For many, preparing a Thanksgiving turkey is one of the biggest cooking and food safety challenges of the year. When you're faced with a big, uncooked bird, questions will arise. Let's talk turkey and cook up a few answers.
How should I store it?
If you will be using your turkey within 2 or 3 days, store it in the fridge. Otherwise, keep it in the freezer. Don't leave it to sit at room temperature - this can allow harmful bacteria to grow.
How long will I need to thaw this bird?
Never thaw a frozen turkey on a countertop at room temperature. Instead, choose one of the safer options. You could keep it in the refrigerator wrapped in plastic or placed in a deep pan to hold drippings. Or you could pop it in the microwave, determining thawing time and temperature by either consulting the microwave's manual or following a by-the-kilo recipe. Another thaw alternative is to wrap the turkey in its original airtight wrapping and thaw it in cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes so it stays cold enough.
How much time will it take to thoroughly cook it?
Figure for a bit over an hour of cooking time per kilogram of turkey (30 minutes per pound). Set the oven temperature to 165°C (325°F) or higher. If using an oven cooking bag, carefully read the bag's instructions first. Poke a meat thermometer into a thigh or breast to see if the turkey's internal temperature has reached 85°C (185°F). By this temperature, the turkey should be thoroughly cooked. Check that meat is tender and no pink juices remain. Cook stuffing separately and add it once the turkey is fully cooked and ready to serve.
What sort of bacteria are on and in turkey that could possibly make me and my family sick?
Turkey and other poultry can carry bacteria that can cause food poisoning, including salmonella and campylobacter. When cooked properly, most bacteria will be killed off so turkey is safe to eat. Still, it is vital that food handlers follow safety guidelines to prevent cross-contaminating other foods being prepared. Avoid touching turkey juices and drippings. Wash hands thoroughly with soap before and after touching food. Do the same for any plates, utensils, towels, and cutting boards you use before switching them to another use. Plastic cutting boards are easier to sanitize than ones made of wood. If you can, reserve one cutting board for use with meats and poultry and another to use when preparing vegetables or other foods.
How healthy is turkey anyway?
Turkey is a lean, low-calorie source of protein. It also contains tryptophan, an amino acid known for its snooze-inducing powers. However, it's not really the bird that's the culprit of that post-dinner snooze, but usually the heavy carbohydrates in that holiday feast.
Pile leftover turkey onto whole-grain bread for post-Thanksgiving sandwiches or shred the meat to make a base for a turkey soup. But to make sure you make the most of the surplus bounty, refrigerate all leftovers within 2 hours of cooking.
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