Turkey Button Not Popping: Deciphering What It Means

August 24, 2023
Written by Kristy J. Norton

If the turkey button on your pop up timer isn’t popping, then either the timer is broken or the turkey hasn’t reached the programmed internal temperature. You should keep in mind that these timers are notoriously unreliable.

Many of my friends are just starting their own families so it means that they are hosting dinners and Thanksgiving for the first time. So, as the chef of the friend group, I often get hysterical calls about turkey buttons not popping despite them following all the instructions.

In this post, I will explain the reason for the turkey button not popping and what you should do instead. Let’s get started!

turkey button not popping

Why is the Turkey Button Not Popping?

There are two reasons that the button on your turkey pop up timer hasn’t popped up yet.

The most common reason is that the internal temperature of the turkey meat hasn’t reached the programmed temperature.

To understand this better, let me describe how a pop up turkey timer is designed and works.

Pop up timers consist of plastic housing inside which there is a plastic indicator stick. Inside the tip, there is a soft metal.

As the turkey meat heats up, this metal softens even further. When the turkey reaches an internal temperature of around 165 degrees to 180 degrees, the soft metal melts. When this happens, the indicator stick pops up.

So, if the turkey hasn’t reached the proper temperature, the button will not pop.

The other reason that pop up timers may not pop is if they malfunction. Unfortunately, if the pop up timer isn’t working properly, there is no way to know until it is too late.

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Does the Turkey Button Work?

I get that pop up timers are supposed to make it easier to know when your turkey is done but they are wildly inaccurate.

There have been instances when the pop up timer has expelled the indicator stick before the turkey has reached the desired temperature. When this happens, the risk of food poisoning is high as the turkey isn’t cooked all the way through.

The other issue is that turkey cooks at varying rates. Turkey breast meat, also known as white meat, cooks much faster than leg meat or dark meat. Therefore, when you stick the pop up timer in the breast meat, you have no idea what temperature the dark meat is.

Then there is the fact that the pop up timer goes off far too late. Turkey is a rather delicate meat. If you cook it for too long, you will end up with dry and unappealing meat.

And, contrary to old fashioned rules, you shouldn’t cook turkey at 165 degrees F. This is because even after you take the turkey off the heat, it continues to cook. As a result, the internal temp can go up by as much as 10 F.

It is a far better idea to take the turkey out when it hits 150 F rather than when the turkey is done completely. Don’t worry, as the meat will cook after this, you can guarantee that you are eating safe meat.

Traditional Roasted Turkey

Can You Use Pop Up Timers as Guides?

No, it isn’t a good idea to even use these indicators as guides. They are far too unreliable and there is no way of knowing whether it is actually working or not.

You are far better off sticking with a meat probe from start to end.

In fact, I would advise you to simply toss away the timer that comes along with your turkey. You really don’t need it.

How to Actually Know When Your Turkey is Done?

It is clear that using pop up timers isn’t going to help you when it comes to cooking turkey. So, what should you do instead?

Well, the only solution is to use a decent meat thermometer instead. See, a meat thermometer or turkey thermometer is a lot more reliable. It tracks the internal temperature of the breast meat and dark meat, displaying the exact temperature for you.

Due to this, it beats out the plastic pop up timer by a mile.

Now, there are a few different types of meat thermometers to choose from. Personally, I prefer a wired or wireless meat thermometer that can be kept inside the oven or grill as the turkey is cooking.

This way, you can track the cooking process carefully and know exactly when the turkey is done. It is the best way to avoid undercooked or overcooked turkey.

How to Use a Meat Thermometer?

Once your turkey is prepped, take your meat thermometer and place it into the thickest part of the turkey breast.

Make sure that the tip of the turkey thermometer is at least an inch away from any bone. If the thermometer is too close to the bone, it can produce a false reading.

Then, place the turkey in the oven or grill. Monitor the temperature – when the turkey hits 150 F, take the meat out of the oven or grill. Allow the bird to rest for about 15 to 30 minutes before cutting and serving.

Roast Turkey with Meat Thermometer

Other Alternatives to the Pop Up Thermometer

So, what if you don’t have a meat thermometer – what do you do then? Well, I don’t recommend cooking a turkey without using some kind of meat probe – it is a recipe for disaster. However, if you really can’t get your hands on a thermometer, then you can follow these guidelines:

Estimate the Cooking Time

Now, the cooking time depends on the cooking temperature. In general, you are supposed to roast turkey at a cooking temperature of 325 F. If you are smoking turkey, then stick to 225 F.

When roasting a turkey at this temperature, the turkey will cook at a rate of 15 to 20 minutes per pound.

As for the smoking turkey, the cooking rate is about 30 minutes per pound.

So, using this math you can estimate when your turkey will be done.

I would still recommend using a meat probe to check the internal temp before taking the meat out of the oven or the grill.

Cutting Into the Meat

If you follow the rate of cooking, you have a rough idea of when your turkey is going to be done.

However, you still can’t be certain that the meat is cooked all the way through. Before you turn off the heat, you should cut into the turkey. If you notice that the meat is white all the way through, then it is likely cooked.

Now, this is not my favorite method of checking whether the turkey is done. For one thing, cutting into the turkey releases moisture. So, if the bird does need to go back into the oven or grill, it may dry out.

The other issue is that this isn’t a surefire tactic to know if the turkey is cooked. Color can be misleading so it is tricky to know whether or not you have an undercooked turkey on your hands.

Wrapping It Up

If you were wondering about the turkey button not popping, you now understand what was going on. As you have learned, it is not a good idea to rely on this pop up timer. Instead, invest in a good meat thermometer and you will be rewarded with turkey that is cooked to perfection each and every time.

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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