Let’s talk turkey

By Tanya Davis | Published Wednesday, November 20, 2013

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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 the turkey you serve produces only compliments, and not complaints, by encouraging you to follow four simple food safety steps: 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 refrigerator. Never store the turkey on the countertop or any other place where the temperature reaches above 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

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 8 to 12 pounds will take approximately 3 hours to cook, 12 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 325F. Turkey meat will be safely cooked when the internal temperature reaches 165F. However, the meat may still be slightly pink.

Some people prefer cooking turkey to a higher temperature (whole turkey to 180F in the innermost part of the thigh; turkey breasts to 170F 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 are concerned about food safety, call the U.S. Department of Agriculture Meat and Poultry hotline toll-free at 1-888-674-6854 or email 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 Time to answer your turkey questions.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Tanya Davis is a Wise County Extension agent.

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