Turkey Tips With Agent Spatula

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Dear Agent Spatula,

I think I need professional help. Over the years I have learned some hard turkey cooking lessons by trial and error. Now I know to take the plastic off the turkey before I cook it. I have learned that if the meat is red, I should have cooked it longer. And, I have learned that a cookie sheet is not deep enough to hold all the juice from a 15 lb. frozen bird.

My turkeys are almost OK now. But no matter what I do, I still can’t get them to cook all the way through. It’s my turn to host Thanksgiving this year. After 5 tries, I would like for my mother-in-law to see my husband actually eat the turkey I serve. She always comments that “turkey has always been his very favorite” as she scrapes his into the trash. My turkey always misses the mark! What am I doing wrong?

Thank you,

Mrs. DeMark

HI Mrs. DeMark,

I think I have the solution to your most dire of turkey cooking needs! There are a couple of things about cooking a whole turkey that make it tough…pardon the pun! Let’s start from the beginning so we make sure that your mother-in-law isn’t so condescending over your turkey cooking abilities.

When buying your turkey make sure that you are going for a size that you are able to prepare easily. If you have a small oven then you probably can’t cook a 24 pound turkey so it wouldn’t be wise to buy one that large! If preparation space isn’t an issue the next thing to keep in mind is how long you’ll need to thaw your turkey. A fully frozen turkey needs to thaw in the fridge for 24 hours per 5 pounds of turkey – see chart below for thawing times. If you have a turkey larger than 20 pounds it needs to be moved from the freezer to the fridge on the Friday before Thanksgiving to have plenty of time to thaw. While you may think thawing on the countertop or under warm running water is safe there is potential for the outside of the turkey to be room temperature while the center is still frozen. This is unsafe because it will allow for growth of bacteria that can cause foodborne illness.

Turkey Size In the Refrigerator  (Approx. 24 hours for every 4-5 lbs.) In Cold Water (approx. 30 minutes per lb.)
4-12 pounds 1 to 3 days 2 to 6 hours
12 to 16 pounds 3 to 4 days 6 to 8 hours
16 to 20 pounds 4 to 5 days 8 to 10 hours
20 to 24 pounds 5 to 6 days 10 to 12 hours

One thing you may have heard to do is wash off your raw meats and poultry. For a long time this was taught as something that helps make your food safer. While it may remove some of the bacteria from the raw meat and poultry it is a way that you can accidentally spread those bacteria to things around your sink. This is a concern because there are often dishes and other foods around the sink that could become contaminated by the splashing water. If your meat or poultry is wet from thawing then pat it dry with paper towels and make sure those paper towels go straight to the trashcan!

The final thing to keep in mind is that the only way to know your turkey is finished cooking is to check the internal temperature and make sure that it has reached 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Best practice is to check the temperature in 3 places – the thickest part of the breast, innermost part of the wing, and innermost part of the thigh! If all three of these places read 165 then you are good to go! Make sure to refrigerate any leftovers within 2 hours.

The USDA has some great information on how to make sure you are being food safe this holiday – check out their Facebook page as well as the Lincoln County Family and Consumer Sciences Facebook page for tips on being healthy and safe in the kitchen!


Agent Spatula

For more information, contact Zach Troutman (Agent Spatula) at 704-736-8461.