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Turkey Talk 101

Tammy Roberts, MS, RD, LD, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, University of Missouri Extension


It’s time to purchase and prepare your Thanksgiving turkey. After reading this article, you’ll be armed with all of the information you need to purchase, thaw and prepare your holiday bird safely.


Purchasing: If you want to have leftovers, buy one pound of turkey per person. If you are buying turkey breast or if you don’t want leftovers, purchase of a pound of turkey per person. If boneless turkey breast is what you’re shopping for, buy pound per person.


Thawing: The recommended way to thaw the turkey is in the refrigerator. Allow one day of thawing for every five pounds of turkey. If you need to thaw your turkey quickly, it can be done safely in a cold water bath. Completely submerge the wrapped turkey in cold water and change the water every half hour. It should take about a half hour of thawing time for each pound of turkey.


Preparing: To roast the turkey, place it breast side up on a rack in a shallow pan. Insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the breast or the thickest part of the thigh. Place the turkey in a preheated 325 degree oven and cook until the thermometer in the breast reads 170-175 degrees or in the thigh reads 180-185 degrees. Other indicators that the turkey is done is if the juices run clear when you pierce it with a fork. Once the turkey is done, remove it from the oven and let it sit for 20 minutes. This allows the juices in the meat to settle and redistribute.


Cooking the stuffing in the bird is not advised because of the potential for foodborne illness. If you do decide to stuff your turkey, take some precautions. Prepare the stuffing just before you are ready to place it in the turkey. Stuff the turkey loosely. If the stuffing is packed in, it makes it hard for the stuffing to reach the safe temperature of 165 degrees. Use a thermometer to assure the stuffing reaches that temperature.


Leftovers: If you bought extra for leftovers, practice safe food handling methods to assure your leftover turkey is safe to eat. The turkey should not be out for more than two hours after it has been cooked. If you stuffed the turkey, remove the stuffing and de-bone the turkey and store it in shallow containers in the refrigerator. The turkey and stuffing should be used within three to four days. The leftover gravy should be used within one to two days. When you re-heat the turkey, assure that it reaches 165 degrees.


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Last update: Thursday, November 21, 2013