Tips for Picking and Preparing Thanksgiving Turkey

November 25, 2010 Updated Nov 25, 2010 at 8:50 AM EDT

By WKBW Programming

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Tips for Picking and Preparing Thanksgiving Turkey

November 25, 2010 Updated Nov 25, 2010 at 8:50 AM EDT

BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) - It's important to pick the right turkey and prepare it safely for you Thanksgiving dinner.

Tops Friendly Markets along with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service offers Thanksgiving tips to assist in the selection and preparation of the center of every Thanksgiving meal – the turkey.

Shopping for, storing and preparing a turkey can be an overwhelming experience. Whether to choose fresh or frozen, a whole turkey or boneless turkey breast, selecting the right size bird, making sure it is properly cooked and storing leftovers are all common concerns when preparing a Thanksgiving meal.

“As an American tradition, the turkey is the most important part of the Thanksgiving meal,” said Jim DiMartino, senior manager of food safety for Tops Markets. “We want to make sure our customers are empowered to choice the right bird and cook it properly to prevent any potential food safety issues.”

Tops Friendly Markets recommends using the following tips to assist customers in selecting and safely cooking a turkey:

Plan Ahead

Shopping early will ease the tension for your Thanksgiving meal. Ask these questions to help plan your meal. Do you want a fresh or frozen turkey? Do you have enough space to store a frozen bird if purchased in advance; if not, when should you purchase a turkey? What size bird do you need to buy?

Fresh vs Frozen

If your choice is to buy a frozen bird, do so at any time, but make sure you have adequate storage space in your freezer. If a fresh turkey is your choice, purchase it only 1-2 days before cooking.

Use the following as a guide to select the size of your turkey:

Type of Turkey

Whole bird - 1 pound per person
Boneless breast of turkey - 1/2 pound per person
Breast of turkey - 3/4 pound per person
Pre-stuffed frozen turkey - 1 1/4 pounds per person (keep frozen until ready to cook)

Thawing in the refrigerator: Place the frozen bird in its original wrapper in the refrigerator (40 °F or below.) Allow approximately 24 hours per four to five pounds of turkey. A thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator for 1-2 days.

Thawing Time (Refrigerator)

Size of Turkey/Hours to Defrost
4 - 12 pounds = 1 - 3 days
12 - 16 pounds = 3 - 4 days
16 - 20 pounds = 4 - 5 days
20 - 24 pounds = 5 - 6 days

Thawing in cold water: Although thawing in the refrigerator is the recommended method to defrost, you can also thaw turkey in cold running water. Allow about 30 minutes defrosting time per pound of turkey. The following times are suggested for thawing turkey in water. Cook immediately after thawing.

Thawing Time (Cold Water)

Size of Turkey/Hours to Defrost
4 - 12 pounds = 2 - 6 hours
12 - 16 pounds = 6 - 8 hours
16 - 20 pounds = 8 - 10 hours
20 - 24 pounds = 10 - 12 hours

Thawing in the microwave: Microwave thawing is safe if the turkey is not too large. Check the manufacturer's instructions for the size turkey that will fit into your oven, the minutes per pound, and the power level to use for thawing. Cook immediately after thawing.

The Big Day

If you choose to stuff your turkey, stuff loosely. The stuffing should be moist, not dry, since heat destroys bacteria more rapidly in a moist environment. Place the stuffed turkey immediately in the oven. You may also cook the stuffing outside of the bird. Judging cooking time for your turkey will be easier if the following chart is used. The times listed are for a fresh or thawed turkey in an oven at 325 °F. These times are approximate.

Timetables for Turkey Roasting (325 degree F)

Cooking time, not stuffed

Size of Turkey/Hours to Prepare
8-12 pounds = 2.75 to 3 hours
12-14 pounds = 3 to 3.75 hours
14-18 pounds = 3.75 to 4.25 hours
18-20 pounds = 4.25 to 4.5 hours
20-24 pounds = 4.5 to 5 hours

Cooking time, stuffed

Size of Turkey/Hours to Prepare
8-12 pounds = 3 to 3.5 hours
12-14 pounds = 3.5 to 4 hours
14-18 pounds = 4 to 4.25 hours
18-20 pounds = 4.25 to 4.75 hours
20-24 pounds = 4.75 to 5.25 hours

Use a food thermometer to check internal temperature of the turkey: A whole turkey is safe to consume when cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165 °F. Check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. If you stuff the turkey, the stuffing should reach 170 °F.

When the turkey is removed from the oven, let it stand 20 minutes. Remove stuffing, carve it, and enjoy it.

Storing Leftovers

Cut the turkey into small pieces; refrigerate stuffing and turkey separately in shallow containers within 2 hours of cooking. Use leftover turkey and stuffing within 3-4 days or freeze these foods. Reheat thoroughly to a temperature of 165 °F or until hot and steaming.