Let’s talk turkey

By Tanya Davis | Published Thursday, November 18, 2010

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Note to all Wise County residents: Did you realize that Thanksgiving is just around the corner? It’s time to give thanks and feast on turkey with family and friends. Texas AgriLife Extension, Wise County wants to make sure that the turkey you serve produces only compliments, not complaints, by following four simple steps to food safety: clean, separate, cook and chill.

Before you begin working with poultry or any other potentially hazardous food item, a primary rule of food safety is to keep everything clean by washing your hands with warm/hot soapy water before preparing food and after your hands have come in contact with raw turkey.

Store your turkey in the freezer or the refrigerator. Never store the turkey on the counter top or any other place where the temperature reaches above 40 degrees F.

The safest place to thaw a turkey is in the refrigerator. Depending upon the size of your turkey, it may take up to 2-5 days to thaw. Place your turkey on a tray in the lowest spot in the refrigerator to prevent its juices from dripping onto other foods.

As a rule of thumb, it takes 24 hours to thaw five pounds of turkey in the refrigerator. If the turkey is thawed in the microwave, it should be cooked immediately because areas of the turkey may become warm and begin to cook. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for thawing.

A turkey that is 8-12 pounds will take approximately 3 hours to cook; 12-14 pounds will take 3 to 3.75 hours; 14-18 pounds will take 3.75 to 4.25 hours; 18-20 pounds will take 4.25 to 4.5 hours; and 20-24 pounds will take 4.5 to 5 hours to cook.

To safely cook the thawed turkey, tuck the wing tips under the shoulders and place in a roasting pan with a 1/2 cup water. For safety, dressing should be cooked separate from the turkey. A tent of foil can be loosely laid over the turkey for the first 1 to 1.5 hours and removed for browning. Place the turkey in an oven set no lower than 325 degrees F.

Turkey meat will be safely cooked when the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F; however, the meat may still be slightly pink. Some people prefer cooking turkey to a higher temperature (whole turkey to 180 degrees F in the innermost part of the thigh; turkey breasts to 170 degrees F in the thickest part).

For quality, let the turkey stand for 20 minutes before carving to allow its juices to redistribute throughout the meat.

If you are stumped on the best way to thaw, prepare or cook a turkey, or are concerned about food-safety, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline toll free at 1-888-MPHotline or send an e-mail to mphotline.fsis@usda.gov web page link for hotline.

The hotline will be staffed with food safety specialists on Thanksgiving Day from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Central Time to answer your turkey questions.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

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