NDSU Extension - Mercer County


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Turkey Time Should Inspire Memories, Not Nightmares

cooking a turkey

Submitted by Dena Kemmet, Extension Agent/Family and Consumer Sciences

Think back about all the types of turkey you have enjoyed and the many interesting situations surrounding Thanksgiving dinner through the years. If you have had the honor of cooking the bird, chances are you have made a few mistakes.

Your roasting pan definitely influences cooking time. A deep pan reduces the heat circulation, and a dark pan cooks more quickly than a shiny pan. Using a roasting bag and covering the pan with a lid will speed cooking time. You should also tuck the wings of your turkey behind the shoulders, which is called "akimbo."

Besides roasting or smoking the bird, you can grill or deep-fry a turkey. Regardless of how you decide to prepare your bird, ensure a successful and safe turkey dinner by taking some precautions. Like other high-protein foods, turkey needs to be handled safely from purchase through the time you enjoy the leftovers.

Start by buying the right-sized bird. On average, we each enjoy about 16 pounds of turkey per year. When you are planning a meal, allow at least 1 to 1.5 pounds per person for ample leftovers. The actual price you pay will vary depending on whether you purchase whole or turkey parts; frozen or fresh birds; brand names; and the value of store coupons and price specials. Also, fresh birds will be priced higher than frozen, with the price of fresh turkeys more sensitive to increases in wholesale prices.

If you purchase a frozen bird, allow about one day of thawing in the refrigerator for every 5 pounds of turkey. You can thaw the bird in water in a sink, but be sure to wash and sanitize the sink before and after thawing the bird.

For optimum safety, cook stuffing in a casserole instead of in the roasting pan. If you decide to stuff the bird, stuff it loosely right before you roast the bird and cook it to an internal temperature of 165 F.

Cook the bird to a safe temperature and measure the internal temperature with a calibrated meat thermometer. Remember that sometimes the thermometers that come with the bird pop out before the bird is fully cooked.

Roast the bird in an oven set at 325 F. On average, a 15-pound turkey will require about four hours to cook and should reach an internal temperature of at least 165 F. The recommended temperature was reduced from 180 F a few years ago after testing showed that the lower temperature was safe. Measure the internal temperature in the thickest part of the breast and the innermost part of the thigh and wing.

Do you have some leftover turkey? Chill it promptly and use it within three or four days or freeze it in recipe-sized amounts. Label the package with the package contents and date.

Use your safe and delicious leftovers in a recipe courtesy of the National Turkey Federation (http://www.eatturkey.com).

Source: Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

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