Thanksgiving 101: Turkey Tips and Tricks

There are so many different questions about how to make the best turkey, especially at this time of year. Do you get a fresh or a frozen turkey? Brine it or baste it? Stuff it or leave it unstuffed? Where do you put the meat thermometer?  I am certainly not a turkey expert, but I’ve picked up a few tips and tricks over the years, and wanted to share them with you.

Selecting a turkey:
Buying a fresh versus a frozen turkey is really a matter of personal opinion. Many people find that fresh turkeys taste better, and you don’t have to go through the hassle of thawing them. However, at this time of year you can’t beat the price of frozen turkeys. My grocery store has them on sale for $.29 a pound…that will get you a 20 pound turkey for less than $6! If you do plan on getting a fresh turkey, be sure to order one from your butcher well ahead of time.

Deciding the amount to buy:
On average, 1 1/2 pounds of turkey yields approximately 10 ounces of cooked turkey meat. When deciding how big of a turkey to buy, the general equation is to multiply the number of guests by 1.5 pounds. This will allow you enough for large servings for your very hungry guests as well as some leftovers.

Thawing the turkey:
The best way to thaw a frozen turkey is in the refrigerator. Allow at least one day of thawing for every 4 pounds of turkey. Therefore, a 20 pound turkey will take about 5 days to thaw.

Short on time? You can speed up the process by thawing your turkey by submerging it in cold water. Plug up your sink, place the turkey breast side down in its unopened wrapper, and submerge in cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes to keep the surface cold. It will take about 30 minutes per pound.

Whatever you do, never thaw a turkey at room temperature! Thawing at room temperature allows bacterial growth which can lead to food poisoning.

Stuffing the turkey:
I personally am not a big fan of stuffing my turkey, as it takes longer to cook the turkey, and therefore can dry out the turkey. If you insist on stuffing your bird, be sure to follow some basic food safety guidelines.

Prepare the stuffing and stuff your turkey just before you want to cook it. You don’t want the stuffing to sit inside a raw turkey for a long time. Be sure to use only cooked ingredients in your stuffing – like sautéed vegetables and cooked meats. You don’t want raw meat or eggs in your stuffing.

Stuff both the neck and the body cavities, but do not overpack the cavities. Allow for about 1/2 cup of stuffing per pound of turkey. After cooking your turkey, be sure that a meat thermometer inserted into the stuffing reads at least 165 degrees F, to ensure that your stuffing is cooked through.

There is no need to baste the turkey throughout the cooking process, in fact, a lot of chef’s discourage it completely. Basting the turkey really only affects the skin, and will not make the turkey juicier. Plus, opening the oven door often to baste the turkey will only lengthen the cooking time since it will cool down the oven. However, basting during the last 30 to 45 minutes of cooking time will encourage the skin to brown and keep the meat directly below the skin moist.

Using a thermometer:
A good thermometer is key to making the perfect turkey. I like to use an electric thermometer that has a probe that can be left in the oven, while the monitor can be outside the oven. This allows you to check the temperature without opening the oven, and allow you the thermometer to alarm when it reaches a certain temperature.

You can place the thermometer in two different places, either the thigh or the breast. To place it in the thigh, insert the probe into thigh muscle pointing towards the body, but not touching the bone. You can also place it in the thickest part of the breast, just about the rib bones.

Turkey is done when the meat thermometer reaches the following temperatures:

180 to 185 degrees F – in the thickest part of the thigh. The juices should be clear, not pink, when the skin is pierced.

170 to 175 degrees F – in the thickest part of the breast, just above the rib bones. 

Storing leftovers:
Within two hours after serving your turkey, be sure to remove the stuffing from the turkey and carve the rest of the meat off the bones, then store it in the refrigerator or in the freezer for up to 2 months.

Still have questions or have a turkey emergency??
Check out Butterball’s website for more tips and tricks, or call their Turkey Talk-Line – 1-800-BUTTERBALL.

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