Let’s talk turkey preparation

By Tanya Davis | Published Wednesday, November 16, 2011

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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, and not complaints, by encouraging you to follow four simple steps to food safety: clean, separate, cook and chill.

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

After purchasing, take your turkey home and store it 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 two to five days to thaw in the refrigerator. Place your turkey on a tray in the refrigerator to prevent its juices from dripping on other foods.

As a rule of thumb, it takes approximately 24 hours to thaw every 5 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 instructions on the package for thawing.

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

To safely cook the thawed turkey, tuck the wing tips under the shoulders of the turkey and place in a roasting pan with 1/2 cup water. For safety, stuffing 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.

If you are stumped on the best way to thaw, prepare or cook a turkey or concerned about food safety, you can call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline toll free at 1 (888) 674-6854 or send an email to mphotline.fsis@usda.gov. The hotline will be staffed with food safety specialists on Thanksgiving Day from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Central Standard Time to answer your turkey questions.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

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