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Cooking a Thanksgiving Turkey

Whether you're a new cook or an old hand, follow these simple steps to turn out a safe, tasty turkey!

What's the best way to thaw a turkey?

The best and safest way to thaw a turkey is in the fridge. If time is an issue, you can submerge the turkey in cold water. Don't defrost at room temperature, because that allows bacteria to grow.

Place the turkey breast-side up in its unopened wrapper on a tray in the refrigerator. Allow at least one day of thawing for every four pounds of turkey. For cold-water thawing, place the turkey breast-side down in its unopened wrapper in cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes to keep the surface cold. It takes about 30 minutes per pound for a whole turkey.

How do you handle a turkey?

  • Keep thawed or fresh turkey refrigerated. A thawed turkey may be kept refrigerated for up to four days before cooking.
  • Prevent juices from dripping onto other foods in the refrigerator by putting the wrapped turkey on a tray.
  • Place raw poultry on non-porous surfaces (plastic or glass); they're easy to clean. Avoid wooden cutting boards.
  • Use paper towels, not cloth, to pat turkey dry and wipe up juices.
  • Stuff your turkey just before roasting, not the night before. (Stuffing can be made a day ahead and refrigerated.)
  • Wash your hands, and any surfaces and utensils touched by the raw poultry and its juices with hot, soapy water.
  • Roast your fresh turkey as soon as possible, but no later than the "use by" date on the packaging.
  • Avoid using low-roasting temperatures or partial-cooking methods.
  • Use a meat thermometer to check if your turkey is done.
How do you know when a turkey is done?

A meat thermometer will reach the following temperatures:

  • 180 degrees F deep in the thigh. Juices should be clear, not pink, when the thigh muscle is pierced deeply. Hint: A stuffed 20-pound turkey takes about 5 hours to cook in a 325-degree oven.
  • 170 to 175 degrees F in the thickest part of the breast, just above the rib bones.
  • 160 to 165 degrees F in the center of the stuffing (if turkey is stuffed).
How should I store leftover turkey?
  • Within two hours after roasting, remove stuffing from turkey and carve the meat off the bones, then place in the refrigerator or freezer.
  • For refrigerator storage, wrap the turkey slices and stuffing separately and eat within three days.
  • To freeze, wrap in heavy foil or freezer wrap, or place in a freezer container. For the best taste, use stuffing within one month and turkey within two months.
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