According to the National Turkey Foundation – a group who has served as a national advocate for turkey farmers and processors for more than 75 years in Washington DC – 88% of Americans plan on eating turkey this coming Thanksgiving. In fact, more than 46 million turkeys will make it to the holiday table in 2017 (as compared to 22 million on Christmas and 19 million on Easter).
With those statistics, Americans seem happy to “gobble” up November’s favorite bird and perhaps with good reason. According to the USDA, when compared to other cooked proteins (beef, chicken, pork, and lamb), turkey ranked lowest in total calories and fat yet the highest in protein (though turkey placed highest in sodium and second highest in cholesterol after lamb).
Whether you plan on enjoying turkey for health reasons, taste or tradition, here are a few facts and preparation tips for roasting (verses the “keep 911 on your speed dial” method of deep frying) that can help you successfully present a beautiful bird at your holiday table.
First, whether fresh or frozen, you’re going to need a turkey.
If you’re uncertain as to what size turkey to purchase, a safe bet is to expect about 1 pound of uncooked turkey per person from an 8 to 12-pound bird. According to the NTF, larger birds also have a larger proportion of meat to bone, so ¾ a pound per person should suffice nicely with plenty left over for your favorite post-holiday turkey dish.
If you’re not going to be roasting a fresh turkey, then you’re going to need to thaw it. According to foodsafety.gov, there are only three ways to do that safely – refrigerator thawing, cold water thawing and microwave thawing.
The USDA recommends the old tried and true “refrigerator thawing” above all others. It’s certainly the safest method, but it’s also the slowest and it tends to take up quite a bit of room in the refrigerator. On the optimistic side however, in order to make room for the frozen behemoth, it may force you to finally toss out that forgotten jar of your second cousin’s hell-fire hot, homemade salsa or the Tupperware cup half full of leftover spinach and papaya smoothie that’s been lurking for an indeterminate amount of time in furthest corner of your fridge. Allow one day per each 4 to 5 pounds of weight (so a 16-pound turkey will take about 4 days).
For cold water thawing (the most popular method in my house growing up), leave the turkey (in its original wrapping) and submerge it in a sink (or large container) full of cold water. Keep the water cold so that the turkey stays at a safe temperature and replace with fresh, cold water every 30 minutes.
Even though this is often referred as the “quick thaw” method, you’ll still need to allow about 30 minutes of defrosting time per pound. A 16-pound turkey will take roughly 8 hours to thaw using this method so plan accordingly. For food safety sake, once the turkey has thawed – cook it immediately! Do not let it sit around on the counter beckoning bacteria for a couple of hours while you catch the end of the parade or peel potatoes.
The third method is “microwave thawing” for which I have two comments. 1: If you have a microwave large enough to thaw a 10 to 20 pound turkey, congratulations. 2: If you truly need directions on thawing frozen meat in your microwave, you may want to consider getting yourself an invitation to someone else’s holiday feast or plan on take-out.
There are as many stuffing recipes and roasting tips and tricks out there as there are seeds in a pumpkin, but whether you’re using your great-grandmother’s recipe or experimenting with something exotic and new from your favorite food blog or magazine, there are some basic, tried and true, safety tips that would be wise to follow.
The website for The Partnership for Food Safety Education states that the “Four Core Rules of Food Safety” are these: 1: Clean: Wash hands and surfaces often. 2: Separate: Don’t cross contaminate. 3: Cook: Cook to the safe internal temperature of 165 °F. And finally – Chill: Refrigerate or freeze promptly.
There will always be those who swear (as did my father, and frankly, as do I) that the only worthwhile stuffing is that which is cooked inside the turkey. But keep in mind that stuffing cooked on the outside of the turkey may be safer because there is a risk that the internal temperature of the stuffing cooked inside the bird will not reach a safe bacteria-killing temperature of 165 degrees or higher. Unstuffed turkey will also cook faster reducing the risk of dried-out, overcooked meat.
For those willing to risk it for, ahem, tastier stuffing, make sure and keep your food thermometer handy and you should be OK. If you don’t have a food thermometer, then immediately stop what you’re doing and go buy one now! Thanksgiving is right around the corner!
We’d love to hear your Thanksgiving Day cooking stories, recipes, and tips and trick. Feel free to share them in your comments below! For Coastal Cuisine, I’m Michael Sprouse wishing you and yours the happiest and healthiest of Thanksgiving! Here’s to good taste!