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Turkey Anxiety!!

thanksgiving-Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay

By Pati Kenney, UCCE Master Food Preserver of El Dorado County

The information contained within is sourced from, and recommended by, the US Department of Agriculture.

It’s that time of year again when the anxiety level begins to rise. What causes this trauma? It’s the TURKEY!

Underdone birds, overdone birds imploding, and other sad moments will be a thing of the past if we just take the time to plan. Yes, planning is the key along with the knowledge presented here.

Fresh or Frozen Turkey?

There is no appreciable difference between the birds, it is just personal preference. If you choose frozen you can purchase it anytime; just make sure you have adequate storage space in your freezer to keep it frozen until it’s time to thaw it. If you choose a fresh bird, plan to purchase it only 1-2 days before cooking. We do not recommend purchasing a pre-stuffed fresh turkey!

Thawing a Frozen Turkey: Let’s say you chose to go with a frozen turkey. You get it early and it’s safely in your freezer. Plan to thaw the bird in time to get it into the oven on feast day.

Thawing in the refrigerator:

  • Place the frozen bird in the original wrapper in the refrigerator (40°F).
  • Place it on a tray or in a pan to catch any juices that leak.
  • Allow about 24 hours thawing time per 5 pounds of turkey.
  • Note: if necessary, you can refreeze a turkey defrosted in the refrigerator. 

If you forget to thaw the turkey or don’t have room in the refrigerator, don’t fret.

  • Wrap your turkey well; making sure water is not able to leak through the wrapping.
  • Submerge the turkey in cold water and change the water every 30 minutes.
  • Allow about 30 minutes defrosting time per pound of turkey.
  • Note: a turkey defrosted in water cannot be safely refrozen.
  • Cook the turkey immediately after it thaws!

Let’s continue with our planning. The day before Thanksgiving, gather all the ingredients you need to prepare your holiday meal. No last-minute run to the market to find a special spice because that will raise the stress level. Your equipment includes a roasting pan large enough to hold your turkey and a meat thermometer.

Remove the giblet package after defrosting and before stuffing!

You can prepare wet and dry stuffing ingredients ahead of time and store separately in the refrigerator.

Mix the stuffing ingredients just before placing inside the turkey or into a casserole. Note: the stuffing should be moist, not dry, since heat destroys bacteria more rapidly in a moist environment. Place stuffed turkey into oven immediately upon stuffing.

The following cooking times are for an unstuffed fresh or thawed turkey in an oven at 325°F. (Stuffed turkeys take longer to cook.)

8 to 12 pounds: 2 3/4 to 3 hours

12 to 14 pounds: 3 to 3 3/4 hours

14 to 18 pounds: 3 3/4 to 4 1/4 hours

18 to 20 pounds: 4 1/4 to 4 1/2 hours

20 to 24 pounds: 4 1/2 to 5 hours

The USDA does not recommend cooking turkey in an oven set lower than 325°F.

Question: Is it safe to roast a frozen turkey?

Yes, however the cooking time will take at least 50% longer than a fully thawed turkey.

When the temperature of the bird (as measured in the thigh) reaches 180°F, there is usually no other part of the bird lower than the safe temperature of 165°F. To be sure, check the temperature at several locations, being sure to include the wing joint. All turkey meat, including any that remains pink, is safe to eat as soon as parts reach at least 165°F.

Remove the turkey from the oven and let it stand for 20 minutes to allow the juices to settle.

Leftovers:

  1. Discard any turkey, stuffing and gravy left out at room temperature longer than 2 hours; 1 hour in temperatures above 90°F.
  2. Cut the turkey into small pieces. Refrigerate stuffing and turkey separately in shallow containers within 2 hours of cooking.
  3. Use leftover turkey and stuffing within 3 to 4 days; gravy within 1-2 days; or freeze these foods.
  4. Always reheat turkey, stuffing and gravy to a temperature of 165°F or until hot and steaming.

For more food safety information: visit https://www.fsis.usda.gov/food-safety/safe-food-handling-and-preparation/poultry/lets-talk-turkey-roasting

The UC Master Food Preservers of El Dorado County are a great resource for answers to your food safety and preserving questions. Leave a message at (530) 621-5506 or email us at edmfp@ucanr.edu. For more information about our program, events and recipes, visit our website at http://ucanr.edu/edmfp. Sign up to receive our eNewsletter at http://ucanr.org/mfpcsenews/. Find us on Facebook, too (UCCE Master Food Preservers of El Dorado County).

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