Let’s Talk Turkey

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Holiday Turkey with all the trimmingsLet the countdown begin. It’s the Friday before Thanksgiving and time to get those final plans in place before Thanksgiving 2020 arrives next week. This has been a year to remember and while our plans may be a little different and socially distanced this year there is no doubt that Turkey and all the trimmings will still be the star of the smaller dinner table this year.

Let’s take a look at some of the most common questions asked concerning cooking your own turkey for Thanksgiving:

Q. What size turkey do I need for my family?

A. The National Turkey Federation recommends ¾ -1 pound of uncooked turkey per person. If you want to have leftovers you will of course want to add to that amount.

Q How long will it take to thaw my turkey?

A. The USDA advises that for every five pounds of turkey allow 24 hours in refrigerated temperatures for adequate and safe thawing. A 15-pound frozen bird will take 3-4 full days to thaw in the refrigerator. Plan the date of purchase and allow enough refrigerator space for thawing. If you are rushed for time, thaw in, cold water making sure water is not able to leak through wrapping. Change the water every 30 minutes. The turkey will take about 30 minutes per pound to thaw. Refrigerate at 40°F or below or cook turkey immediately after it is thawed. Do not refreeze uncooked, defrosted turkey.

Q. What if I want to buy a fresh turkey?

A. If you want to buy a fresh turkey, wait until the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. Some grocery stores will let you reserve a fresh turkey.

Q. Should I wash my turkey before cooking it?

A. NO! Washing poultry before cooking it is not recommended. Bacteria in raw meat and poultry juices can be spread to other foods, utensils, and surfaces. We call this cross-contamination. Some consumers think they are removing bacteria and making their meat or poultry safe. However, some of the bacteria are so tightly attached that you could not remove them no matter how many times you washed. But there are other types of bacteria that can be easily washed off and splashed on the surfaces of your kitchen. Failure to clean these contaminated areas can lead to foodborne illness. Cooking (baking, broiling, boiling, and grilling) to the right temperature kills the bacteria, so washing the turkey is not necessary.

Q. Is it safe to stuff my Turkey?

A. If you choose to stuff your Turkey, stuffing should be prepared and stuffed into the turkey immediately before it is placed in the oven for roasting. Stuff the turkey loosely, with about ¾ cup of stuffing per pound of turkey. The internal temperature at the center of the stuffing as well as the turkey should register 165°F.

Q. How can I best determine if my turkey is done?

A. A whole turkey is safe cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165°F. throughout the bird. Check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. All turkey meat, including any that remains pink, is safe to eat as soon as all parts reach at least 165°F. The stuffing should reach 165°F whether cooked inside the bird or in a separate dish.

Q. What is the best tool for taking the temperature of the turkey.

A. An instant read digital thermometer is the most accurate thermometer for checking the temperature of your bird as well as other meats. You can find these modestly priced at your local grocery store, hardware store or big box store as well as online.

Q. How much time should I allow for my Turkey to get to the proper temperature?

A. The following chart is for a fully thawed turkey and contains guidelines that should be verified by using a thermometer to confirm an internal temperature of 165°F.

Turkey Roasting Chart
Size of Turkey Stuffed Unstuffed
8-12 lbs. 2 ¾ -3 hrs. 3-3 ½ hrs.
12-14 lbs. 3-3 ¾ hrs. 3 ½ -4 hrs.
14-18 lbs. 3 ¾ -4 ¼ hrs. 4-4 ¼ hrs.
18-20 lbs. 4 ¼-4 ½ hrs. 4 ¼ -4 ¾ hrs.
20-24 lbs. 4 ½ -5 hrs. 4 ¾-5 ¼ hrs.

Q. What is the safest way to handle holiday leftovers?

A. Bacteria spread fastest at temperatures between 40°F and 140°F, so chilling food safely reduces the risk of foodborne illness. Place leftovers in shallow containers. Refrigerate (40°F or below) or freeze the cooked poultry and sides dishes within two hours after cooking. Use refrigerated leftovers within three to four days.

Q. Where can I go if I have more questions about food safety and holiday cooking?

  • Julie Sawyer, Family & Consumer Science Extension Agent in Haywood County will be available for questions Monday – Wednesday prior to Thanksgiving from 8 a.m.–5 p.m.: (828) 456-3575 or julie_sawyer@ncsu.edu
  • Food Safety
  • USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline: 1-888-674-685
  • Ask USDA