How to Insert a Meat Thermometer Into Turkey

Whole Turkey in the oven with temperature probes in both breasts and thigh sections

Where is the best place to check your turkey’s temperature? This is the number one question of cooks during Thanksgiving.

That and how do I get my mother-in-law out of the kitchen? Both are legitimate issues, but for today I am going to discuss where to properly place your meat thermometer in your turkey.

Cooking a turkey can be a daunting task. Most whole turkeys weigh anywhere from four to eight times the size of your average whole chicken. With such a large piece of meat with breasts that can dry out before the rest of the turkey is done, it’s no wonder that cooking a turkey is so stressful.

It doesn’t have to be.

Using a dependable meat thermometer while cooking helps ensure that you serve perfectly cooked meat every time. If you already have one, congratulations! That is half the battle in the process of cooking a delicious, juicy turkey.

If you don’t have an instant-read digital meat thermometer or oven-safe meat thermometer don’t despair, I will suggest some good ones. Now, you may be wondering how to insert a meat thermometer into a turkey?

What Is the Best Place to Take the Internal Temperature of a Turkey?

The best place to monitor the temperature of a whole turkey is actually in two spots.

The first spot is deep in the thigh where it meets the body. This is the area of the turkey that is shielded the most from the oven’s heat.

The other spot is deep in the breast of the turkey.

meat thermometer in turkey thigh picture

Demonstrating the best place to insert a thermometer into a turkey, where the thigh meets the body (Note, I cut the skin to show you the inside of the turkey so you know where to place the thermometer, don’t do this, you’ll lose moisture) One more thing, the thermometer pictured is NOT oven safe.

Finding where the turkey thigh joint meets the body

Finding where the turkey thigh joint meets the body

Feeling the joint where the thigh meets the body of the turkey

You can feel where the thigh meets the body before cooking

Demonstrating the proper place to take a turkey's temperature, where the thigh joint meets the body

Demonstrating where your thermometer will go later when cooking

Please note the pictures above. It is better to explain where to put the thermometer in a turkey before it is cooked. I cut the skin of the turkey to illustrate just exactly where you want to place your thermometer. This was just for demonstration, do not cut the skin before you cook your turkey.

Because a whole turkey is so big with different parts cooking at different temperatures I find that using a multi-probe digital meat thermometer is helpful.

Monitoring the temperature of both turkey breasts and thighs with the multi-probe Tenergy Solis Digital Meat Thermometer

Monitoring the temperature of both turkey breasts and thighs with the multi-probe Tenergy Solis Digital Meat Thermometer

Turkey thigh temperature measuring 163 degrees Fahrenheit and the turkey breast temperature measuring 147 degrees Fahrenheit on the Tenergy Solis Meat Thermometer App

Turkey Breast temperature measuring 147 degrees Fahrenheit and the turkey thigh temperature measuring 163 degrees Fahrenheit on the Tenergy Solis Meat Thermometer App

Please note the differences in temperature between the thigh section (the green probe) and the breast section (the blue probe).

This temperature discrepancy between the turkey breast and the turkey thigh is fine because a turkey thigh is actually better when cooked to a higher internal temperature of around 180°F.

A turkey thigh needs time for its tough connective tissue and collagen to break down into mouth-watering gelatin.

See How to Smoke Turkey Thighs.

By the time your thigh area reaches 180°F, your turkey breast should be fully cooked as well.

Whole Roasted Turkey

Whole Roasted Turkey

Types of Meat Thermometers and How to Use Them

A thermometer is an indispensable tool when cooking a turkey. A turkey is difficult to cook because of its size and the different characteristics of each part such as the breast and the leg and thigh pieces. Depending on what type of thermometer you buy, you will insert the probe of the device into your meat either while it is cold (oven-safe) or while it is being cooked to see how done it is (instant-read).

Oven-safe Meat Thermometer

Oven-safe thermometers are designed to be inserted into your meat before the cooking process begins. As the name suggests, they are safe to use in your oven and can also be used on the stove-top.

The old glass dial analog-type thermometers aren’t the best to use as they give you an average temperature across the length of the probe. With thermometer probes being over four inches that is a large area to cover, hence they aren’t as good as a digital oven-safe thermometer.

A digital thermometer will give you an accurate reading right at the tip of the probe, not over the expanse of inches. They are the best instrument to ensure you don’t overcook your turkey.

The best part is that you can set your temperature alarm to let you know when you’ve reached your target temperature in the meat. So, instead of worrying about the turkey constantly you can be preparing the side dishes for your meal.

How to Use:

When you’re done preparing your turkey for cooking, insert the probe end of the thermometer into your turkey into the deepest part of the thigh.  This area will take longer to cook because it is generally further from the heat than the other parts of the turkey.

It is also good to keep an eye on the temperature of the turkey breast area while it is cooking as well. A turkey breast is very large so you will want to get an accurate reading in that area.

The best way to take the temperature of turkey breast is to insert your thermometer probe as far as it will go and then retract it back through the meat.

This will give you an idea of the overall doneness of the breast area. So, just remember to take the temperature of the deepest part of the thigh and the deepest part of the turkey breast and you should be good to go.

Then, place your meat into the oven and keep an eye on the temperature gauge. When it reaches the desired temperature, take your meat out to rest for a few minutes before serving.

The Thermapen MK4 and the ThermoPro TP-19 digital meat thermometers

The Thermapen MK4 and the ThermoPro TP-19 digital meat thermometers

Instant-read Meat Thermometer

Instant read digital thermometers are great at spot-checking the temperature of a turkey. They are fast. Good instant-read thermometers will give you an accurate reading at their probe tip in 2 to 3 seconds.

The speed of these thermometers is helpful when cooking a turkey as they allow you to check the temperature fast and then continue cooking.

If you are using an analog glass dial meat thermometer to check the turkey’s temperature you would have your oven door open for a minute or more, losing 50 percent or more of the oven’s heat.

I like using my ThermoPro TP-19 meat thermometer. It’s fast, accurate, and a 1/4 of the price of the best-in-class Thermapen MK4.

How to Use:

Insert the probe of the thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh like in the examples mentioned previously. Turkey thigh meat can be cooked to a higher temperature than turkey breast meat so you are looking for a temperature of 180 degrees Fahrenheit.

Don’t worry, the thigh area has a lot of collagen that needs to break down and that starts to happen above 165 degrees Fahrenheit, which is when the turkey breast area is done. These two different temperatures are what make cooking a turkey like walking a tightrope. You don’t want to overcook the breasts while trying to bring the thighs to the right temperature.

My advice would be to keep the breast area as far from the heat source as you can while the whole bird comes to temperature. If that means putting it on the low rack of the oven to start, then, so be it. Another helpful tip is to use a shallow baking pan so that there is good air-flow underneath the turkey.

And take readings from multiple areas as well. Check both breasts and both thighs because not every oven and grill heats evenly. I’ve seen right and left thigh areas on turkeys differ by 10 degrees before.


Instant-read Meat Thermometer

How to Insert Meat Thermometer into Turkey

Although we covered this topic already, this area is for those of you who are skim readers. Poultry is one of the meats that you have to be most careful with when it comes to food safety. If you are cooking the bird whole, then it is hard to know which part you should measure the temperature from.

The correct place to stick your thermometer in is the thigh, on the inside closest to the breast. Dark meat cooks slightly slower than white meat, so you would want to measure the thickest part of the thigh, which is located on the inside, closest to the breast. Dig the probe deep but be careful not to touch bone.

If the temperature reads 165 degrees Fahrenheit, then you can be assured that your whole bird is cooked!

Minimum Recommended Temperatures

  • Poultry – 165 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Beef – 145 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Ground beef – 160 degrees  Fahrenheit
  • Pork – 145 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Fish – 145 degrees Fahrenheit

Other Uses for Your Meat Thermometer

If you purchase an instant-read meat thermometer, then you can also use it to measure the temperature of liquids, such as checking whether a bath or bottle of milk is the perfect temperature for your baby. When baking and activating yeast in warm water, you can also check that the water you are using is the ideal temperature for the yeast.

Other foods can also be checked. If you’re reheating food in your microwave, food often comes out looking piping hot, only for you to sit down and find that your mashed potato is cold and soggy in the middle. Using a thermometer can check this in seconds.


Trust us when we say that after owning a meat thermometer for just a few weeks, you’ll wonder how you ever got along without it! Simple to use and far more trustworthy than any poke test, you can enjoy perfectly cooked meat every time with the help of a meat thermometer in your kitchen.