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The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
  • Q5: Thoughts and thaw: An expert opinion on Thanksgiving turkey

  • Denise Sullivan is an extension agent in family and consumer sciences with Leavenworth County's Kansas State Research and Extension office at 613 Holiday Plaza in Lansing. Below, Sullivan answers five questions for cooking your Thanksgiving turkey safely.
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  • Denise Sullivan is an extension agent in family and consumer sciences with Leavenworth County's Kansas State Research and Extension office at 613 Holiday Plaza in Lansing. Below, Sullivan answers five questions for cooking your Thanksgiving turkey safely.
    1. How would you advise someone on choosing a turkey?
    "Hopefully the turkey has been selected and is thawed by this point, since it takes several days to thaw the turkey safely in the refrigerator.
    "You usually want to allow one day for every five pounds of weight to thaw in the refrigerator. To speed thawing, the wrapped turkey can be submerged in cold water, with the water changed every 30 minutes. This can be done in a large sterilized cooler to save space in the kitchen.
    "This method will still take six to eight hours for a 15-pound turkey. If it is not a large turkey, it can also be thawed in the microwave if it will be cooked immediately after.
    "The Food Safety & Inspection Service states that turkeys can be cooked from a frozen state, but it will take 50-percent longer to cook.
    "When considering what size of turkey to purchase, plan for one pound per person being served. If there is a greater preference for white meat, consider purchasing a turkey breast, which will be smaller and also thaw faster."
    2. What's the secret to preparing the perfect Thanksgiving Day turkey?
    "There are many opinions as to what is the 'perfect' turkey. Keeping the turkey moist is a key point, which is where basting is often recommended.
    "The turkey can be basted with the juices that come off during cooking, or with another mixture from a separate preparation, such as broth, butter or wine.
    "Covering or 'tenting' the turkey for the first one and a half to two hours also helps in retaining moisture. Allowing the turkey to 'rest' for 20 minutes before carving contributes to a moist turkey.
    "Brining has become a popular preparation method, which involves soaking the whole bird in a highly salted and seasoned solution for up to 24 hours prior to cooking. This does result in a flavorful turkey, however greatly increases the sodium content and also produces juices that are too salty for making gravy."
    3. What can a person do to ensure they prepare a turkey correctly and avoid health risks?
    "The key to food safety is temperature, and 165 degrees is the magic number. That is the internal temperature that must be reached for the turkey to be safe.
    "Temperature is determined by using a cooking thermometer, which is available at any discount store. There are two types of thermometers: those that are inserted into the turkey and remain there throughout the cooking process, or the instant read thermometer, that is inserted to check temperature and removed after use.
    Page 2 of 2 - "The temperature should be checked in multiple locations, paying particular attention to the breast and thigh. Even if the turkey comes with a 'pop-up' indicator, internal temperature should also be checked with a thermometer. Oven temperature is also important and should not be below 300 degrees.
    "Many 'old time' recommendations call for roasting the turkey all night at 200 degrees, which is a highly risky practice. A thawed, 15-pound turkey will cook in three and a half to four and a half hours, depending on whether or not it is stuffed."
    4. What are some of the common mistakes people make when cooking a 'gobbler?'
    "The most common problems are those that I have already referenced, particularly in terms of temperature. Another common mistake is rinsing the turkey prior to cooking.
    "This actually increases the risk of food-borne illness by spreading potentially harmful bacteria around the sink and other kitchen surfaces that can cross-contaminate other foods.
    "Forgetting to remove the giblet pack prior to cooking often happens, so be sure to check both the body and neck cavity for the 'extras.'
    "Also a common mistake is failing to check the temperature of the stuffing inside the turkey, which should also be at or above 165 degrees. An unstuffed turkey will actually cook faster than a stuffed turkey."
    5. What are some suggestions for creative dishes to make with leftover turkey?
    "Again, food safety is important and leftover turkey should be used or frozen within three to four days and gravy used within two days.
    "Leftovers should always be reheated to 165 degrees. After carving and removing the meat from the bones, I always boil the 'carcass' to have stock to put in the freezer for soup later on – it's expected at my house.
    "Other ideas are turkey salad sandwiches, turkey tetrazini, or white turkey chili.
    Be sure to check our website, www.leavenworth.ksu.edu or our Facebook page, K-State Research & Extension-Leavenworth County, for more helpful tips on holiday food safety."
    — Rimsie McConiga

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