Turkey Prep Guide: Dealing with the Plastic Hock and Other Tips

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When you’re cooking a turkey for the first time, you’ll notice that there are many things you have to do to ensure it is fit for the oven. Apart from rinsing the turkey and removing the innards, you may also be wondering, “Do I take the plastic thing off the turkey?” That’s a good question!

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Today, we’ll talk about how you can keep your turkey dinner from going south by following a few rules when it comes to removing the plastic from your turkey.

Table of Contents

What Is the Plastic Thing in My Turkey?

Turkey Prep Guide: Dealing With The Plastic Hock And Other Tips

There might be two things you’re talking about.

Hock Lock

This plastic tie is often referred to as a “hock lock”. Upon opening your turkey, you’ll usually find one of these contraptions on the turkey’s legs. They are often made of thick plastic, but occasionally, they are made of metal.

Their purpose? Many people assume the hock lock is there to replace the need for trussing the turkey. However, this isn’t completely true. Actually, the plastic piece is designed to help make the packaging of the turkey much easier. The hock locks prevent the bird from flailing as it is wrapped.

Turkey Prep Guide: Dealing With The Plastic Hock And Other Tips

The red thing is the pop-up timer. This red button-looking thing helps make the cooking process easy by indicating when the turkey has reached a safe internal temperature, suggesting that it’s fully cooked and ready to be served.

The timer works through a spring-loaded mechanism, which is held in place by a material that melts at a specific temperature. Once the turkey reaches this temperature, the material melts, releasing the spring and causing the red indicator to pop up.

Pop Up Timer; The Original Pop Up Disposable Cooking Thermometer; 180 Degree (Red) Large -Pack of 10

Is It Safe to Cook Turkey with Plastic Components?

We’re a more health-conscious society, so it’s absolutely normal to ask if we can cook with plastic. Are the materials safe or will firing them up equal disaster?

The Hock Lock: Heat-Resistant but Removable

The good news is that most hock locks are made from heat-resistant plastic, designed to withstand temperatures up to 500°F (260°C). This means that, in theory, you can leave the hock lock on while roasting your turkey without worrying about it melting.

The Pop-Up Timer: Convenient but Not Foolproof

While pop-up timers are generally safe to leave in during cooking, they’re not always the most reliable indicators of doneness. The timer may pop up too early, leading to an overcooked and dry turkey, or too late, resulting in undercooked meat.

Frying a Turkey? Remove All Plastic Components

If you’re planning on deep-frying your turkey, it’s essential to remove both the hock lock and the pop-up timer before submerging the bird in hot oil. The high temperatures involved in deep-frying can cause these plastic components to melt.

Do I Take the Plastic Off the Turkey?

Can I Leave the Hock Lock on?

Yes, it is a good idea to remove the hock lock from a turkey before cooking it.

That said, the plastic hock lock is actually usually heat resistant up to 500 degrees F. This means that you can safely cook the turkey with the hock lock still attached and not have to worry about it melting. This is, of course, assuming you use traditional methods of turkey roasting.

Although hock locks are usually heat-safe up to 500 degrees F, we wouldn’t recommend keeping the hock lock on for a fried turkey. By submerging this plastic piece in hot oil, you run the chance of it melting which could lead to disaster. Instead, remove the hock lock in the manner that we detail below in order to prevent melted plastic from being a star ingredient in your next turkey dinner.

So, why should you still remove the hock lock?

First and foremost, there are usually items inside the turkey that need to be removed before cooking. Taking the hock lock off of the turkey will allow you to reach in and remove these items. Most often, the items found inside the turkey are paper or plastic packages of giblets and gravy. The giblets generally contain the heart, liver, and gizzards. The gravy packets contain, well, gravy!

Some turkeys may differ as to what they provide. Some may even come with nothing inside. Still, it is important that you check whether or not your turkey has anything hidden in the cavity, as cooking your turkey with the items still intact can ultimately ruin your special dinner.

The second reason we may need to remove plastic thing on the turkey legs off before cooking neglecting to do so can cause your turkey to cook unevenly. Though it is commonplace to tie turkey legs together before cooking, it may not actually be a required practice. In fact, many cooking experts are now recommending you leave the turkey legs untrussed.

The reason behind this is simple. By trussing your turkey’s legs, you are inhibiting the airflow when cooking which can lead to unevenly cooked turkey. This can easily evolve into the breast meat of the bird being cooked, while the thigh meat struggles to come to temperature. Thus, it can be far better to remove the hock locks and leave the bird untrussed to ensure even cooking all the way around the turkey.

Do You Take the Pin Out of the Turkey?

Like the hock lock, the turkey’s pin is also heat-safe, and in fact, is specifically designed to be used in the oven. The purpose of the pin is to let you know when the turkey is done cooking. The pin will essentially pop up, hence the name, to let you know cooking times are complete.

But should you use this pop-up timer to let you know when your turkey is done cooking? Probably not.

Although the pop-up timer can give you a general idea of when the turkey might be done, it is possible that once the timer pops up your turkey is dry, overdone, and may be burning in some places. The result is turkey that may go well on a turkey sandwich, but may not be best served as the main entrée for a holiday dinner.

Also, as may be the case with a trussed turkey, you may have a turkey breast that is cooked and thighs that are undercooked.

The best way to gauge the doneness of a turkey is to use a meat thermometer. Once the thickest part of the thigh reaches 165 degrees F, you know that the turkey is fully cooked and can be removed from the oven to rest.

How to Remove

Removing the Hock Lock

Now that you know the answer to, “Do you remove the plastic leg holder from turkey?” you may be wondering exactly how to remove the hock lock. That part is–relatively–easy.

  1. To remove the plastic clip around your turkey’s legs, take a sturdy pair of scissors and clip the pieces.
  2. You may cut the pieces near the holes where the turkey’s legs are placed as this will allow the chicken’s legs to slide out more easily.
  3. You may also simply cut the hock lock in several places until it falls off. Some even recommend you push the plastic holder back into the turkey’s cavity in order to get it to “release”.

Varying methods will depend on the type of hock lock in place. Still, a sturdy pair of scissors should be able to handle the job in most instances.

    How to Remove Pop Up Pin

    If you are frying your turkey or simply don’t want the pop-up pin to be in there, try pulling the push pin out. It isn’t necessary to keep the pin there if you don’t need it.

    When frying your turkey, you may or may not find the push pin to be helpful anyway. It’s up to you whether or not you choose to use your pop-up timer, but we still recommend using other more viable ways of determining your turkey’s doneness.

    Using a meat thermometer instead will result in more tender, juicier, and safer meat.

    Trussing and Timing Without Plastic

    So, you’ve decided to remove the hock lock and pop-up timer from your turkey before cooking. Great choice!

    But now you might be wondering, “How do I keep my turkey’s legs together and know when it’s done cooking?”

    Here are some simple alternatives that’ll have your bird looking and tasting fantastic.

    Trussing Your Turkey Like a Pro

    Trussing your turkey helps it cook more evenly and keeps the legs from spreading out, which can cause them to dry out faster than the rest of the bird.

    To truss your turkey without the hock lock, all you need is some kitchen twine.

    1. Cut a piece of twine about 3 feet long.
    2. Place your turkey breast-side up on a cutting board.
    3. Tuck the wing tips under the body of the turkey to prevent them from burning.
    4. Center the twine under the turkey’s tail.
    5. Bring the twine up and around the legs, crossing it in front of the turkey’s cavity.
    6. Wrap the twine around the legs again, pulling them snugly together.
    7. Tie the twine in a knot or bow to secure it in place.

    Voila! Your turkey is now trussed and ready for the oven. Keep in mind that while trussing can help with even cooking, leaving the legs untrussed allows for better air circulation, which can lead to crispier skin. Experiment with both methods to find your preference.

    Timing Your Turkey to Perfection

    Without the pop-up timer, you’ll need another way to know when your turkey is cooked to a safe internal temperature. The best tool for the job is a reliable meat thermometer.

    Here’s how to use it:

    1. Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the turkey’s thigh, being careful not to touch the bone (which can give you an inaccurate reading).
    2. Check the temperature about 30 minutes before the estimated cooking time is up.
    3. Your turkey is done when the thermometer reads 165°F (74°C).
    4. If the turkey hasn’t reached the proper temperature, continue cooking and checking every 15 minutes until it does.

    Pro Tips

    • For an extra-juicy bird, take your turkey out of the oven when the thigh meat reaches 160°F (71°C). Cover it loosely with foil and let it rest for 20-30 minutes before carving. The internal temperature will continue to rise to a safe 165°F (74°C) during this resting period, and the juices will redistribute throughout the meat.
    • Remember, cooking times can vary based on factors like oven temperature, turkey size, and whether or not the bird is stuffed. Always rely on your thermometer to ensure your turkey is cooked to perfection.

    Prepping the Turkey for Cooking

    Now let’s talk about getting your turkey ready for its big debut.

    Give Your Turkey a Spa Day

    Before you start seasoning, give your turkey a nice rinse inside and out with cold water. This helps remove any excess brine or debris. Pat it dry with paper towels, and don’t forget to remove the giblets and neck from the cavity. Think of it as giving your turkey a relaxing spa treatment before its big performance.

    Season Like a Pro

    When it comes to seasoning your turkey, the possibilities are endless. Whether you prefer a classic herb blend or want to spice things up with a zesty rub, the key is to be generous. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty and really massage that seasoning into every nook and cranny.

    Some tried-and-true seasonings include:

    • Butter (softened) mixed with herbs like rosemary, thyme, and sage
    • Olive oil combined with garlic, paprika, and black pepper
    • A dry rub with brown sugar, chili powder, and cumin for a smoky-sweet flavor

    Pro Tip: For an extra burst of flavor, try slipping some seasoned butter under the skin. It’ll baste the turkey as it cooks, keeping it moist and delicious.

    To Stuff or Not to Stuff?

    The age-old question: should you stuff your turkey? While some swear by the traditional method of filling the cavity with a bread-based stuffing, others prefer to cook their stuffing separately. Here are a few things to consider:

    • Stuffing the turkey can increase the cooking time, as the stuffing needs to reach a safe temperature (165°F or 74°C) before the bird is done.
    • Cooking the stuffing inside the turkey can result in a moister, more flavorful stuffing thanks to the turkey’s juices.
    • If you opt to cook your stuffing separately, you can fill the turkey cavity with aromatic ingredients like citrus fruits, onions, and fresh herbs to infuse it with extra flavor.

    Whether you choose to stuff your turkey or not, just be sure to follow proper food safety guidelines and cook everything thoroughly.

    Get Your Turkey Oven-Ready

    Before your turkey goes into the oven, there are a few final steps to ensure success:

    1. Place your turkey breast-side up on a rack in a roasting pan. This allows air to circulate around the bird for even cooking.
    2. Tuck the wing tips under the body to prevent them from burning.
    3. Brush the skin with melted butter or oil for a beautifully browned, crispy skin.
    4. If desired, loosely cover the breast with foil to prevent it from overcooking. Remove the foil during the last 30-45 minutes of cooking to allow the skin to brown.

    With your turkey prepped and ready, it’s time to let the oven work its magic.

    Cooking Times and Temperatures

    Alright, you’ve got your turkey prepped and ready to go. Now it’s time to talk about the most important part: cooking it to perfection. No one wants to serve a dry, overcooked bird or, even worse, an undercooked one that could make your guests sick!

    How Long Should You Cook Your Turkey?

    The answer to this question depends on a few factors, including the size of your turkey and whether it’s stuffed or not.

    As a general rule of thumb, the USDA recommends the following cooking times for a fresh or thawed turkey in a preheated 325°F (165°C) oven:

    Turkey WeightCooking Time
    8-12 lbs2 ¾ to 3 hours
    12-14 lbs3 to 3 ¾ hours
    14-18 lbs3 ¾ to 4 ¼ hours
    18-20 lbs4 ¼ to 4 ½ hours
    20-24 lbs4 ½ to 5 hours

    If you’re cooking a stuffed turkey, you’ll need to add an extra 15-30 minutes to these times. Keep in mind that these are just guidelines, and the actual cooking time may vary based on factors like your oven’s performance and whether or not you choose to baste your turkey.

    Checking for Doneness: The Importance of Internal Temperature

    While cooking times are helpful, the only surefire way to know if your turkey is done is by checking its internal temperature with a meat thermometer.

    The USDA recommends cooking your turkey to a minimum internal temperature of 165°F (74°C) as measured in the thickest part of the thigh, wing, and thickest part of the breast.

    Remove Plastic From Turkey? Most Times It’s Up to You…

    In most situations, whether or not you leave the hock lock and push-pin timer in place on a turkey is completely up to you.

    We recommend you remove the plastic holder on the turkey to take out the gravy packets and innards before cooking the meat. On the other hand, if you remove the innards but still choose to leave the hock lock on, you may safely do so up to 500 degrees F.

    You can cook with the pop-up timer, but remember that it isn’t always reliable.

    Remember to always remove ALL plastic parts before frying.

    Happy cooking!

    FAQs

    Do you leave turkey legs tied?

    No, you don’t have to leave the turkey legs tied. We recommend you untie them to remove the innards, and also, to ensure even cooking.

    What is the red plastic thing in my turkey?

    The red plastic in the breast of your turkey is a pop-up timer. It lets you know when the turkey is done cooking.

    Do you untie turkey legs before cooking?

    You can untie turkey legs before cooking as this will ensure even cooking.

    Whats the red pin in the turkey?

    The red pin in the turkey is the pop-up timer.

    Do you cook the plastic thing in the turkey?

    It is advised that you remove the hock lock before cooking. However, you can keep it in place if you wish. Always remove the innards from the cavity of the turkey, though. 

    What is the plastic thing in a turkey?

    You may be referring to the pop-up timer. This can be kept in place but we recommend using a meat thermometer to know for sure if your turkey is fully cooked. 

    Print

    Perfect Roast Turkey

    Enjoy your perfectly cooked, juicy roast turkey!

    • Author: Anna
    • Yield: 1 turkey 1x

    Ingredients

    Scale
    • 1 whole turkey (1214 lbs), thawed and giblets removed
    • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
    • 2 tablespoons fresh herbs (such as rosemary, thyme, and sage), minced
    • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
    • 1 teaspoon paprika
    • 1 onion, quartered
    • 1 lemon, quartered
    • Salt and black pepper, to taste

    Equipment

    • Kitchen twine

    Instructions

    1. Preheat the oven to 325°F (165°C).
    2. Remove the hock lock and pop-up timer (if present) from the turkey.
    3. Rinse the turkey inside and out with cold water, then pat it dry with paper towels.
    4. In a small bowl, mix the softened butter, minced herbs, garlic powder, paprika, salt, and pepper.
    5. Gently loosen the skin of the turkey breast and rub the butter mixture underneath and over the skin.
    6. Place the quartered onion and lemon inside the turkey cavity.
    7. Truss the turkey legs with kitchen twine, if desired.
    8. Place the turkey breast-side up on a rack in a roasting pan.
    9. Tuck the wing tips under the body of the turkey to prevent burning.
    10. Brush the skin with melted butter or oil for a crispy finish.
    11. Roast the turkey in the preheated oven for approximately 3 to 3¾ hours, or until the internal temperature of the thickest part of the thigh reaches 165°F (74°C).
    12. Baste the turkey every 30-45 minutes with its own juices for added moisture and flavor.
    13. If the skin starts to brown too quickly, loosely cover the breast with foil.
    14. Once the turkey is done, remove it from the oven and let it rest for 20-30 minutes before carving.
    15. Carve the turkey and serve hot with your favorite side dishes.

    Keywords: roasted turkey

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    By Anna

    Anna Brooks, the voice behind CooksDream.com, is a seasoned writer and editor with an insatiable love for food. While not a professional chef, her culinary adventures and unique insights have captivated readers for years. Anna believes in the transformative power of food, stating it "feeds the soul." Dive into her writings for a mix of inspiration, entertainment, and culinary wisdom. Author Pinterest Facebook Twitter Instagram YouTube Tumblr Reddit Quora

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