Elisa Shackelton: It’s not too early to plan Thanksgiving
November 9, 2007
Craig — As Thanksgiving approaches, many stores already are putting turkeys, stuffing, cranberries and baking supplies on sale. Not only can you take advantage of good buys if you plan ahead, but you can also eliminate some of the anxiety that can accompany being the Thanksgiving host or hostess. A few simple steps ahead of time will not only ease your holiday fears, but will also ensure a delicious and safe meal for you, your family and your friends.
Plan your meal several weeks before the holiday. Shopping early will ease the countdown tension. Determine how many people you will be feeding and how big a bird to buy; if you have a roaster pan big enough for the bird; how much storage space you have if you purchase perishable items in advance; how much oven space or other appliances you have available for preparing the meal; who else can prepare parts of the meal; etc.
Fresh or frozen?
If you choose to buy a frozen bird, you can do so at any time, but make sure you have adequate storage space in your freezer. You should also have refrigerator space available for thawing the bird for several days. If you buy a fresh turkey, be sure you purchase it only 1 to 2 days before cooking.
How much turkey do you need?
Whole bird: 1 pound per person
Boneless breast of turkey: 1/2 pound per person
Breast of turkey: 3/4 pound per person
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Prestuffed frozen turkey: 1 1/4 pounds per person
In the refrigerator – Place the frozen bird in its original wrapper in the refrigerator on a tray or platter to catch any drips. Allow approximately 24 hours per 4 to 5 pounds of turkey. Once thawed, the turkey can remain in the refrigerator an additional 1 to 2 days, so err on the side of caution and give the bird an extra day of thawing time so that you don’t still have a frozen bird on Thanksgiving morning.
In cold water – This is definitely not the preferred way to thaw a turkey, but if you forgot to thaw the turkey, didn’t allow for enough thawing time in the refrigerator, or don’t have room in the refrigerator for thawing, don’t panic! You can submerge the turkey in cold water, but must change the water every 30 minutes to avoid bacterial growth and food poisoning. Allow about 30 minutes defrosting time per pound of turkey:
Thawing time in cold water
4 to 12 pounds: 2 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
Stuffing – If you choose to stuff your turkey, stuff loosely. The stuffing should be moist, not dry, since heat destroys bacteria more rapidly in a moist environment. Place the stuffed turkey in the oven immediately. It is actually safer to cook the stuffing outside the bird in a separate dish, which also decreases the cooking time for the turkey.
Use a food thermometer to check for doneness – A whole turkey is safely cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees F throughout the bird. Check the 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 F. The stuffing should also reach 165 degrees F, whether cooked inside the bird or in a separate dish.
Avoid over- or under-cooking the turkey, plus quit having to keep checking to see if it is done by using a digital oven thermometer/timer. These handy tools remotely display the turkey’s temperature and/or the time elapsed while it’s cooking, so you can be watching football, playing games with your family, or sitting out on the patio while the bird cooks, and an alarm will sound off when the cooking time or desired temperature is reached!
(Adapted from “Countdown to the Thanksgiving Holiday”, Food Safety and Inspection Service.) For free holiday food safety fact sheets from FSIS, or for more information, contact Elisa at the CSU Moffat County Extension Office in Craig at 824-9180, or call the USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline at 1-888-674-6854.