Turkey is a delicious meal. It takes considerable time and effort to make and it is almost always well worth the effort. Turkey goes a long way and many of us enjoy turkey at family gatherings, particularly at Thanksgiving or Christmas.
The nice thing is, we can prepare and enjoy turkeys at any time of year. We don’t have to have celebrations or gathering to make a turkey, although it certainly makes a nice excuse to do so. Turkeys can be challenging to cook to perfection because the color doesn’t really give away the doneness (to some extent).
How can you tell if a turkey is undercooked? Can you recook an undercooked turkey? Yes, you can place the whole turkey back in the oven, covering it to avoid dryness. You can also baste it with butter to help maintain moisture. If you’re in a bind and need your turkey finished in a hurry, the best thing to do is slice the turkey and then recook it.
In this guide, we will walk you through the process of cooking turkey and what you can look for to determine if your turkey is cooked thoroughly. We will also share with you the processes you should follow if your turkey is undercooked so you can get it cooked and enjoy that turkey.
Keep reading to learn about recooking an undercooked turkey and more.
A Guide to Managing Undercooked Turkey
Turkey can be challenging to cook because it often takes several hours and you can’t always tell at a glance whether or not the turkey is done.
Many turkeys come with an internal thermometer tool that is supposed to let you know when your turkey is done but they are not always fully accurate.
It’s important to understand the various means of knowing whether a turkey is fully-cooked. It’s also equally important to know your options and understand what steps you can take if you find out your turkey is actually undercooked.
We have a lot of information in store for you in this guide.
Cooking a Turkey – The Initial Process
For starters, let’s discuss how a turkey is traditionally cooked and give you some pointers that may help you reduce the risk of an undercooked turkey.
Let’s start by covering the initial process for cooking a turkey. We will cover how to calculate your turkey cook time and discuss some signs for knowing when the turkey is fully cooked.
There are many ways in which one can cook a turkey. Some people use pressure cookers and air fryers. There are also turkey fryers that have become increasingly popular. For the sake of simplicity, we will just cover the traditional oven method for cooking a turkey.
Here’s the process.
- If you’re unsure how much turkey you need, calculate 1-2 pounds of turkey per anticipated guest.
- Calculate your cooking time at approximately 13-15 minutes per pound of turkey.
- Start by preheating your oven to 450 degrees.
- Cook the turkey for 15 minutes at this temperature.
- Reduce temperature to 350 degrees.
- Cook turkey the appropriate amount of time. For example, a 15-pound turkey would cook approximately 225 minutes (this is nearly 4 hours).
- Let temperature rest out of the oven for 15-20 minutes before carving.
These are very basic instructions. They don’t discuss brining a turkey or adding butter. Those are things you can determine at will. These instructions are specifically intended to call attention to the approximate cooking times.
It’s important to know and familiarize yourself with these times so you can try to calculate how long your turkey should cook.
Signs a Turkey is Fully-Cooked
There are some telltale things you can look for to know if your turkey is fully cooked. The most accurate way to know your turkey is fully cooked is to use a thermometer and assess the internal temperature of the turkey.
Turkey should be cooked to an internal temperature of 180 degrees Fahrenheit. We recommend that you check the temperature prior to taking it out of the oven if at all possible. You can also pull the turkey out and check the temperature and replace the turkey if needed.
There are thermometers that allow you to attach them to the turkey for the entirety of the cooking process. Just be sure you have a working thermometer that will show you an accurate temperature.
If you’re looking for a reliable budget option, I recommend this instant-read thermometer.
If you don’t have a thermometer there are some other methods that you can use to check whether your turkey is done. The best place to check the meat color is on the thigh of the turkey.
You can pierce the thigh (which is very meaty typically) and watch the juices that come out. If the juices are reddish or pink, your turkey needs more cooking time. If the juices run clear, your turkey is cooked to perfection.
Don’t overcook the turkey if it requires more time. Check periodically as it shouldn’t take much longer if you are close to the time calculations provided.
Looking at the juices is the second-best way to tell if the turkey is fully-cooked or not. We don’t recommend basing your judgment off of the colors of the meat specifically, although you might be able to see some pink in the meat if it is not fully-cooked.
However, turkey meat is light in color so this is not a fail-safe method. We recommend using more trustworthy methods for checking whether the turkey is done.
Recooking an Undercooked Turkey
If perhaps you judged whether your turkey was done incorrectly, don’t worry. You can absolutely recook the turkey – which is actually simply finishing cooking the turkey. It seems like recooking because you’re placing a cool or semi-cool turkey back into the oven heat but the turkey needs to be cooked longer to be done and safely edible.
Let’s assume all of your other dishes are done and everyone has sat down for Thanksgiving dinner. You reach to carve the turkey only to find it’s pink! Let’s get this thing finished as soon as possible.
After you rush back to the kitchen, take a deep breath and follow these instructions.
- We recommend slicing or carving the turkey. This is the quickest way to recook the turkey and get it finished before everything else is ridiculously cold. You can leave the legs and breasts intact and then slice the other meat. This just breaks everything into smaller pieces so it can cook faster.
- Place pieces on a baking sheet and bake at 375 degrees, checking the meat every 15 minutes until it’s done. Typically, you can remove the turkey from the oven when it is 165 degrees internally. As it rests for about 15 minutes, the temperature will increase to 180.
- Finish slicing and serve! It’s time to eat!
If you follow our instruction for cooking times related to the size of the turkey, as well as the rule for cutting into the turkey and checking for clear juices, you shouldn’t have to worry about your turkey being undercooked.
It’s easy to think – hey, the turkey has been in there 4 hours, it’s done! But don’t rely too heavily on the time to be your factor. It’s best if you are able to check the temperature of the turkey or at least slice into it to see the color of the juices running out.
Here’s a short video by Southern Living in YouTube on exactly what do to if you’ve sliced into an undercooked turkey.
We hope that you find this guide to recooking undercooked turkey to be a helpful resource for understanding just how to handle your uncooked turkey. Remember to follow tips for checking your turkey to avoid undercooked issues.
We invite you to take a look at the following question and answer section to see if the information therein may be of value to you.
Can We Just Rely on the Pop-Up Timer?
While the pop-up timer can be useful, they are often very inaccurate. The timers sometimes take far too long to pop which can make your turkey very dry. There are also times that they malfunction or pop far too early.
Where Is the Best Place to Check the Temperature?
We recommend checking the temperature in the meatiest (thickest) place. The best place to get a good read on the internal temperature is the thickest part of the thigh meat. This will be the most accurate measure.
What Happens if You Eat Pink Turkey?
Keep in mind that the coloring of the meat itself is not an accurate indicator of whether the turkey is done. The turkey meat may be slightly pink and yet the turkey is fully-cooked. It’s best to rely on the internal temperature rather than the appearance.
However, if you eat undercooked turkey you could find yourself facing food poisoning, with symptoms like diarrhea, vomiting, and abdominal cramps.