Skip to Content

Brown Spots on Turkey – What is It?

Turkey is such special meat that Benjamin Franklin proposed that the wild turkey be America’s national bird.

Many families on both sides of the Pond serve turkey during special holidays like Christmas when many people are gathered together.

As you are carving the turkey for your hungry guests, you notice brown spots in the meat. Keep on carving.

The turkey is safe to eat.

Brown Spots on Turkey

Brown or black spots on turkeys are blood spots or some leftover pigment from black feathers. They are harmless and do not indicate that the turkey is bad. Signs of a spoiled turkey include a rancid smell or the meat feeling slimy. Turkeys can also change color when they go off. Turkey meat can go moldy, but the mold is usually blue, white or green and not brown.

Blood Spots and Bruises in Turkeys

The skin and meat of turkeys, chickens, and other poultry can become discolored with dark spots that are often brown in color.

This color is due to blood in the skin or turkey.

The colors can be red before cooking and turn brown after cooking.

Blood spots can appear in poultry in a variety of ways.

It could be damage to the meat from being electrically stunned before slaughter, as mentioned in this 2020 study.

Blood spots are common in breast meat when the voltage is below 200 Hz.

This can also cause bruises, which are often colored purple, but older bruises can be colored brown.

Bones can also break during or after slaughter.

They can break during packaging, transporting the meat to your store, or when you prepare your turkey for cooking.

The marrow leaking from the bones can cause discoloration in the meat and in the bones.

The bones themselves can turn very dark during cooking because bone marrow gets out to stain the bones and sometimes the surrounding meat. 

The United States Department of Agriculture notes that bone marrow can seep out through bones that are not broken in young poultry since they are not as solid as the bones of adult poultry.

Most turkeys are slaughtered when they are about 18 weeks old.

The darker-colored meat is perfectly safe to eat, as long it has been fully cooked, which is when it reaches the temperature of at least 165 degrees F.

Pigment Spots in Turkey Skin

Once upon a time, most domestic turkeys had bronze feathers, while wild turkeys had black or iridescent feathers.

Turkeys got their name because most came to Europe through Turkey, not because turkeys originated in Turkey.

They originated in North and South America.

Shoppers became more attracted to turkeys with white pinfeathers, so all-white turkeys were bred and are the most common color of domestic turkeys in America.

Eventually, white domestic turkeys not only grew larger than their wild ancestors but their meat is considered more tender.

However, there is a growing demand for the meat of heritage or rare breeds, including turkeys with black feathers and brown feathers.

Although the meat is not as tender and has a gamier taste than the conventional turkey found at the supermarket, it does have less fat and a stronger flavor.

Some people also prefer the way heritage turkeys are raised as opposed to how factory turkeys are raised.

Pigment from feathers can get into a turkey’s skin, except for birds with white feathers.

Pigment from birds with brown and black feathers can leave spots.

People who used to buy white-feathered turkeys are often surprised to see dark spots on their turkey skins.

These spots are normal and the meat is safe to be cooked and eaten.

Sometimes, a tiny bit of feather may be stuck in the skin.

This can happen to turkeys from sellers of heritage breeds, since they often have the feathers removed in a different process than from turkeys that go to commercial slaughterhouses.

The feather piece will not harm you, but it may be tough. It can be removed with a knife or by squeezing.

Signs That Turkey Has Gone Bad

People not used to seeing dark spots on their turkey skins or in the meat worry that the spots are mold or other signs of spoilage.

When mold grows on a turkey, it’s usually light green, light blue, or white.

According to USA Today, another major sign of a spoiled turkey is the smell.

This can happen to both raw and cooked meat. The smell is like garbage, often like rotten eggs.

Good raw turkey has very little smell. Good turkey smells like it did when you cooked it, whether you left it plain or doused it in sauce or spices.

Experts also caution that turkey that feels slimy has gone off.

However, turkey skin is a bit slimy, anyway.

You have to be used to what turkey skin normally feels like in order to easily tell the difference.

Good turkey meat is firm, but smooth, and will leave your fingers greasy or slippery.

Frequently Asked Questions About Brown Spots on Turkey

What are These Black Spots on My Turkey?

Black spots are normal on the skins of turkeys with black feathers. Some of the pigment from the feathers stayed in the meat or skin. Sometimes, a little piece of feather may have remained on the skin or even got stuck into the meat.

How Can You Tell If Turkey Has Gone Off?

Turkey that has gone bad smells bad, often like rotten eggs, or the skin will develop slime. Raw or cooked meat can also grow mold, which is blue, white or green. The skin of a bad turkey can get lighter or darker than usual. Brown or dark spots in meat are not a sign that the turkey has spoiled. Bad turkey often has a change in taste, usually tasting more bland than usual.

Is It Safe to Eat Pink Turkey Meat?

Turkey or other poultry is safe to eat, even if there is still pink left in the meat and pink juices come out when poked. The Federal Department of Agriculture considers poultry to be done when it reaches a temperature of at least 165 degrees F. Butterball, one of the largest brands of turkey in America, recommends waiting until the turkey is at least 170 degrees F in the breast.

The Least You Need to Know

Brown spots or dark spots of different colors often appear in cooked turkey meat. It can also appear in deli turkey meat.

The spots do not mean that your turkey has gone off.

The spots are either blood spots or pigment from the feathers of a brown or black-feathered turkey.

Either way, the meat is safe to eat.