What Is That Plastic Thing in a Turkey?

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You’re cooking a turkey this Thanksgiving, and you just noticed the one you bought from the store has a plastic thing on its legs. What is this plastic thing?

In this TheGrillingDad.com guide, you will learn:

  • What the plastic thing is in a turkey
  • Whether you need to take it off to cook the turkey
  • Turkey safety tips
  • And much more!
a raw turkey in a metal foil pan

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What is the Plastic Thing in a Turkey?

If you bought your turkey from the grocery store, you will probably open it to find a plastic band around its legs. 

Generally, this is referred to as the “hock lock” and is used to keep the turkey in form while it is being processed and packaged.

Some turkeys will have a second piece of plastic in them, known as a pop-up indicator. This indicator will “pop” when the turkey is finished. It is usually quite accurate but should always be double-checked with a real thermometer to be sure. 

But do you need to remove either of these before cooking your turkey? Read on to find out!

an uncooked turkey with hock lock on the legsbrining in a bucket in the kitchen sink.

Do You Need to Remove the Hock Lock Before Cooking a Turkey?

Usually, the hock lock (the plastic piece holding the turkey legs together) is made out of heat-resistant nylon, meaning it is safe to put in the oven for temperatures under 500°F.

This isn’t always the case, however, so check the packaging of your turkey before you decide whether or not to remove the hock lock, as some may be made of metal and are required to be removed.

Any hock lock that is made of metal must be removed before cooking. If you are unsure what your hock lock is made out of, it’s better to be safe than sorry, and you should remove it. 

A pop-up indicator is made to be oven safe, but note it can be unreliable if you are using another method to cook your turkey, such as in a smoker, and we recommend you double-check with a temperature probe. 

Additionally, any plastic parts on your turkey are only safe for an oven-baked or smoked turkey. If you are deep frying your turkey, all plastic parts must be removed before you begin. 

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12/07/2022 10:25 am GMT

Related >> Can You Cook a Partially Frozen Turkey?

Why You Should Remove All Plastic Parts In a Turkey

We recommend that you remove the hock lock when you are cooking your turkey.

This is because leaving the hock lock on can cause uneven cooking when it comes to the turkey legs, which are typically a crowd favorite. 

Not to mention that properly cleaning and stuffing your turkey can be difficult when the legs are tied together, which is why for overall use and ease of cooking, we recommend that everyone removes the plastic hock lock from their turkey.

We also don’t trust those temperature pop-up temperature indicators, but we will leave that decision to you. 

If you do decide to leave the hock lock in place, take extra caution to look inside the turkey and see if you can see the giblet wrapper before you put it in the oven or on the smoker.

If the giblets are wrapped in plastic, and you put the turkey in the oven with them inside, this may cause your turkey to be inedible if the plastic melts while it is in the oven. 

Melting plastic can release dangerous chemicals, and as difficult as it may seem to throw out a turkey you’ve worked so hard on, you must do so for the safety of your friends and family, which is why it is essential to check the turkey for the giblets bag in advance. 

seasoned turkey with all plastic removed sitting in an electric smoker

How to Remove the Plastic Thing in a Turkey

If you decide to remove the hock lock from your turkey’s legs before cooking, it can easily be done using sturdy scissors or a pair of kitchen shears. This plastic thing is hardy, so be prepared to apply a little pressure. 

Remember that for food safety, before you put the shears or scissors back in the drawer, you will need to clean them as they have come in contact with raw poultry. 

As for the temperature pop-up indicator, if your turkey is properly thawed, you should be able to pull it right out. If not, using a sharp knife to clear around the edges may help.

For those who leave the pop-up indicator and hock lock in place for cooking, you should find that when your turkey is done that both of these come right off without any difficulty. If you do run into problems, don’t be afraid to grab those scissors. 

Other Turkey Safety Tips

Because most Americans only eat turkey once or twice a year, many don’t know some of the most important safety tips that come with preparing this large of a bird. We’ve included our favorites below. 

1. Cook Your Turkey to 165°F

There is no such thing as a medium rare turkey. No matter how you plan to cook it, ensure, the breasts reach a temperature of 165°F.

2. Refrigerate After You Are Done

Once you’ve gorged yourself on turkey, it can be fun to sit around and talk to family members for hours at a table of thanksgiving food. While it may not be convenient, the turkey needs to be refrigerated within 2 hours of coming out of the oven in order to be safe to consume the next day. 

3. Only Keep Turkey in the Fridge for 3-4 Days

We know you’ve got tons of leftovers that you want to eat for weeks on end, but sadly this is not possible. For safety, the leftover turkey must be consumed within 3-4 days after you cook it. If you have lots of leftover turkey and want it to last longer, consider freezing it.

When to Remove Your Turkey From the Oven

The final verdict is this, you should remove your turkey from the oven when the temperature probe shows you that the turkey breasts are between 160°-165°F. Then, let the bird rest for 5-10 minutes to allow it to complete the cooking process. 

If you want to cook the dark meat a little longer, to 180°F, remove the turkey breasts using a carving knife and place them under tinfoil to keep them warm while you cook the rest of the bird.

Final Thoughts on What is the Plastic Thing in a Turkey

All in all, the plastic thing inside a turkey, called a hock lock, is there purely for looks. Whether you decide to leave it on while you cook the turkey or take it off is up to you, but we recommend removing it for the best results. 

Remember that all plastic pieces should be removed from a turkey before you deep fry it, and always check for a giblets bag before you begin cooking. Otherwise, you could find yourself having thanksgiving without a turkey! 

Hope Davis

Hope Davis

Born in Denver, Colorado as the oldest of 5 children, I learned at a young age that the grill was one of the best ways to prepare food for a crowd. And during the winter storm months, when the snow was likely to knock out the power to our house, the propane grill was a lifesaver! You wouldn’t believe the number of things you can cook on a grill when necessary. With parents who couldn’t tell salt from pepper unless you told them, I spent my late teen years making my own seasoning mixes and marinades to dress the meat before barbecues. It wasn’t long before I developed a secret marinade that people still beg me to make for them today! When I was 21 years old I bought my first smoker. Picked up some cedar chips for making a cedar plank salmon...and well, the rest they say is history! I’ve been grilling and smoking all kinds of creations ever since and I’m always excited to share my passion with others through my favorite medium--writing!

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