Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and Liz Crenshaw and the USDA have tips for getting your kitchen (and turkey!) Thanksgiving-ready.
What’s the difference between buying your turkey fresh and buying it frozen?
The USDA recommends buying a frozen turkey if you want to get it well in advance of your meal. If you have an old bird that's been in your freezer for years, it won't taste as fresh. Use a frozen turkey within a year for best taste. If you do prefer a fresh bird, wait until the Tuesday before Thanksgiving to buy it. Check with your local grocery: some grocery stores let you reserve a fresh turkey ahead of time.
How long does it take a frozen turkey to defrost?
The safest way to defrost a turkey is in the fridge, according to the USDA. It takes approximately 24 hours of defrosting time in the refrigerator for every 4 to 5 pounds of turkey. That means a 12-to-16 pound turkey needs 3-to-4 days in the fridge to defrost. For faster defrosting, completely cover your turkey in cold water by putting it in a plastic bag or a large bowl. This method takes about 30 minutes per pound of turkey. That means a 12-to-16 pound bird will take about 6-to-8 hours to defrost. Change the water every 30 minutes to keep it cold. You can also safely cook a turkey from its frozen state. However, the cooking time will take at least 50 percent longer.
After it has thawed, how long should you cook the turkey in the oven?
The USDA recommends setting your oven temperature to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, roast it anywhere from 1 ½ to 5 hours, depending on the turkey's size. However, the most important factor in cooking a turkey is the internal temperature. Make sure that it reaches a minimum of 165-degrees. You should check the temperature with a meat thermometer in the innermost part of the thigh and wing, and the thickest part of the breast.
Should you stuff the bird or do you cook the stuffing in a separate casserole dish?
For safety reasons, the USDA recommends that you cook the stuffing outside the bird in a separate dish in the oven. The problem is that sometimes the bird is done before the stuffing reaches a safe temperature. Whether you cook stuffing in a dish or in the turkey, you MUST use a meat thermometer to check the temperature. Safely cooked stuffing must reach 165 degrees.
Is pink turkey meat is safe to eat?
The USDA assures us that the color of cooked poultry like turkey is NOT always a sure sign of its safety.The only way to know if your turkey is safe is to use a food thermometer. This way, you can make sure it has reached a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. For reference, the meat of smoked turkey is always pink, so you shouldn’t be alarmed in this case.
What's the right way to store leftovers... and how long do they last?
As you're putting away the turkey, follow these USDA rules: Cut the turkey up into small pieces and refrigerate the stuffing and turkey separately in shallow containers. Do this within two hours of cooking. Also, eat leftover turkey and stuffing within 4 days.
For more tips from the USDA, click here.