According to the National Turkey Federation website, 88% of American’s eat turkey on Thanksgiving. It is estimated that American’s consumed 46 million turkeys last Thanksgiving. In fact, Benjamin Franklin wrote to his daughter that he preferred the turkey over the eagle for the Official National Bird. Hmmm… Maybe Virginia Tech is on to something.
There is A LOT of information on the internet about cooking your meal on Thanksgiving Day. Some good websites include www.foodsafety.org, the USDA, www.eatturkey.com, www.butterball.com, the Honeysuckle White Company, and the Food Network. Be careful if you just Google “Turkey”, unless of course you are interested in a trip to Istanbul. You can also search the twitter for #turkey, #turkeytweet, #Thanksgiving, #trkytips, or #turkeychat. I think you could read about Thanksgiving food safety and holiday meal preparation on the internet from now until… Valentine’s Day… really. There is no way I could cover it all in one post, so I’m trying to hit the high points and give you lots of resources if you have more questions.
So, you are planning to cook a huge meal for friends and family this Thursday? Hopefully you’ve already cleaned out your fridge and bought all your ingredients.
You want to make sure that your family is healthy for the long holiday weekend. You don’t want food poisoning during your big shopping trip on Friday. A couple of months ago, I wrote a Food Safety Post and talked about the 4 simple steps for food preparation and storage. Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill. Be sure to keep those in mind all day.
First, wash your hands with soap and warm water before you get started. Make all your helpers wash their hands. (On a side note, if anyone has the sniffles, send them to watch football. Letting them help you cook is an ideal way to spread their germs to everyone else.) Be sure to wash your hands after you’ve handled any raw meat or eggs.
Use a soap and warm water to wash down all the counter tops and cutting boards. Be sure to wash all your utensils with soap and warm water after you’ve used them. If there are lots of helpers in the kitchen, be sure to wash utensils that have been used on raw meat or eggs right away. You don’t want anyone to accidently reuse them on something that’s already been cooked.
Thawing. The best way to thaw a turkey is in the fridge, but remember it will take about 24 hours per 4-5 pounds of turkey to thaw in the fridge. That means a 16 to 20 pound bird will take 4 or 5 days. Here is a link to estimated thawing times. If you really need to thaw you turkey in a few hours, you can use cold water. You will still need about 30 minutes per pound and it is suggested that you place the turkey in a plastic bag and change out the water every 30 minutes. When I was a kid, my mom and dad had a microwave that was big enough to thaw a turkey, but I haven’t seen one that large in a long time. Still, if you really want to and it will fit, you can use a microwave to thaw your turkey… chuckle.
Keep all raw meat in the fridge until you are ready to cook it. It should be in something to catch any juices and separated from other foods.
Marinating. Some people like to marinate or inject their turkey. You should let it set for a little while after you marinate it, before you cook it. Let it set in the fridge. You want to keep it cold. I found a video from USDA food safety about brining (marinating) a turkey for Thanksgiving.
You can put your turkey directly into the roasting pan to get it ready to cook, usually on a small rack. Remember, everything in the roasting pan will be roasted, so it will be safe when it comes out of the oven.
Stuffing. I am not a fan of stuffing in general (don’t tell my dad). Most food safety experts suggest that you cook your stuffing separate from your turkey. But, if you really want to stuff the bird, you need to stuff it immediately before you cook it and check that the middle of the stuffing reaches 165°F before you take it out of the oven. The uncooked juices from the Turkey will mix into the stuffing and you want to make sure that everything gets hot enough to kill any bacteria. USDA also offers a whole fact sheet on stuffing.
Roasting. The traditional method for cooking a turkey is roasting it in the oven. The USDA has also provided a fact sheet for safely preparing your turkey called … wait for it… Let’s Talk Turkey. They are so funny at that government agency. Basically, make sure the oven it set above 325°F, allow enough time for cooking based on the size of your turkey and your own oven. The table below is from a turkey roasting page on the www.eatturkey.com website and gives time estimations for cooking a thawed turkey.
|Weight||Unstuffed Turkey||Stuffed Turkey|
8 to 12 pounds
2 3/4 to 3 hours
3 to 3 1/2 hours
12 to 14 pounds
3 to 3 3/4 hours
3 1/2 to 4 hours
14 to 18 pounds
3 3/4 to 4 1/4 hours
4 to 4 1/4 hours
18 to 20 pounds
4 1/4 to 4 1/2 hours
4 1/4 to 4 3/4 hours
20 to 24 pounds
4 1/2 to 5 hours
4 3/4 to 5 1/4 hours
24 to 30 pounds
5 to 5 1/4 hours
5 1/4 to 6 1/4 hours
You can cook a frozen turkey in the oven, but it will take at least 50% longer.
Most importantly, USE A MEAT THERMOMETER to make sure the thickest part of breast has reached 165°F! I know that most turkeys today come with a pop-up thermometer to let you know when it’s done. Those were developed in the 60’s. Use a thermometer. I know there are lots of questions about thermometers; the Eat Turkey website has also provided a thermometer guideline page.
Frying. I wish I knew how many people deep fry their turkeys now. I’ve tried it (eaten it, not actually fried it), and it was quite tasty (then again, it was made by my cousin Pauline, and everything she makes is tasty). Anyway, lots of people like fried turkey, including William Shatner, of Star Trek fame. I would definitely recommend watching his video about turkey frying safety. The New York Daily News wrote an article about Shatner’s turkey frying video, and included the following tips concerning safety when deep frying a turkey:
1. Avoid spillover: Don’t overfill the pot (with oil).
2. Turn off flame when lowering the turkey into the oil.
3. Fry outside, away from the house.
4. Thaw the turkey before frying.
5. Keep a grease-fire approved fire extinguisher nearby.
Even when you are frying your turkey. USE A MEAT THERMOMETER! Make sure the breast reaches 165°F. Never fry a stuffed turkey. Be safe and you will live long and prosper.
The leftovers. Just like it takes a long time to cook a turkey, it takes a long time to chill turkey leftovers. Cut up the leftover turkey and place it in shallow containers in the fridge. That will allow the turkey to chill faster and keep it out of the Danger Zone. You want to get it in the fridge within 2 hours of your meal.
What about ham? I really think ham is neglected on Thanksgiving. Our family usually has a choice of turkey or ham. The USDA has a nice fact sheet about hams. Most people buy smoked, cooked hams, so essentially all you are doing is reheating it for your meal. Cooked hams should be heated to 140°F, warm enough to get it out of the Danger Zone. The package will say whether or not it’s cooked. Some hams are smoked and uncooked, labeled ‘cook-before-eating’ and some people choose to buy fresh, uncooked hams. For those, you want to heat it to an internal temperature of 145°F and allow it to rest for 3 minutes. Just like turkey, you want to cut up your leftovers and get them in the fridge in shallow containers within 2 hours.
Everything else. In my last post, I talked about keeping foods separate by getting different colored cutting boards for raw meat and ‘ready-to-eat’ food that won’t be cooked (fresh fruit and vegetables). Make sure everyone in the kitchen knows which cutting boards are for what. If you have a large kitchen, it might even be good to prepare raw food in one area and ready-to-eat food in another.
I also worry about gravies on Thanksgiving. It should be treated like a meat product. Make sure it gets hot (165°F) before it’s served and get it in the fridge within two hours of the meal.
Don’t forget, you should throw out all your Thanksgiving leftovers on Sunday night.
I hope everyone has a safe and Happy Thanksgiving!
Please feel free to comment on my blog or the Mom at the Meat Counter Facebook Page if you have any questions or comments. I will keep an eye on it all weekend.
Remember the Food Safety Hotline will be staffed from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Eastern Time on Thanksgiving Day. Call them toll-free at 1-888-674-6854. Or check out their Ask Karen page or app.