Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Be prepared for Thanksgiving with these turkey preparation tips

Posted on Nov. 5, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.

Mary Ann Lienhart-Cross

Food & Nutrition

My favorite holiday that involves food is Thanksgiving and I think it is very sad that the second most important American holiday has been often forgotten. I’ll be honest and say it’s my favorite because it has to do with food! It’s not only the food for the holiday but it’s the wonderful planned-overs after that holiday. I know people celebrate Thanksgiving numerous times during November so now is the time for your turkey information reminders.

Before you purchase your turkey it is a good idea to be sure there is ample space in your refrigerator, moving shelves if necessary. If you are planning to purchase a frozen turkey you can take advantage of special sales. When purchasing a whole turkey, purchase at least one pound of uncooked turkey per person. This ensures you will have enough for the feast and for planned-overs too! If you prefer a fresh turkey, it is convenient in that you do not have to thaw it first, but there is no quality difference between a fresh turkey or frozen. Fresh turkeys should be purchased only one to two days before the meal and kept refrigerated.

Never defrost your turkey on the counter! Thawing your turkey in the refrigerator is the safest method and results in the best finished product. Leave the bird in the original packaging and place in a shallow pan. Allow refrigerator thawing time at a rate of 4 to 5 pounds per 24 hours. To thaw a frozen turkey in cold water, keep turkey in the original packaging, place in a clean and sanitized sink or pan and submerge in cold water. Change the cold water every 30 minutes. The turkey will take about 30 minutes per pound to thaw. Cook the turkey immediately after it is thawed. Do not refreeze.

Once thawed, remove neck and giblets from the body cavities and keep bird and parts (if using) refrigerated at 40 degrees F or below until it is ready to be cooked. The single most important thing to know, no matter the cooking method, is that the turkey must be cooked to the proper internal temperature of 165 degrees as measured with a food thermometer. Insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh, not touching the bone. Check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast.

For roasting an unstuffed turkey, uncovered, in a 325 degree oven, the approximate cooking times are as follows: 8 to 12 pounds for 2 3/4 to 3 hours; 12-14 pounds for 3 to 3 3/4 hours; 14-18 pounds for 3 3/4 to 4 1/4 hours; 20-24 pounds for 4 1/2 to 5 hours. To roast a stuffed turkey, uncovered, in a 325 degree oven, the approximate cooking times are: 8 to 12 pounds for 3 to 3 1/2 hours; 12 to 14 pounds for 3 1/2 to 4 hours; 14 to 18 pounds for 4 to 4 1/4 hours; 18 to 20 pounds for 4 1/4 to 4 3/4 hours; 20 to 24 pounds for 4 3/4 to 5 1/4 hours. Take safety precautions by stuffing the bird immediately before roasting and checking that the internal temperature of the stuffing also reaches 165 degrees.

Once your turkey is cooked it is best to let it rest for 20 minutes before carving. This allows the juices to set, so the turkey will carve more easily. Any leftover turkey should not be left on the counter for more than two hours. Remove the stuffing and store all leftovers in shallow containers in the refrigerator or freezer. When reheating, be sure to heat thoroughly to 165 degrees or until hot and steaming. Gravy should reach a boil and be used within 3-4 days.

For more information visit the USDA website at “Let’s Talk Turkey.” For questions about safe handling of foods such as eggs, dairy, fresh produce and seafood, call the U.S. Food and Drug Administration hotline at 888-SAFEFOOD (723-3366) or the U.S. Department of Agriculture Meat and Poultry Hotline, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday at 888-MPHOTLINE (674-6854). You can visit our office website for turkey tips and a pumpkin pie recipe you’d never know was for diabetics and can even be made without the crust:

Mary Ann Lienhart-Cross is an Extension educator in consumer family science. Write to her at 17746 E. C.R. 34, Goshen, IN 46528; call 533-0554; fax 533-0254; or email