Let’s start with thawing the turkey. There are three ways to safely thaw a frozen turkey in the refrigerator, in cold water that is changed every 30 minutes, or in a microwave oven. Do not thaw a turkey at room temperature. Make sure the turkey is completely thawed before cooking.
Thawing a turkey in the refrigerator takes the longest time, but it is the easiest and safest way. Put the frozen turkey, still in its original packaging, on a deep tray on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. This will prevent the juices from dripping onto other foods. This method requires planning ahead as it will take 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds. A 20-pound turkey will take between 4 and 5 days to completely thaw. It is safe to keep the thawed bird in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days before cooking.
Thawing a turkey in cold water takes a great deal of time and attention as well as a deep kitchen sink. Put the frozen turkey in its original packaging in the clean sink. Cover the turkey completely with cold water. It will take about 30 minutes per pound to completely thaw the turkey. A 20-pound bird will take 10 hours to thaw with this method. The water must be changed every 30 minutes to be sure it is cold. If the packaging is torn, put the turkey in a leak-proof plastic bag, close completely and then place in water. Cook the turkey immediately after it is thawed.
To thaw a turkey in the microwave, check your owner’s manual to be sure that your turkey is not too big for the size of your microwave oven. Also, check the minutes per pound and the power level to use for thawing as well as cooking. Turkeys thawed in a microwave must be cooked immediately after thawing.
After thawing the turkey it is time to prepare it for cooking. First remove the original packaging; then remove the giblet packet from the body or neck cavity. If you are stuffing the turkey, wait until immediately before cooking to actually stuff. Place the legs in a tucked position. Brush the skin of the turkey with oil to prevent drying.
It is important at this point to wash your hands, utensils, sink, and everything that has been in contact with the raw turkey. After washing, sanitize the counter, sinks, and any containers or trays that have been used with a solution of 1 tablespoon unscented chlorine bleach to 1 gallon water. Immerse the washed items in this solution, remove, and let air dry. If you cannot immerse the item, such as the countertop, saturate the surface with the sanitizing solution and let air-dry.
It is best not to rinse the turkey before cooking because the rinse water would contaminate the sink and, if water is splashed, the counter and other surfaces around the sink. Cooking the turkey to a safe temperature—165 °F or hotter —kills bacteria on the surface of the turkey.
Give serious consideration to whether you want to actually stuff the turkey or bake a dish of stuffing on the side. Cooking a home-stuffed turkey can be riskier than cooking one that is not stuffed. If the stuffing is not thoroughly cooked, foodborne illness could occur. To stuff and cook a turkey safely, you must:
• Prepare the stuffing safely. Moist and dry ingredients can be prepared separately ahead of time. Store moist ingredients (butter/margarine, cooked celery and onions, broth, etc.) in the refrigerator. Both moist and dry ingredients should be combined immediately before the bird is stuffed, never in advance, even if refrigerated. Use only cooked ingredients, such as sautéed vegetables, cooked meats and seafood (oysters). If eggs are used, be sure that they are pasteurized liquid eggs and not raw shell eggs. Moist stuffing is better than dry stuffing as heat destroys bacteria more rapidly in a moist environment.
• Stuff the Bird Properly. Loosely stuff both the neck and body cavities. Use about three-quarters cup of stuffing per pound of turkey. For example, no more than 15 cups of stuffing should be used in a 20-pound bird.
• Cook at the Proper Temperature. Put the stuffed turkey immediately in a preheated oven set no lower than 325°F. Cooking overnight at a low setting (200 to 250 °F) is unsafe. Bacteria can easily grow under these conditions.
• Use a Food Thermometer. Always check the stuffing temperature to make sure it is done. Even if the turkey has reached 165 °F in the innermost part of the thigh, the stuffing might not have reached 165 °F in the center. It is very important that all parts of the stuffing are cooked to 165 °F for safety.
Pre-stuffed whole poultry is highly perishable and should only be purchased if it has a USDA or state mark of inspection on the package. This means the turkey has been processed under controlled conditions. Never thaw a pre-stuffed frozen bird before cooking. Always cook from the frozen state. Follow the package directions to ensure a safely cooked product.
It is important to remember that what ever cooking method you choose you should never brown or partially cook a turkey to finish cooking later. It is only sfe to partially cook or microwave a turkey if it is immediately transferred to a hot grill, deep fryer, or oven to finish cooking.
It is not necessary to baste a turkey. Pouring juices over a turkey’s surface while it cooks will not make the meat juicier. The liquid only penetrates about 1/8-1/4 inch beneath the skin and most of the juice will run off into the pan. Opening the oven door to baste a turkey can cool the oven and will increase cooking time.
Within two hours after cooking, remove stuffing from turkey and carve the meat off the bones. Put leftovers in shallow containers, no more than 2 inches deep, and refrigerate or freeze. It is best to use refrigerated leftovers within three or four days, or freeze. To freeze, wrap in freezer paper or heavy-duty foil, or put in freezer bags or freezer containers. For best quality, use frozen leftovers within three to four months.
I hope these tips help you have a safe Thanksgiving. Best wishes for happy times with friends and family. The recipes included with this column are a few of my favorites.
Information for this column was provided by Bulletin HGIC 3560- How to Cook a Turkey, produced by Clemson Cooperative Extension.
Educational Programs of the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service are serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability, or national origin.
Classic Green Bean Casserole
1 (10.75-oz.) can condensed cream of mushroom soup
1⁄2 cup milk
1 teaspoon soy sauce
dash of ground black pepper
4 cups cooked cut green beans
1 1/3 cups French fried onions
Stir the soup, milk, soy sauce, pepper, green beans and 2/3 cup of the
French fried onions together and place in a 1 1⁄2 quart baking dish. Bake at 350°F for 25 minutes or until hot and bubbling. Top with remaining French fried onions and bake for another 5 minutes or until the onions are golden brown.
Sweet Potato Soufflé
4 cups sweet potatoes, cubed
1⁄2 cup white sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter, softened
1⁄2 cup milk
1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1⁄2 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup all purpose flour
3 tablespoons butter, softened
1⁄2 cup chopped pecans
Preheat oven to 325°F. Put sweet potatoes in a medium saucepan and cover with water. Cook until tender, then drain and mash. In a large mixing bowl, combine sweet potatoes, white sugar, eggs, salt, butter, milk, and vanilla. Mix until smooth and transfer to a 9” x 13” baking dish.
In a medium bowl, mix the brown sugar and flour. Cut in the butter until the mixture is coarse. Stir in the pecans. Sprinkle this mixture over the sweet potato mixture. Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until the topping is lightly browned.
Thanksgiving Corn Pudding
1 (15-oz.) can whole kernel corn
1 cup milk
2 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1⁄4 cup white sugar
1⁄2 cup butter
1⁄2 cup white sugar
1⁄2 cup water
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
Preheat oven to 350°F. In a mixing bowl, whisk together milk, eggs, flour, baking powder, and sugar. Stir in corn and pour into a 9” x 13” dish. Bake for about 40 minutes. Combine topping ingredients in a small saucepan. Cook until clear. Once corn mixture has baked, remove from the oven, pour the topping over it, and serve.