Ask Liz: Talkin’ Turkey

Here's a list of your top Thanksgiving questions, with answers provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture:

Question: Is it better to cook a fresh or a frozen turkey for Thanksgiving? How far in advance can you buy a fresh turkey?

Answer: Buy 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 good as a fresh bird. 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 Thanksgiving dinner; a ten-pound bird will take a minimum of two to three days to thaw in the fridge. If you do prefer a fresh bird, wait until the Tuesday before Thanksgiving to buy it. By the way, some grocery stores do let you reserve a fresh turkey ahead of time.

Question: Is it safe to cook stuffing inside your turkey in the oven?

Answer: The USDA recommends that you cook the stuffing outside the bird in a separate dish in the oven. 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.

Question: Is pink turkey meat is safe to eat?

Answer: 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. The meat of smoked turkey is always pink, so you shouldn’t be alarmed in this case.

Question:  How long does it take a frozen turkey to defrost?

Answer: The safest way to defrost a turkey is in the fridge. It takes at least 24 hours of defrosting time in the refrigerator for every five pounds of turkey. That means a 12-to-16 pound turkey needs three to four 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. Change the water every 30 minutes to keep it cold. This method takes about 30 minutes per pound of turkey. That means a 12-to-16 pound bird will take about six to eight hours to defrost.

Question: How long should you cook your thawed turkey -- or fresh bird -- in the oven?

Answer: The USDA recommends setting your oven temperature to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, roast it anywhere from one and a half to five 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.

For more tips and advice, visit the USDA's website.

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