University of Missouri Extension Centers get lots of questions this time of year about turkeys according to Dr. Pam Duitsman, nutrition and health education specialist with MU Extension.
Duitsman says most of the questions fall in to one of five categories: purchasing, thawing, stuffing, preparing and storing.
A frozen turkey may be bought any time before the holiday. However, a fresh turkey must be purchased only one to two days before cooking. Avoid pre-stuffed fresh turkeys.
“If you are getting a whole bird, you will need 1 pound per person,” said Duitsman.
There are three methods that can be used to thaw a turkey safely.
One method is to put the frozen turkey (in original packaging) in the refrigerator about 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds of meat. The thawed bird can stay in the refrigerator one to two days.
“You can also thaw a turkey by soaking it in cold water and changing the water every 30 minutes. This method takes about 30 minutes per pound of turkey. However, you must cook it immediately after thawing,” said Duitsman.
It is also possible to use a microwave if the turkey is small enough. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the size of bird that is appropriate, as well as the minutes per pound and power level for defrosting. If this method is used the turkey must be cooked as soon as it has thawed.
If you make stuffing in advance, prepare the wet and dry ingredients and refrigerate them separately until time of cooking. Ingredients should not be mixed until right before you put the stuffing inside the turkey or into a baking dish.
Duitsman says it is recommended for best food safety practices that you cook stuffing separately instead of placing it inside the turkey. However, if you decide to stuff your turkey, it is important to stuff the turkey loosely with moist stuffing.
“Heat kills bacteria faster in a moist environment, so avoid using dry stuffing. Cook the turkey immediately after it has been stuffed,” said Duitsman.
Roast the turkey in an oven at 325 degrees Fahrenheit, regardless of whether or not it is stuffed, until both the turkey and the stuffing have reached a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees.
Check the temperature of the turkey in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast and check the center of the stuffing. The cooking time varies depending on the size of the turkey and whether or not it is stuffed.
After taking the turkey out of the oven, let it stand 20 minutes before removing the stuffing and carving.
Small pieces of turkey and stuffing should be stored separately in shallow containers in the refrigerator within two hours of cooking. Leftovers should either be eaten in three to four days, or frozen.
For more information on nutrition contact one of the following nutrition specialists: Dr. Lydia Kaume in Barton County, (417) 682-3579; Dr. Pam Duitsman, in Greene County, (417) 881-8909; or Cammie Younger in Texas County, (417) 967-4545. Information is also available online http://extension.missouri.edu.