Food for Thought: Turkey

November 24, 2020

By Mary Parker Draper, Extension Agent – Smith County

What would Thanksgiving Dinner be without a turkey? There are several ways to cook a turkey: roasting, grilling, smoking, deep frying…but one thing in common with any method is food safety. With all the talk about food poisoning from improper handling of raw turkey, I checked for information on several questions for good, safe cooking techniques for preparing a turkey.

Turkeys may be purchased fresh or frozen. So how should one thaw a turkey? There are a few ways to thaw a turkey. The easiest and safest but also the most time-consuming method is in the refrigerator. You can figure on one day of thawing time for every 5 pounds of turkey, so a 15-pound turkey will take 3 days. Always make sure to put your turkey on a cookie sheet to catch any drippings.

Another way to thaw a turkey is under cold water. Just replace the water every 30 minutes. A 15-pound turkey will take about 6 hours to thaw under cold water.

One can also thaw a turkey in the microwave. Before removing the packaging, check the manufacturer’s instructions to see how long your turkey needs to thaw and make sure your turkey fits in the microwave. If you’re using this method, make sure to cook the turkey directly after thawing.

Another question is do you have to thaw a turkey? No. You can cook a turkey from a frozen state, but only in the oven. For a 15-pound turkey, it will take about 3 1/2 hours after thawing, so if you choose not to thaw your turkey, simply double that time. It will take about 7 hours to cook a turkey from a frozen state. It is not recommended to deep fry, grill, or smoke a frozen turkey.

If you are purchasing a fresh turkey, purchase it one to two days before it will be cooked, and store the fresh turkey on the refrigerator’s bottom shelf on a cookie sheet or a tray to catch any juice drippings.

Big question! Should you rinse the turkey? You should not rinse the turkey before cooking. It is more likely that you will spread germs than remove them. Paper towels should be used to gently remove pinfeathers or blood. Instead of washing the turkey, it is recommended to wash your hands after handling the raw turkey because anything you touch after can become contaminated. Be sure to also clean areas that the turkey has touched to prevent food borne illness.

Is it necessary to use a food thermometer? Yes. Using a food thermometer is the only sure way to know if your turkey reaches 165°F. Insert the food thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh. The thermometer should point towards the body and should not touch the bone. Even if your turkey has a pop-up timer, it is safer to still use a thermometer.

Should you cook stuffing outside of the bird? It is recommended to cook stuffing outside of the bird because stuffing heats slower than turkey meat. However, by taking the necessary precautions, one can safely prepare a stuffed turkey. One can still prepare ingredients ahead of time as long as you keep wet and dry ingredients separate. All wet ingredients (butter or margarine, cooked celery and onions, broth, etc.) should be chilled and then mixed with the dry ingredients just before the neck and body cavities are loosely filled. Allow 1/2 to 3/4 cup stuffing per pound of turkey. It is safer to under stuff than to overstuff the turkey because stuffing expands during cooking. A food thermometer should be used to make sure that both the center of the stuffing and the turkey reach a safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F. I prefer cooking stuffing separate and then placing the cooked dressing around the turkey after cooking.

Now your turkey is ready to cook in your favorite way. For more information on preparing a turkey, check out Have a happy and safe Thanksgiving!

Cheesy Apples
1 can apples with cinnamon
1 cup sugar
1 stick butter (melted)
3/4 cup flour
1 cup Velveeta Cheese
Mix all ingredients and pour into medium-sized baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees (covered) for 15 minutes. Uncover and bake additional 15 minutes. Submitted by Linda Johnson, Beasley’s Bend FCE Club.