 to 1 inch thick, depending on preference. Be careful not to overwork the meat, or it will toughen up as it cooks.
Grill the turkey burgers for about 5 to 6 minutes per side. Take care when flipping them—ground turkey doesn’t have as much fat in the meat as beef, so the patties will break apart more easily.
Try to rotate the patties on the grill after the first few minutes in order to form a crosshatch pattern. After you’ve flipped them to the other side, repeat this process once the meat has had a chance to firm up a bit.
Turkey meatballs take about 20 minutes to finish cooking in the oven. If you’re browning them on the stovetop and finishing them in a sauce, the browning process should take 10 to 12 minutes, and they should simmer in the sauce for about 5 minutes more.
Bake turkey meatloaf in a 375-degree oven for 45 to 50 minutes, then let it rest for at least 5 minutes before cutting it into slices. The timing may vary based on your recipe.
Again, these are only guidelines. The turkey is considered done when it’s cooked to 165 degrees. If it hasn’t hit that temperature yet, keep cooking until you get there.
Anyone who’s ever examined raw meat versus cooked meat should be able to discern the difference. The changes vary somewhat depending on what type of meat it is, but they’re obvious nonetheless.
Raw ground turkey is a pale peachy-pink color. It has a shiny, glistening appearance, with threads of white fat and cartilage running throughout the meat. It usually resembles a pile of thin peach-colored tubes, depending on the size of the grinder plate.
Once the meat is cooked, it turns opaque and white. It may also be brown in patches, especially if you’re making grilled turkey burgers. If you used other seasonings, the cooked meat could take on those colors as well.
When you’re cooking ground turkey, you can decide when it’s time to test for doneness based on the way the meat looks, combined with the timing guidelines listed above. Don’t be tempted to rely on appearance alone, however (see below for more details).
Can Turkey Burger Be Pink When It’s Finished Cooking?
Yes. Occasionally, ground turkey will still be pink in some places, even when it’s cooked to a safe temperature. That’s one of the many reasons why you should rely on temperature above all other factors when testing for doneness.
When fully cooked, turkey burger should be opaque throughout. A hint of pink here and there, however, is nothing to worry about.
This is true especially if you’re making smoked turkey burgers. Most smoked foods will have a tinge of pink beneath the surface. The “smoke ring” is a natural reaction that comes about when the nitric oxide from the smoke binds with the myoglobin in the meat.
How To Tell If Turkey Burger Is Bad
Before you start to cook, you’ll want to make sure that the turkey burger is still fresh. Fortunately, it’s often easy to tell when poultry products have outlived their freshness.
Ground turkey can spoil in the fridge for several reasons. If the refrigerator temperature is set above 40 degrees—even by a degree or two—the meat will spoil in a hurry.
Excess exposure to air is another common culprit. You want to keep the turkey in its original packaging, or in a tightly sealed container.
So how do you tell if your turkey has spoiled? Your first step is to give it a hearty sniff. Fresh ground turkey doesn’t have a smell of its own—or if it does, it’s very faint.
If you detect a sour smell, a hint of sulfur or rotten eggs, or anything that reminds you of an open trash can, don’t hesitate to discard the turkey. Once it’s reached the point where it gives off a foul odor, there’s no way to salvage it.
Even if the turkey smells fine, test the texture. The meat should be slightly damp and tacky to the touch, not slimy or overly sticky.
Color is another good indicator of freshness in ground turkey. As we mentioned, the meat should be pink or peach in color. If it’s brown or gray—even if these colors are only present in a couple of places—it’s time to throw it out.
It takes time to cook ground turkey to the correct temp, but you don’t want to take shortcuts when it comes to food safety. As you grow more comfortable with the process, you’ll be able to recognize when it’s time to test the temperature.