My Samoan attorney would like me to say the following: If you are feeding infants, people with compromised immune systems, or people who like to sue penniless food bloggers, you should stick with USDA guidelines and cook turkey breast to 165°F.
165 degrees Fahrenheit for turkey breast. That temperature is burned into my memory. Don’t to cook it past 165, because it dries out. Don’t cook it less than 165, though! Salmonella lurks around every corner. At 165°F, salmonella is dead, instantly.
But, every now and then, I would see a rogue number. 150. Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen recommended 150°F as the proper temperature for turkey breast. I shook my head, assuming it was a misprint. Then Kenji Alt figured out deep fried turkey, and I realized 150 is not a misprint. It is juicier turkey.
Why 165 versus 150? First, the safety side of the issue. The USDA chose 165°F for turkey because, held at that temperature, salmonella is killed in less than ten seconds. If the turkey gets to 165, there is no chance that salmonella will survive; ten seconds of carry over heat will take care of it. But…what they don’t mention in their consumer fact sheet is that salmonella is also killed at lower temperatures, if that temperature is held long enough. If a turkey is held at 150°F for 3.8 minutes, salmonella is dead. If I pull my turkey off the grill at 150°F, it will remain that temperature for at least ten minutes due to the thermal mass of the large turkey. I know I’m taking a slight risk here, but as long as I rest my turkey for ten minutes, it will be safe.
[UPDATE 2017-10/22] To eliminate even the small risk of the turkey not staying at 150°F for 3.8 minutes due to thermal mass, cook the turkey until the the internal temperature reaches 150°F, then set a timer for 4 minutes. When those 4 minutes are up, take the turkey off the grill.
Second – why 150 versus 165? Because meat is a combination of protein fibers and water. The moment meat gets to 120°F, or blood-red rare, the protein fibers start to tighten up, squeezing water out of the meat. At 165°F, almost all the water has been squeezed out. Fat and connective tissue can make up for this; they add their own juiciness, and break down at higher temperatures. The leaner meat is, the closer to rare you want to cook it; turkey breast is almost all protein. The problem? Turkey isn’t safe cooked medium-rare. It needs 64 minutes at 134°F to kill any potential salmonella.
(Also, medium-rare poultry, still pink in the middle, is kind of unsettling. Even if it was cooked for those 64 minutes, I’m not sure I want to eat it. Unless it is duck breast, then I’ll be first in line, with a knife and fork in hand.)
150°F, or medium-well, is the trade off. Not so well done that all the water was squeezed out; cooked long enough that salmonella is not a concern.
I have a new number. 150 is the new 165. Later this week, I put 150 to work with a new Rotisserie Turkey Breast recipe. Stay tuned!
What do you think? Questions? Other ideas? Leave them in the comments section below.
Let’s Talk Turkey – A consumer guide to safely roasting a turkey [usda.gov]
Time-Temperature Tables For Cooking Ready-To-Eat Poultry Products [PDF, usda.gov]
Kenji Alt, How to Sous Vide Steak [seriouseats.com]
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