You probably know that poultry needs to be cooked past a certain temperature in order to be safe to eat. But what exactly is that temperature, and does it vary based on what part of the bird you’re cooking? Let’s find out whether a turkey breast temperature of 150 degrees is permissible.
Turkey Breast Temperature 150
Technically, it’s fine to remove turkey breast from the heat when it reaches 150 degrees. At this temperature, salmonella will be destroyed within 4 minutes, so if it remains above 150 for that long, the meat will be safe to eat. At higher temps, the bacteria will be killed off more quickly, which is why it’s easier to wait.
At What Temperature is Turkey Safe To Eat?
Poultry products, including turkey, should be cooked to at least 165 degrees. This is the best way to be sure that any lingering bacteria have been destroyed by the heat.
While beef and pork products can be safe to consume at lower temperatures, poultry is another story. Although salmonella and other bacteria can be found on all animals, pigs and cows have denser flesh than chickens and turkeys. That means the bacteria should remain on the surface instead of penetrating the meat.
It’s particularly important to cook ground meat to higher temperatures. When meat is ground into burger, any bacteria gets distributed throughout. Heating the meat to a safe temperature is the only way to kill off this bacteria.
White Meat vs. Dark Meat
Some recipes, especially older ones, advise cooking turkey to 180 degrees instead of removing it from the oven when it hits 165. The reasoning behind this is simple: dark meat often takes longer to finish cooking than white meat.
Turkey breast is more flavorful and juicy when it’s cooked to 165 degrees. If it’s overcooked, the meat will be dry and difficult to resurrect, even if you drown it in gravy.
The leg and thigh meat, on the other hand, is succulent and tender even if it’s cooked past 180 degrees. What’s more, dark meat doesn’t cook as quickly because it’s made up of more active muscles. The tissue is fattier and more dense than the breast meat, so it takes longer to achieve a safe temperature.
In the past, chefs were advised to keep cooking the turkey until the temperature registered 180 degrees throughout. Food safety was the main concern, but that didn’t make the breast meat any less dry when it was forced to remain in the oven for so long.
When roasting or grill-roasting a whole turkey, we would recommend checking the temperature of both the breast and the thigh. If the breast meat is cooked but the thigh meat is still below 165, you can remove the breasts and return the rest of the bird to the heat.
We should also point out that the dark meat doesn’t have to reach 180 degrees. While “overcooking” it won’t do it any harm, it’s perfectly safe to eat the thighs and drumsticks when they’re cooked to just 165 degrees.
Turkey Breast Temperature 150: Can You Take It Off The Heat?
Whether you’re cooking the whole turkey or the breast alone, is it permissible to take it out of the oven or smoker at 150 degrees? Or should you wait until the thermometer climbs past 165?
In fact, you should be able to remove the breast meat from the heat when it crosses the 150-degree threshold. The USDA claims that the meat is safe to consume as long as it’s been at 150 degrees for at least 3.7 minutes.
Here’s why the time frame makes all the difference: At 165 degrees, salmonella can’t survive for any longer than 10 seconds. A 150-degree environment will still kill the bacteria, but it takes longer–just under 4 minutes, in fact.
Even if you take the bird off the heat right away, it should stay above 150 degrees for at least 10 minutes. What’s more, the meat will continue to cook as it rests, so there’s a good chance it will reach 165 by the time you’re ready to eat.
If you have a timer on hand, set it for 4 minutes as soon as the thermometer registers 150 degrees. Keep an eye on the temperature until the timer goes off. As long as the temp doesn’t drop below 150 in that time, you’re good to go.
Although this practice is safe in theory, we prefer to wait until the thermometer registers at least 160 degrees. The extra time won’t do the meat any harm, and there’s a better chance that it will reach the 165-degree mark if it’s within 5 degrees of that recommended temperature.
What If The Meat Is Still Pink?
When it comes to poultry, pink meat is largely considered a red flag. The truth is, it’s not unusual to see some pink, even when the turkey is fully cooked.
Turkey meat contains a pigment called cytochrome, which assists in fat burning. When you heat cytochrome to high temperatures, it can no longer bind oxygen, and it shifts to a pink color. This pink discoloration will fade over time, but it can still be present when you’re ready to serve the turkey.
You may have noticed that smoked meats always have a reddish tinge to them. The smoke reacts with the protein in the meat to create this distinctive feature, which is called the smoke ring. If you’re cooking your turkey in the smoker, it should have the pink tinge even after it’s achieved the proper temperature.
Never rely on color alone as an indicator of doneness. Instead, use a calibrated meat thermometer to test the temperature of the meat. If it’s 165 degrees or higher, then the turkey is ready to eat, no matter what color it is.
The Bottom Line
We like to cook turkey to 165 degrees to make sure that any harmful bacteria are destroyed. Heating the meat to 150 degrees can also kill off the bacteria, but it will take a bit longer. If you’re willing to keep a close eye on the clock as well as the temperature, feel free to pull the turkey breast at 150.