NDSU Extension Service - Ramsey County


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Time to Talk Turkey

Time to Talk Turkey


Ninety-one percent of Americans surveyed by the National Turkey Federation eat turkey at Thanksgiving. The average weight of turkeys purchased for Thanksgiving is 15 pounds which translates into about 675 million pounds of turkey consumed in the United States on Thanksgiving Day.

Who first domesticated the turkey? There is archeological evidence that turkeys were at least confined, if not domesticated, by the Southwest Indians as long as 2,000 years ago. Some scientists believe the Aztecs were the first to domesticate the turkey.

Christopher Columbus and later Hernando Cortez both acquired a taste for turkey in the Western Hemisphere and both took some back to Europe. By 1530, turkeys were being raised domestically in Italy, France, and England. When the Pilgrims and other early settlers arrived on American shores, they already were familiar with eating turkey.

Whether purchasing a fresh or frozen turkey, allow a minimum of 1 pound of turkey per person. For more leftovers, allow a pound and half per person.            There are three ways to thaw your turkey safely — in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave oven.  In the frig, a 12-16 pound frozen turkey will take 3-4 days to thaw and a 20-24 pound turkey can take up to 5 days.  Keep the turkey in its original wrapper.   Place it on a tray or in a pan to catch any juices that may leak. A thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days. If necessary, a turkey that has been properly thawed in the refrigerator may be refrozen.
In cold water, first wrap your turkey securely, making sure the water is not able to leak through the wrapping. Submerge your wrapped turkey in cold tap water. Change the water every 30 minutes. A 12-16 pound turkey will need 6-8 hours of thawing time.  Cook the turkey immediately after it is thawed. Do not refreeze.
In the microwave, check your owner’s manual for interior dimensions (or grab a ruler!) to determine what size of turkey will fit in the microwave and also allow the turntable to easily move.  Remove all wrapping and place a microwave safe dish underneath to catch any juice. If your microwave offers a defrost setting, using it will help prevent dry-out.   After thawing, cook the turkey immediately. Do not refreeze or refrigerate – move it directly from microwave to the oven.

Now that your turkey is ready to roast, set your oven temperature no lower than 325 degrees for food safety’s sake.  Also for optimum safety, stuffing a turkey is not recommended. For more even cooking, it is recommended stuffing is cooked outside the bird in a separate casserole.  Use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of both the turkey and the stuffing.  Safe temperature for both the turkey and stuffing is 165 degrees.  Check the interior temperature of the turkey in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast.  If your turkey has a “pop-up” temperature indicator, it is recommended that you still check the internal temperature of the turkey with a food thermometer.

And how long, until that turkey is done?  A 12-12 pound turkey will need 3-3 & 3/4 hours of oven time.  A 20-24 pound turkey can take up to 5 hours before reaching that food safe temperature of 165 degrees.

For more even cooking, tuck the wing tips under the shoulders of the bird. Add 1/2cup of water to the bottom of the pan to keep the turkey juicy and to prevent the initial juices from sticking and burning.

Remember to always thoroughly wash hands, utensils, cutting boards, the sink and anything else that come in contact with raw turkey and its juices. Lots of hot water and soap please!

If there are any delicious leftovers, store in the frig within two hours of sitting out.  Use the leftovers – including gravy- within 3-4 days.

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