Ask Liz: Turkey Talk

Your top Thanksgiving turkey questions answered.

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What’s the difference between buying your turkey fresh and buying it frozen?

  • Buy a frozen turkey if you want to get it well in advance of your meal. But 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, though the USDA says frozen turkeys are safe to eat years later.
  • Just make sure you start thawing that turkey in time for that Thanksgiving dinner.
  • And if you do prefer a fresh bird, buy it no more than two days before cooking.

Do you stuff the bird or do you cook the stuffing in a separate casserole dish?

  • The safest way to prepare stuffing is outside the bird in a dish in the oven. The problem is that sometimes the bird is done before the stuffing reaches a safe temperature.
  • But 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.
  • By the way, for safety's sake, the turkey itself must read 165 degrees on a thermometer placed at the innermost part of the turkey thigh.

Is pink turkey meat safe to eat?

  • 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.
  • And the meat of smoked turkey is always pink, so you shouldn’t be alarmed in this case.

How long does it take a frozen turkey to defrost?

  • It takes approximately 24 hours of defrosting time in the refrigerator for every 4-5 pounds of turkey.
  • That means a 12-to-16 pound turkey needs 3-to-4 days in the fridge to defrost. Go check your frozen bird now and see if you'll need to move it to the fridge this weekend.
  • 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.
  • And change the water every 30 minutes to keep it cold.

After your turkey is thawed, how long should you cook it in the oven?

  • Set 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.

What should consumers keep in mind when storing leftover turkey?

  • 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 four days.

One more reminder: during holiday cooking, lots of used cooking oil goes down the drain. The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission recommends this tip: Pour your grease into a can. Let it harden, and toss it in the trash... not down the drain.

The United States Department of Agriculture helped us answer all of these questions. For more information about food safety and Thanksgiving, click here.

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