During your last trip to the grocery store, you may have noticed that many turkeys are sold with pop-up plastic thermometers already stuck into them. What are they? Every type of meat has to be cooked to a certain internal temperature to be safe for human consumption. A pop-up thermometer stuck into the turkey is just another way of ensuring that the bird has reached that safe temperature. But are these thermometers as good as regular meat thermometers?
What Pop-Up Thermometers Do
The pop-up thermometer is typically stuck into the turkey breast. It's made of a spring configuration that springs out and pops up the thermometer once the meat has reached a specified temperature, typically 180 or 185 degrees. The USDA recommends that turkey be cooked to 165 degrees, so 180 is a bit on the high side. The temperatures are highly accurate and are intended for the cook who is unsure about when the turkey should be done or when to check the turkey's temperature.
Why They Aren't as Good as Regular Thermometers
Although the pop-up thermometer definitely has the standard meat thermometer beat in terms of convenience - after all, most of the time you don't even have to stick it into the meat yourself - it is inferior to the standard thermometer in most other ways.
To start, the pop-up thermometer is often stuck into the turkey when you buy it, leaving a little hole in the turkey breast. This can lead to a dry turkey breast. The puncture from the thermometer allows the juices of the turkey to run out during the entire cooking process. Checking the turkey at the end of cooking only allows juice to run out at one point of the cooking process, leading to juicier meat.
Additionally, the pop-up thermometer waits until the internal temperature of the turkey is 180 or 185 degrees, a full 15 to 20 degrees more than the USDA recommends for a properly-cooked bird. Allowing the meat to cook that much past the safety point can dry it out and make it tough. Although it is good to be safe, going 15 to 20 degrees past the recommended cooking point is probably overkill. With a meat thermometer, you can manually check that the meat has reached a temperature of 165 degrees. Your meat will stay moist and your family will be safe from food borne bacteria.
In many cases, the pop-up thermometers simply do not work. Many popular food magazines as well as individual cooks have noticed that even when the internal temperature exceeds 180 degrees, the thermometer never pops up. This could be due to faulty manufacturing, rough handling of the bird or the fact that the thermometer is still made of plastic, a relatively cheap and unreliable material.
If convenience is the only aspect you're worried about when it comes to cooking your next turkey, rely on the pop-up thermometer. It will probably serve your needs just fine. However, for a juicier turkey, stick to the classic meat thermometer!