Turkey Guide 101
First turkey? Get Ready Early! Whether you choose to rotisserie roast, bake, grill, deep fry, smoke, brine or marinate make sure to check out these Turkey Tips and Safety Guides. This will ensure a meal prepared by a queen and fit for her loyal subjects.
Bookmark this post and be sure to share it with anyone cooking a turkey for the Holiday! This post is NOT an affiliate post and the author is not receiving compensation of any kind. This post has been highly adapted from Butterball.
FOUR T’S OF TURKEY FOOD SAFETY
Thaw: Place unopened turkey, breast side up, on a tray in refrigerator. Allow at least 24 hours of thawing for every 4 pounds of turkey
Temperature: Always use a meat thermometer to determine when the turkey is done (fully cooked). The temperature should reach 180° F in the thigh, 170° F in the breast and 165° F in the center of the stuffing.
Two-Hour Storage: Store leftovers in separate containers within two hours after cooking.
Three Days to Eat: Your leftovers will last 3 days in the refrigerator. Eat or freeze leftover turkey within that time period.
Remember a few other tips to make sure your food is safe to eat: Wash preparation utensils, work surfaces and hands in hot, soapy water after contact with uncooked turkey and juices. Do not stuff the turkey the night before. Carve the turkey before you place in the refrigerator.
OTHER TIPS YOU NEED TO KNOW
HOW TO CHOOSE: There are a number of things to consider when buying a turkey. First and foremost:How many people are you serving? From here you should consider how many adults versus children, whether they are light or heavy eaters, and whether or not you want leftovers. These will all help you determine how big of a turkey you need.
FRESH OR FROZEN? Choosing a fresh or frozen turkey depends largely on preference, but also on how soon you plan on cooking your turkey. Make the right decision for you by considering these general tips. Fresh turkeys require no thawing. Frozen turkeys can be purchased weeks in advance, but need several days to thaw and require adequate space in your freezer and refrigerator. Allow 1 day of thawing for every 4 pounds of turkey. NOTE: Turkeys need to be thawed in the refrigerator or by cold water thawing.
HOW TO THAW: Safely thawing a frozen turkey is one of the most important steps in preparing a meal. There are two recommended methods, depending on the amount of time available. Refrigerator thawing is preferred and the least labor-intensive but requires more time. Cold water thawing takes less time but requires more attention. Regardless of which method you choose, you should never thaw a turkey at room temperature.
REFRIGERATOR THAWING: Thaw breast side up, in an unopened wrapper on a tray in the fridge. Allow at least 1 day of thawing for every 4 lbs.
COLD WATER THAWING: Thaw breast side down, in an unopened wrapper, with enough cold water to cover your turkey completely. Change water every 30 minutes to keep the turkey chilled. Estimate a minimum thawing time of 30 minutes per lb.
HOW TO BRINE: Brining is similar to marinating, but is primarily focused on moistening the meat as opposed to adding flavor. Brining your turkey prior to cooking will help ensure you end up with a deliciously moist and flavor-packed turkey for your next gathering. Purchase a fresh turkey to eliminate the need to thaw, or completely thaw a frozen turkey. The night before roasting, remove the giblets and turkey neck. Rinse the turkey inside and out. Prepare your brine. Be sure to mix ingredients until all of the salt is dissolved. If your brine is heated, be sure to cool it to room temperature before brining. Place your turkey, breast down, in a large container made of food-grade plastic, stainless steel, glass, or a brining bag. Be sure the container will fit in your fridge. Add brine, covering the entire turkey. Place in the refrigerator for the specified period of time. Remove turkey from brine after recommended time. Rinse and pat dry with paper towels. Cook turkey as desired.
HOW TO MARINATE: Marinades are a great way to add a burst of flavor to perfectly cooked turkey. Whether you want a tangy twist or a spicy surprise, marinades are simple to prepare and don’t require days of preparation. If the marinade recipe requires you to heat the ingredients, be sure to let the heated marinade cool to room temperature before pouring it over your turkey. For recipes that call for a short marinating time, make the marinade several hours in advance so it can develop its full flavor. Keep your marinating meat covered and in the refrigerator. Use a sealable container or plastic bag that is large to position the food in a single layer, and turn to coat all sides. Use ¼ to ½ cup of marinade for every 1 to 2 pounds of meat. Marinate meat for 2 to 8 hours. The longer you marinate the stronger the flavor. Discard any leftover marinade that has touched raw meat. Try this Bourbon and Cola Marinade Recipe!
HOW TO STUFF: Whether you call it stuffing or dressing, next to the turkey, it’s at the heart of any Thanksgiving. It can be cooked in your turkey or prepared separately as a side. No matter how you decide to prepare it, be sure to follow proper food safety and handling rules. Prepare your stuffing using only cooked ingredients. Use sautéed vegetables, cooked meats or seafood, etc. Use pasteurized egg products, not raw eggs. Place the prepared stuffing in the turkey just before roasting. Stuffing the night before could cause food-borne illness. Stuff both the neck and body cavities of a completely thawed turkey, allowing 1/2 to 3/4 cup of stuffing per pound. Don’t pack stuffing too tightly, as it may cause uneven cooking. When preparing a whole turkey for the oven, return the legs to the original tucked position if they were untucked for stuffing. Turn the wings back to hold the neck skin in place. (Tucking the wings helps to stabilize the turkey in the pan and while carving.) If you are stuffing a whole turkey breast you can skip this step. Stuffing should be 165°F in the center when done. For a delicious stuffing try my Sausage Stuffing.
HOW TO CHECK FOR DONENESS: Leg wiggling, juice color, even the aroma ~you’ll hear lots of ways to check the doneness of your turkey. THESE ARE MYTHS! There is only one safe way to be sure and that is temperature. Unsure of how to check if your turkey is done cooking by taking its temperature with a meat thermometer? It’s simple. Check a few key places to know when your turkey is done. Insert a meat thermometer between the turkey’s thigh above the drumstick without hitting bone to check if it’s fully cooked. When the thermometer reads 180 degrees F, you’re done! (If it’s stuffed, check the temperature of the center of the stuffing to make sure it’s cooked to 165 degrees F as well.). In addition, make sure to cook the turkey to a temperature of 170 degrees F in the deepest part of the breast and 165 degrees F in the center of the stuffing.
HOW TO CARVE: Whether celebrating the holidays or enjoying a casual turkey dinner, the right carving technique helps you get as many servings from your turkey as possible. Learn all you’ll need to know about how to carve a turkey with these helpful instructions.
CARVING THE BREAST: First, allow your cooked turkey to sit for about 20 minutes before starting to carve. Beginning halfway up the breast, slice straight down with an even stroke. When the knife reaches the cut above the wing joint, the slice should fall free on its own. Continue to slice breast meat by starting the cut at a higher point each time.
DRUMSTICKS: Cut the band of skin holding the drumsticks. Grasp the end of the drumstick, place your knife between the drumstick/thigh and the body of the turkey, and cut through the skin to the joint. Remove the entire leg by pulling out and back, using the point of the knife to disjoin it. Separate the thigh and drumstick at the joint.
WINGS: Insert a fork in the upper wing to the steady turkey. Make a long horizontal cut above the wing joint through the body frame. The wing can be disjointed from the body, if desired Whether you are making your first turkey or your hundredth turkey, there are plenty of decisions to make.
Start planning NOW and make it fun and easy! Don’t get overwhelmed, but if you put off making decisions or just plain mess things up remember my best advice!
CHINESE RESTAURANTS ARE OPEN ON HOLIDAYS AND YOU DON’T NEED RESERVATIONS!
Also check out this Guide to Safely Freezing Meat