It's time to talk turkey

November 15, 2011|Lynn Little

As Thanksgiving approaches, plans for preparing a traditional Thanksgiving dinner brings on a number of questions. What kind of turkey should I buy? Should I buy a frozen or fresh turkey? How do I store the turkey?  

So, let's tackle some of the questions on preparing the centerpiece of your Thanksgiving meal: the turkey.

When choosing a whole turkey, plan on 1 pound per person; if choosing a turkey breast with a bone, plan on 3/4 pound per person; if choosing a boneless turkey breast, plan on 1/2 pound per person.

Fresh and frozen turkeys are readily available, but if a fresh turkey is preferred, you might have to order it in advance. Plan to pick up a fresh turkey 1 to 2 days before you are planning to cook it, as the recommended refrigerator storage time is 1 to 2 days. If you are purchasing a frozen turkey examine it carefully.  If it has soft spots or appears partially thawed, find another.

The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) recommends thawing frozen turkeys in the refrigerator, at 40 degrees, in the original wrapper or packaging for approximately 24 hours per 5 pounds of turkey.

 Using this guideline, a 10- to 12-pound turkey will take about 2 days to thaw; a 12- to 16-pound turkey 2 to 3 days; and a 16- to 20-pound turkey 3 to 4 days. Once thawed, it's important to cook the turkey within 1 to 2 days. Another option, if time is short, is to thaw a turkey immersed in cold water, as long as the water is changed every 30 minutes. FSIS guidelines recommend 30 minutes thawing time in cold water for every pound of turkey — for instance, 4 to 6 hours for an 8- to 12-pound turkey.

A turkey, as well as other meat and poultry products, should not be thawed at room temperature on the kitchen counter, in the basement, garage or on the back porch.

To roast the turkey, set the oven at 325 degrees and allow 20 minutes per pound. Add 45 minutes if you have stuffed your turkey. Once your turkey has reached 165 degrees at an internal temperature, remove from the oven and add 20 minutes standing time to allow the juices to set before removing the stuffing and carving the bird. Be sure to keep the turkey covered during standing time as well as during holding time before serving.  

A food thermometer should be used to ensure a safe, recommended, minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees has been reached to destroy bacteria and prevent foodborne illness. Insert the thermometer probe into the innermost part of the thigh and wing as well as the thickest part of the breast, being careful not to touch bone.   

If your turkey has a "pop-up" temperature indicator, it is recommended that you also check the internal temperature of your turkey in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast with a food thermometer.  

You can find more information about preparing your Thanksgiving turkey by visiting:  

You can also call the USDA's Meat and Poultry Hotline (1-888-674-6854) if you have questions about preparing your Thanksgiving turkey.      

Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Extension in Washington County.

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