Whether you plan to cook your turkey in the over, or are planning to try deep frying your turkey this Thanksgiving, some cooking tips from the USDA will help you avoid disaster by cooking your turkey properly and safely.
Below we have provided some of the recommendations from the USDA on how to cook a Thanksgiving turkey. For many this may be their first time cooking a Thanksgiving dinner, and it’s important to get this one right. The tips below cover how to safely store, thaw, and cook a turkey and following them will help to keep everyone healthy and result in a delicious Thanksgiving turkey.
Tip#1 – Avoid Fresh Pre-Stuffed Turkeys – Don’t buy fresh pre-stuffed turkeys because harmful bacteria in the stuffing can quickly multiply. If you buy a frozen pre-stuffed turkey, look for a USDA or state mark of inspection. Frozen pre-stuffed turkeys should not be thawed before cooking.
Tip #2 – How to Thaw a Frozen Turkey – The best two ways to thaw your turkey are to use the refrigerator, or in cold water. Look at the thawing chart, based on the size of the turkey.
While it is safe to cook a turkey from the frozen state, the cooking time will take at least 50 percent longer than recommended for a fully thawed turkey. Remember to remove the giblet packages during the cooking time. Remove carefully with tongs or a fork.
To thaw in the Refrigerator, keep the turkey in its original wrapper. Place it on a tray or in a pan to catch any juices that may leak. A thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days. If necessary, a turkey that has been properly thawed in the refrigerator may be refrozen.
To thaw the turkey in cold water: Wrap your turkey securely, making sure the water is not able to leak through the wrapping. Submerge your wrapped turkey in cold tap water. Change the water every 30 minutes. Cook the turkey immediately after it is thawed. Do not refreeze.
Tip #3 – Proper Clean Up – to avoid any risk of illness, use soap and water to wash hands, utensils, counters, sinks, and anything that comes in contact with raw turkey and its juices.
Tip #4 – Cook to Proper Temperature – Cook your turkey to a minimum internal temperature of 165°F. Look at timetables for roasting a turkey in a 325°F oven, based on the size of the turkey and whether or not it’s stuffed.
Here are the recommended cooking instructions for your Turkey from the USDA:
Roasting Your Turkey
•Set your oven temperature no lower than 325 °F.
•Place your turkey or turkey breast on a rack in a shallow roasting pan.
•For optimum safety, stuffing a turkey is not recommended. For more even cooking, it is recommended you cook your stuffing outside the bird in a casserole. Use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of the stuffing. The stuffing must reach a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F.
•If you choose to stuff your turkey, the ingredients can be prepared ahead of time; however, keep wet and dry ingredients separate. Chill all of the wet ingredients (butter/margarine, cooked celery and onions, broth, etc.). Mix wet and dry ingredients just before filling the turkey cavities. Fill the cavities loosely. Cook the turkey immediately. Use a food thermometer to make sure the center of the stuffing reaches a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F.
•A whole turkey is safe when cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165 °F as measured with a food thermometer. Check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. For reasons of personal preference, consumers may choose to cook turkey to higher temperatures.
•If your turkey has a “pop-up” temperature indicator, it is recommended that you also check the internal temperature of the turkey in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast with a food thermometer. The minimum internal temperature should reach 165 °F for safety.
•For quality, let the turkey stand for 20 minutes before carving to allow juices to set. The turkey will carve more easily.
•Remove all stuffing from the turkey cavities.
Optional Cooking Hints
•Tuck wing tips under the shoulders of the bird for more even cooking. This is referred to as “akimbo.”
•Add ½ cup of water to the bottom of the pan.
•If your roasting pan does not have a lid, you may place a tent of heavy-duty aluminum foil over the turkey for the first 1 to 1 ½ hours. This allows for maximum heat circulation, keeps the turkey moist, and reduces oven splatter. To prevent overbrowning, foil may also be placed over the turkey after it reaches the desired color.
•If using an oven-proof food thermometer, place it in the turkey at the start of the cooking cycle. It will allow you to check the internal temperature of the turkey while it is cooking. For turkey breasts, place thermometer in the thickest part. For whole turkeys, place in the thickest part of the inner thigh. Once the thigh has reached 165 °F, check the wing and the thickest part of the breast to ensure the turkey has reached a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F throughout the product.
•If using an oven cooking bag, follow the manufacturer’s guidelines on the package.
REMEMBER! Always wash hands, utensils, the sink, and anything else that comes in contact with raw turkey and its juices with soap and water.
Tip #5 – Discard After 2 Hours – After you’ve enjoyed your Thanksgiving meal, discard any turkey, stuffing, or gravy left at room temperature for more than 2 hours. Or, if room temperature is above 90°F, discard food after 1 hour.