Cooking Turkey: Let's Talk Temperature
Turkeys only stay good for a day or two if they're fresh, so if you don't want to buy a frozen one, make sure you pay attention to the sell-by date and refrigerate the turkey as soon as you get home. If you go the frozen route, proper thawing is an important consideration. You can thaw a turkey in a microwave, a refrigerator or a sink filled with cold water. Refrigeration is the best and safest method, and can take a couple of days for a full 15-pound bird. If you decide to go the cold water route, change the water every 30 minutes or so and be careful to keep kitchen surfaces clean and already-cooked food clear of the area. For a 15-pounder, thawing in the sink can take about 8 hours.
Using a microwave is the fastest method, and the manufacturer should provide instructions on the power level and amount of time it will likely take. If you choose to nuke your turkey, don't make the catastrophic mistake of not checking its size. The bird could be too big to fit in the microwave, so check this out when you still have plenty of time to use one of the other two ways. Once thawed in the fridge or in cold water, pop your bird back in the refrigerator until you're ready start cooking. If you went the microwave route, heat up the stove because it's go-time.
When you go to roast the bird, carefully monitor its internal temperature through the breast, the wing, the thigh and the stuffing (if applicable). They all need to reach 165 degrees Fahrenheit (74 degrees Celsius) at the very least to help decrease the chance that foodborne illnesses will wreck your holiday fun. To stay on the safe side, aim for a slightly hotter temperature. Sometimes stuffing can make it harder to reach an ideal temperature, so you might want to forgo cooking the two in tandem or take the stuffing out partway through and let it finish cooking on its own. You also don't want to stuff your bird the night before, because this can give bad bacteria time to multiply in the insulated warmth of the turkey's body. When the meal is done, don't dawdle refrigerating the leftovers.
When it comes time to chow down on those leftovers, be sure to carefully reheat the turkey and stuffing at least back up to the minimum internal temperature (again, that's 165 degrees Fahrenheit and 74 degrees Celsius) to make sure its safe. And remember, turkey and stuffing only keep for a few days after cooking unless they're frozen.
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- Balsley, Tara. "Single Minimum Internal Temperature Established For Cooked Poultry." Congressional and Public Affairs Office of the Food Safety and Inspection Service. April 5, 2006. (10/12/2009) http://www.fsis.usda.gov/News_&_Events/NR_040506_01/index.asp
- Chenault, Edith. "Turkey Trivia: How much does your bird weigh?" Texas A&M Agriculture. November, 1995. (10/12/2009) http://agnewsarchive.tamu.edu/dailynews/stories/POSC/turkey.htm
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- The Turkey Farmers of Canada Web site. (10/12/2009) http://www.turkeyfarmersofcanada.ca/recipes/english/
- "Turkey 101." MyRecipes.com. (10/12/2009) http://www.myrecipes.com/recipes/gallery/print/0,32179,1678095,00.html
- "Turkey Facts." InfoPlease.com. 2007. (10/12/2009) http://www.infoplease.com/spot/tgturkeyfacts.html
- "Turkey for the Holidays." University of Illinois Extension. (10/12/2009) http://urbanext.illinois.edu/turkey/
- "Turkey Jokes." Paralum.com (10/12/2009) http://www.paralumun.com/jokesturkey.htm
- "Turkey Trivia." Purdue University. (10/12/2009) http://www.physics.purdue.edu/~schneppn/turkey.pdf