The most important part of the Thanksgiving meal is the turkey.
Whether you're selecting fresh or frozen, here are tips to help you make that decision and cook the bird to perfection.
Fresh or frozen turkey?
Selecting a fresh or frozen turkey is your choice. Fresh turkeys need no thawing and are ready to cook. Frozen turkeys require several days to thaw before roasting.
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How to roast a turkey
The open pan-roasting method will create a juicy, tender, golden brown turkey consistently. Place turkey, breast up, on a flat rack in a shallow pan 2 to 21/2 inches deep. Brush or rub skin with oil to prevent the skin from drying and to enhance the golden color.
Insert oven-safe meat thermometer deep into the lower part of the thigh muscle but not touching the bone. Place in a preheated 325- degree oven. If turkey is stuffed, make sure to follow stuffing tips. When thigh reaches proper temperature, move thermometer to center of stuffing to check its temperature.
When the turkey is about two-thirds done, loosely cover the breast and top of drumsticks with a piece of lightweight foil to prevent overcooking the breast.
Turkey size and thawing time in refrigerator
8 to 12 pounds: 1 to 2 days
12 to 16 pounds: 2 to 3 days
16 to 20 pounds: 3 to 4 days
20 to 24 pounds: 4 to 5 days Thawing times with cold-water method
If you need to thaw your turkey more quickly, you can thaw the bird in cold water, in the original wrapping. The cold water must be changed every 30 minutes. Allow about 30 minutes a pound using this method.
8 to 12 pounds: 4 to 6 hours
12 to 16 pounds: 6 to 8 hours
16 to 20 pounds: 8 to 10 hours
20 to 24 pounds: 10 to 12 hours
The turkey is done when the meat thermometer reaches the following temperatures:
■ 180 degrees deep in the thigh; also, juices should be clear, not reddish-pink when thigh muscle is pierced deeply.
■ 160 degrees in center of the stuffing, if turkey is stuffed. When the stuffed turkey is done, remove turkey from oven and let stand 15 minutes. This stand time allows the stuffing temperature to reach 165 degrees for an added measure of safety.
■ Thaw frozen turkey in the refrigerator or cold water.
■ Keep thawed or fresh turkey in the refrigerator.
■ Prevent uncooked juices from dripping onto other foods in the refrigerator by placing packaged turkey on a tray.
■ Thawed turkey may be kept in the refrigerator up to four days before cooking.
■ Roast fresh turkey as soon as possible, no later than the "use by" date on the package.
■ Place raw poultry on non-porous surfaces; these are easy to clean. Two cutting boards are recommended, one strictly to cut raw meats and the other for cooked and ready-to-eat foods.
■ Use paper towels, not cloth, to wipe off the turkey and clean up juices.
■ Combine stuffing ingredients and stuff the turkey just before roasting, not the night before.
■ Wash hands, work surfaces and utensils touched by raw poultry and its juices with hot, soapy water.
■ Use food thermometer to determine turkey's doneness.
■ Use cooking methods that allow the turkey to reach an internal temperature of 140 degrees in less than four hours and a final temperature of 180 degrees in the thigh. Stuffing should reach 160 degrees. Avoid using low roasting temperatures or partial- cooking methods.
■ If you don't have a meat thermometer to measure the internal temperature of the stuffing in the turkey, the stuffing should be cooked separately from the turkey.
■ Store turkey, stuffing, gravy, broth and other leftover cooked foods in separate containers in the refrigerator within two hours after cooking.
Sources: Butterball Turkey and Honeysuckle White Turkey