NDSU Extension - Burleigh County


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Should I stuff or not stuff the turkey? Thaw in the refrigerator? Buy a frozen or fresh turkey? – So many questions and so much to think about.  During the coming holidays, thoughts turn to family, food, and finding enough time to fit everything in!  Food safety may take a back seat as we take short cuts, prepare foods ahead, cook late into the night, and host numerous holiday feasts. 


Right now, you will find the best prices and the largest variety of turkey products to choose from for your holiday meals.  Do keep in mind that buying an extra turkey when the prices are so good will be a wonderful way to save money for a future meal, or several meals, as the turkey is a great “planned-over” protein food and can be used in many different menu plans. 


The best way to thaw a frozen turkey is in the refrigerator.  You will need to allow about 24 hours of refrigerator time for each 4-5 pounds of turkey.  Therefore, a 12 – 16-pound turkey will take three or four days in the refrigerator.  A refrigerator thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator for one to two days before cooking. 


For optimum safety, stuffing a turkey is not recommended.  For more even cooking, it is recommended to cook your stuffing outside the bird in a casserole dish.  Both the turkey and the stuffing needs to reach a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees and both should be checked with a food thermometer, even if the turkey comes with a pop-up temperature indicator.  Check the internal temperature of the turkey in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast.  If you have a 12 – 16-pound unstuffed turkey roasting at 325 degrees, plan on 3 – 3 ¾ hours of roasting time.  Allow the turkey to stand, covered, for twenty minutes before carving. 

If you are in need of an instant-read food thermometer to use in cooking your turkey, please contact the Burleigh County NDSU Extension office and you may obtain one by simply calling 221-6865 and stopping at the office, 3715 East Bismarck Expressway.   We know that “It’s safe to bite when the temperature is right!”.  To check the accuracy of the food thermometer you use to see if it is reading correctly, check the temperature in either ice water (32 degrees) or in boiling water (212 degrees).  


Please be aware that the longest perishable food should sit out at room temperature is two hours.  Be sure to divide cooked foods into shallow containers to store in the refrigerator or freezer until serving again.  When serving foods, hold hot foods at 140 degrees or warmer.  You can use chafing dishes, slow cookers and warming trays for a buffet table.  Cold foods should be held at 40 degrees or colder.  Keep foods cold by nesting dishes in bowls of ice or use small serving trays and replace them as they need to be refilled. 


Have a blessed Thanksgiving making wonderful memories with your family and friends.  We are thankful for this bounty of food we have available to us and all the health benefits. 


For more information, contact:

Alice Westby, Family and Community Wellness Agent

Burleigh County Extension (701) 221-6865

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