Plan ahead before preparing Thanksgiving dinner
November 20, 2009
LINCOLN, Neb. – Preparing a Thanksgiving turkey timely and safely requires planning ahead.
Frozen turkeys require significant amounts of time to thaw, and preparers need to plan adequately for safe thawing, said Julie Albrecht, food safety specialist in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
There are three safe ways to thaw a turkey, Albrecht said.
First, place the frozen turkey in the refrigerator and put something underneath it to collect the microorganism-laden juices that fall as the bird thaws. A 4- to 12-pound turkey will need one to three days and a 12- to 16-pound turkey will need three to four days to thaw. Once thawed, the turkey should be cooked within one to two days.
A quicker option is thawing in water. Fill the sink with cold water and let the turkey soak, changing the water every 30 minutes. The turkey may need to be wrapped so that the water does not get inside the turkey, which makes it too wet. A small turkey can thaw in the sink in about two hours.
The third option is thawing in the microwave if it will fit inside. Put the turkey in a microwave-safe dish, make sure the outside wrap and any metal and plastic inside the turkey is removed, and follow directions in the manual for the microwave settings and length of time, Albrecht said. A turkey should be cooked immediately upon being thawed in the sink or the microwave.
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Some people think they need to rinse inside the turkey before roasting it, but Albrecht recommends against that.
She also advises against stuffing the inside of any turkey that is more than 12 pounds. Stuffing inside a turkey needs to cook to 165 degrees to kill salmonella contamination, and by the time it reaches that temperature the turkey would be overcooked.
Rather, make stuffing outside the turkey. Albrecht likes to add meat from the cooked turkey neck to give the stuffing some turkey flavoring.
The turkey also needs to be cooked to 165 degrees, and Albrecht recommends placing a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the bird to take the temperature. Don’t rely on the pop-up thermometers that come in some turkeys as they are not accurate on turkeys over 12 pounds.
Expect to cook a turkey of 12 pounds about three hours. A 20-pound turkey will require a four- to five-hour cook time, she said.
Don’t leave the turkey or any other hot food on the counter for more than two hours as bacteria can start to grow. When refrigerating turkey leftovers, slice all the meat from the carcass and place the slices in shallow storage containers to allow for quicker cooling.
“Don’t place the whole carcass in the refrigerator as that will warm everything up,” she said.
The leftovers should be eaten within three to four days to ensure maximum safety, Albrecht said.