Is the turkey button not popping a sign of undercooked turkey? And is there any way you can tell for sure? When you’ve finished reading, you’ll know what to do the next time the turkey thermometer doesn’t pop.
Turkey Button Not Popping
When the pop up timer in the turkey isn’t popping, it could mean the device is faulty. However, it’s more likely that the meat hasn’t cooked to 180 degrees, which is the temperature at which these devices usually go off. Since the turkey will be overcooked if you wait, it’s better to ignore these timers entirely.
What is That Turkey Button?
Often, when you purchase a chicken or turkey from the supermarket, you’ll see a small round button ensconced in the breast meat. But what exactly is that thing, and why is it there?
The button is actually a pop up timer that’s designed to activate when the meat has cooked to the desired internal temperature. This doesn’t always work, as we’ll discuss in the next section. However, that’s the reasoning behind this device.
A standard pop up poultry timer consists of an indicator stick inside a casing. Both the stick and the casing are made of heatproof plastic, so you don’t have to worry about the device melting in the oven.
Inside the casing, there’s a reservoir of soft metal, along with a spring wrapped around the stick. This metal heats up as the turkey cooks. When it melts, the stick is released and the spring causes the button to pop out of the casing.
Do Pop Up Timers Work?
While the concept behind these pop up timers is an appealing one, the devices that come pre-inserted into store-bought turkeys aren’t reliable.
Most of the time, you can expect the button to pop up at some point (though not always, which we’ll elaborate on later). The problem is that these timers won’t pop up until the meat is thoroughly overcooked.
Turkey breast is considered done when it’s cooked to 165 degrees. You should remove it from the heat when it reaches the 160-degree mark, as the meat will keep cooking for a bit while the bird is resting.
These pop up timers, meanwhile, are programmed to release when the meat cooks to 180 or 185 degrees. Although this is a reasonable serving temperature for dark meat, the breast will have the consistency of sawdust at these temps.
In fact, the pop up timer has such a poor reputation that some processors refuse to use them. Butterball, for example, makes a point of not including pop up timers with any of its poultry products.
Can You Buy a Pop Up Timer?
Now that we’ve established that the pop up timers found in commercially sold turkeys aren’t worth bothering with, are there any similar devices that actually work?
There are a couple of reusable pop up timers that are fairly reliable. Norpro makes a poultry timer that’s designed to go off between 160 and 165 degrees. You can also purchase a Kikkerland timer through Amazon. Both should be available at a reasonable price.
We should point out, though, that the only way to know for sure when the meat is finished cooking is to test the temperature yourself. For this, a well-calibrated instant-read thermometer is your best bet.
What If Turkey Thermometer Doesn’t Pop?
Let’s say you’re smoking or roasting a turkey, and you should be approaching the finish line according to your estimated cooking time. The pop up timer hasn’t budged. Does this mean the turkey needs to cook longer?
Not necessarily. As we’ve established, these devices may pop up only when the turkey is overcooked. Test the temperature using a thermometer instead (see section below for more details).
What’s more, you can’t be sure whether the device was faulty to begin with. The soft metal or the spring mechanism could be missing or broken, or the metal’s melting point could be a bit higher than what was intended.
In short, don’t rely on these indicators to tell you when your turkey is done. Use your timing estimate as a baseline, and keep your instant-read meat thermometer at the ready.
How To Tell When The Turkey is Finished Cooking
You can tell the basic difference between raw and cooked turkey by comparing the two. The raw product is paler in color, and the flesh has a translucent quality. When the meat cooks, it turns opaque and white, with skin that ranges from golden to deep mahogany.
That said, sometimes the meat can appear to be cooked before it’s reached the safe recommended temperature. This is yet another reason why you should invest in a decent meat thermometer, especially if you’re a frequent griller.
To test the turkey’s temperature, insert the thermometer probe into the breast portion, taking care not to touch any bone. When the thermometer displays a readout of 160 degrees, you’re all set to remove the breast from the heat.
Next, place the probe into the thickest part of the thigh. This is considered dark meat, so it should cook to at least 180 before you take it off the heat.
How Long Does it Take To Cook a Turkey?
There are many factors that could affect your total cooking time. That said, the two most important ones relate to the cooking temperature and the size of your turkey.
Smoked meat plays by a different set of rules. When we’re smoking fatty cuts like brisket and pork butt, we set the smoker to 225. Since turkey is leaner, it doesn’t need to cook at such a low temperature, but you don’t want it to cook too fast, either.
Our target smoker temperature is 275 degrees when we’re dealing with whole turkeys. The meat should take on just the right amount of smoky goodness at this temperature, but it shouldn’t take a prohibitively long time to cook through.
In a 275-degree smoker, the meat will take longer to cook. Plan on smoking the turkey for 20 to 25 minutes per pound at this temperature. This means that same 12-pounder will need 4 to 5 hours in the smoker.
A Word About Stuffing
Remember that stuffed turkeys will need to cook for roughly 3 to 5 minutes longer per pound than unstuffed birds. You can lower this estimate somewhat when dealing with very large birds, as the meat might dry out if it’s exposed to the heat for too long.
As an aside, we prefer to stuff turkeys only when they’re destined for the oven. The stuffing will taste odd if it’s exposed to wood smoke.
Further, since stuffed turkeys take longer to cook, you’ll run the risk of leaving the meat in the danger zone for too long. The meat needs to cook past 140 degrees within 4 hours in order to be safe to eat.
The Bottom Line
For best results, ignore that little pop up timer that comes with the turkey. Your own thermometer will give you a more accurate idea of when the meat is finished cooking. In fact, if you can remove the timer beforehand without ruining the turkey, feel free.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!