Last minute turkey tips for preparing holiday meal

Published 5:42 pm Wednesday, November 21, 2007

By Staff
Cooking the traditional turkey dinner gives rise to anxieties and questions. What kind of turkey should I buy? Should I buy a frozen turkey or a fresh one? How do I store my turkey?
A few simple steps will not only ease holiday fears, but will ensure a delicious and a safe meal.
Ask these questions to help plan your meal. Do you want a fresh or frozen turkey? Do you have enough space to store a frozen bird if purchased in advance; if not, when should you purchase a turkey? What size bird do you need to buy?
Fresh or Frozen
If you choose to buy a frozen bird you may do so at any time, but make sure you have adequate storage space in your freezer. If you buy a fresh turkey, be sure you purchase it only 1-2 days before cooking. Do not buy a prestuffed fresh turkey.
Use the following chart as a helpful guide:
What Size Turkey
Whole bird - 1 pound per person; boneless breast of turkey - 1/2 pound per person; breast of turkey - 3/4 pound per person; prestuffed frozen turkey - 1 1/4 pounds per person - keep frozen until ready to cook.
Thawing in the refrigerator
Place frozen bird in original wrapper in the refrigerator. Allow approximately 24 hours per 4 to 5 pounds of turkey. A thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator for 1-2 days.
Thawing in cold water
If you forget to thaw the turkey or don't have room in the refrigerator for thawing, don't panic. You can submerge the turkey in cold water and change the water every 30 minutes. Allow about 30 minutes defrosting time per pound of turkey. The following times are suggested for thawing turkey in water. Cook immediately after thawing.
Thanksgiving Day
Judging cooking time for your turkey will be easier if the following chart is used. The times listed are for a fresh or thawed turkey in an oven at 325. These times are approximate.
Cooking Time
Size of Turkey Hours to Cook
8 to 12 pounds 2 3/4 to 3
12 to 14 pounds 3 to 3 3/4
14 to 18 pounds 3 3/4 to 4 1/4
18 to 20 pounds 4 1/4 to 4 1/2
20 to 24 pounds 4 1/2 to 5
Use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of the turkey.
A whole turkey is safe cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees. 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 degrees. The stuffing should reach 165 degrees, whether cooked inside the bird or in a separate dish.
When turkey is removed from the oven, let it stand 20 minutes; then carve turkey.
Storing Leftovers
Cut the turkey into small pieces; refrigerate stuffing and turkey separately in shallow containers within two hours of cooking. Use turkey and stuffing within 3-4 days or freeze.

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