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How Pop-Up Turkey Timers Work

By: Marshall Brain  | 

A Funky Thermometer

inner workings of turkey pop up timer
On the left is a pop-up timer before cooking, and on the right is the same timer after it has popped up. HowStuffWorks

If your turkey has a pre-inserted pop-up timer — most turkeys you buy from the grocery store do — you don't have to worry about using a separate meat thermometer. When the turkey's timer pops up, it's signaling to you the bird is done. Here's how it works:

A pop-up timer found in a turkey or chicken normally has four parts (see image above):

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  • A: The stick that pops up (typically red)
  • B: The outer case (typically white or light blue)
  • C: A spring
  • D: Piece of soft metal similar to solder

The soft metal (D in the image) is solid at room temperature but turns to a liquid (melts) at about 165 degrees Fahrenheit (73 degrees Celsius). When the metal melts, it releases the red stick (A) and the spring (C) pops up the stick so you know the turkey is done.

Turkey is done when it reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit (73 degrees Celsius). If your turkey didn't include a pop-up timer, you can use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature for doneness. Simply insert the thermometer into the innermost part of the turkey's thigh and wing, and the thickest part of the breast, being sure not to hit bone. If it registers 165 degrees Fahrenheit, it's done.

One little-known fact is that these timers are reusable. If you dip the tip in hot water it will re-melt the metal and you can push the pop-up piece back into place. Then let it cool, and the pop-up piece will be back in its original position — ready to use again.

Pop-up Timer FAQ

How Does a Pop-up Timer Work?
Inside a standard pop-up turkey timer, there's a red plastic indicator stick housed in a plastic casing. The soft metal in the tip is solid at room temperature but warms as the turkey cooks and eventually melts at around 165 degrees F (73 degrees C). The red stick is released from the now liquid metal, and the spring makes it pop up.
Are Pop-up Timers Accurate?
Pop-up timers aren't the most accurate. You may want to use a regular meat thermometer to double-check the doneness of your turkey.
Are Pop-up Timers Reliable?
No, pop-up timers aren't known for their reliability. They occasionally may pop before the bird has reached a temperature of 165 degrees F, resulting in an undercooked bird that can make your guests sick. A regular meat thermometer can help you to check the doneness of your turkey.
What Happens If the Turkey Thermometer Doesn't Pop?
If the turkey thermometer hasn't popped, your turkey may not have cooked thoroughly yet. If you're worried about the thermometer not working correctly, you can always double-check the temperature of your turkey with a regular meat thermometer. You also can pierce the turkey and look at the juices coming out. Clear juices are good, while reddish-pink juices typically mean that the turkey needs to be cooked longer.
Do Butterball Turkeys Come With a Pop-up Timer?
Butterball turkeys don't come with a pop-up timer. Instead the company recommends using a meat thermometer as the best way to tell if a turkey is cooked properly.

Originally Published: Nov 15, 2017

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Sources

  • Krulwich, Robert. "First Thanksgiving Dinner: No Turkeys. No Ladies. No Pies." NPR. Nov. 23, 2011 (Nov. 10, 2020) https://www.npr.org/sections/krulwich/2010/11/22/131516586/who-brought-the-turkey-the-truth-about-the-first-thanksgiving