Turkey Cooking 101
“The Big Thaw”
Turkeys must be kept at a safe temperature during “the big thaw.” While frozen, a turkey is safe indefinitely. However, as soon as it begins to thaw, any bacteria that may have been present before freezing can begin to grow again.
A package of frozen meat or poultry left thawing on the counter more than 2 hours is not at a safe temperature. Even though the center of the package may still be frozen, the outer layer of the food is in the “Danger Zone” between 40 and 140 °F — at a temperature where foodborne bacteria multiply rapidly.
Safe Methods for Thawing
There are three safe ways to thaw food: in the refrigerator, in cold water, and in the microwave oven. Immediately after grocery store checkout, take the frozen turkey home and store it in the freezer.
Frozen turkeys should not be left on the back porch, in the car trunk, in the basement, or any place else where temperatures cannot be constantly monitored.
When thawing a turkey in the refrigerator:
- Plan ahead: allow approximately 24 hours for each 4 to 5 pounds
- Place the turkey in a container to prevent the juices from dripping on other foods.
Cold Water Thawing
Allow about 30 minutes per pound. Be sure the turkey is in a leak-proof plastic bag to prevent cross-contamination and to prevent the turkey from absorbing water, resulting in a watery product. Submerge the wrapped turkey in cold tap water. Change the water every 30 minutes until the turkey is thawed. Cook the turkey immediately after it is thawed.
Follow the microwave oven manufacturer’s instruction when defrosting a turkey. Plan to cook it immediately after thawing because some areas of the food may become warm and begin to cook during microwaving. Holding partially cooked food is not recommended because any bacteria present wouldn’t have been destroyed. A turkey thawed in the microwave must be cooked immediately.
“The Big Roast”
A food thermometer should be used to ensure a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F has been reached to destroy bacteria and prevent foodborne illness.
Here is how to cook a turkey in 6 simple steps.
- Set the oven temperature no lower than 325 °F.Preheating is not necessary.
- Be sure the turkey is completely thawed.Times are based on fresh or thawed birds.
- Place turkey breast-side up on a flat wire rack in a shallow roasting pan 2 to 2 1/2 inches deep.
- Tuck wing tips back under shoulders of bird (called “akimbo”).
- Add one-half cup water to the bottom of the pan.
- In the beginning, a tent of aluminum foil may be placed loosely over the breast of the turkey for the first 1 to 1 1/2 hours, then removed for browning. Or, a tent of foil may be placed over the turkey after the turkey has reached the desired golden brown color.
- For optimum safety, cook stuffing in a casserole. If stuffing your turkey, mix ingredients just before stuffing it; stuff loosely. Additional time is required for the turkey and stuffing to reach a safe minimum internal temperature.
- For safety and doneness, the internal temperature should be checked with a food thermometer. The temperature of the turkey and the center of the stuffing must reach a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F. Check the temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast.
- ALL PARTS of the turkey must reach 165 °F, including the stuffing, which means that some parts will end up well over 165 °F by the time the largest pieces reach 165 °F.
- Let the bird stand 20 minutes before removing stuffing and carving.