Let’s talk turkey (if we must)

Okay, let’s get this out of the way: You can solve a lot of food safety issues by not including meat, eggs or dairy in your Thanksgiving menu. There are several delicious, healthy and readily available alternatives. See below for more info.

That being said, for those of you bent on the traditional Thanksgiving turkey, let’s be safe out there. That bird wasn’t sterile when you brought it home, and it sure isn’t sterile now. Given time and opportunity its microbiome will bloom to pathological proportions, and it won’t be pretty when it does. Keep in mind that while anyone can get food poisoning, the very young, very old, pregnant and immune-compromised are especially vulnerable.

Storing and thawing

If you buy a frozen bird, plan enough time for thawing; you’ll need 24 hours in the fridge for every 5 pounds of turkey. Keep it in its wrapper and place it on a tray or pan to catch fluids, and put it on the bottom shelf so it can’t leak onto other foods. Once thawed, keep refrigerated and cook within 2 days.

Refrigerator Thawing Timesfullsizerender-10
4 to 12 pounds…………………..1 to 3 days
12 to 16 pounds…………………3 to 4 days
16 to 20 pounds…………………4 to 5 days
20 to 24 pounds…………………5 to 6 days

If you haven’t planned far enough ahead for refrigerator thawing you can use the cold water method, but you’ll need to pay attention. Cover the turkey, in its wrapper, with cold water. Replace the water every 30 minutes – letting the water go tepid is as bad as just leaving the turkey out on the counter.

Cold Water Thawing Times
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

Storing fresh turkey

Keep fresh turkey refrigerated and cook within 2 days of the “use by” date or, if undated, within 2 days of bringing it home. As with frozen turkey, put it on a pan or tray on the bottom shelf of the fridge to protect other foods.

Stuffing

The safest way to prepare stuffing is separate from the turkey. Otherwise, place the stuffing in the bird just before it goes in the oven and make sure you check the stuffing temperature before calling the whole thing done; stuffing must reach 165 F (74C).

Cooking

No matter how you cook your turkey, it’s done when it reaches the minimum required temperature. You can’t rely on the color of the meat or the juices.

Minimum temperatures
Breast………………….. 170 F (77 C)
Thigh………………….. 180 F (82 C)
Stuffing………………….. 165 F (74 C)

The Butterball folks have all the instructions and tables for every possible way to cook a turkey, so rather than repeat all their info I’ll just give the links:

How to roast
How to grill
How to smoke
How to deep fry
How to rotisserie roast

After cooking

Keep turkey out at room temperature no more than 2 hours after cooking, then separate thighs and wings, slice the remaining breast meat, and put it all back in the fridge (in a clean container!).

You can safely keep the cooked turkey in the fridge for 3 or 4 days, but reheat to 165 F before eating.

Coming up: Are those leftovers safe to eat?

Alternatives to turkey

Keep an open mind; they’re better than you might think.

Tofurky
Tofurky

Tofurky – the original! Slicing thinly is key.

Field Roast Celebration Roast
Celebration Roast

Field Roast – home of the Celebration Roast, now offering a variety of tasty options

Vegetarian Plus – when you want your vegan roast shaped like a turkey!

Vegetarian Plus
Vegetarian Plus

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