Here's How To Know If Your Turkey Is Completely Cooked Through

Who doesn't love the holidays — a time of family reunions, fun outfits, and, of course, table-long spreads of food? Whether you're celebrating Christmas, Thanksgiving, or the New Year, one classic main dish choice is — of course! — a burnished, perfectly roasted turkey.

Roasting a turkey seems easy. You season the bird, throw it in a roasting pan, figure out the cook time, and slide the turkey into the oven. But when you stop to think about it, there are so many more variables: Did you season the bird adequately? Did you preheat the oven and set it to the right temperature? Once it was cooked, did you let the turkey rest, or did you carve into it right away? Any one of these errors can lead to a turkey that falls short of the juicy, succulent, picture-perfect centerpiece you want to present to your dinner guests.

One other turkey-cooking factor that's extremely important — and often confusing — is figuring out when the bird is actually cooked through. While you don't want to serve the bone-dry, wood-shavings turkey we all loathe, you also don't want to present something raw. Read on to find out exactly how to know when this essential holiday dish is perfectly cooked through.

Learn to take a turkey's temperature

Figuring out when a whole roasted turkey is done can be something of a guessing game. Because commercial turkeys are raised to have an unnaturally high proportion of breast meat (via The Atlantic), it can take forever for the oven's heat to penetrate the center of the white meat and cook it through. On the other hand, turkeys also have a fair amount of dark meat, which takes longer to cook than white meat (via Kitchn). Therefore, ensuring that both types of meat are cooked but not dry can be challenging.

When determining if a whole turkey is done, it's best not to rely on methods you might have heard of but which are inaccurate, like cutting into the dark meat to see if its juices run clear (via Cook's Illustrated) or that built-in pop-up timer included on many holiday birds (via The Daily Meal). Instead, you should get your hands on a quality meat thermometer and take the bird's temperature towards the end of its calculated cook time (13 minutes per pound at 350 degrees for an unstuffed turkey, according to Epicurious). 

According to POPSUGAR.FOOD, the thermometer should be inserted into the thickest part of the breast. Pull the bird from the oven when you get a reading of 160 degrees and allow the turkey to rest, bringing its final temperature up to 165 degrees (via Food Network), the temperature where salmonella bacteria can no longer survive. Happy roasting!