Safely Cooking a Turkey

Safely Cooking a Turkey

Years ago, we talked about safe ways to fry a turkey. But let’s take a step back. It’s time to return to tradition… with a traditional turkey. This blog will discuss safely cooking a turkey.

For this we’ll go from start to finish: thawing your meat, prepping your work area, safely cooking a turkey, and then storing the leftovers. A properly cooked turkey can keep the whole family healthy and happy!

Properly Thawing Your Meat

Figuring out how to thaw a frozen turkey may feel like a mathematical equation. First, you’ll need to know how many pounds your turkey weighs. Then, you’ll want to allow one day of thawing for every five pounds of meat. So a ten-pound turkey will need to thaw for two full days. Beyond that, you should allow an additional day. Once it is fully thawed, don’t leave your turkey for more than two days. 

As you can see, knowing how to safely cook a turkey begins days before the actual cooking even takes place. In addition, never thaw the turkey on the counter. It should remain in the refrigerator. You see, if the temperature reaches above 40 degrees or so, you risk your food becoming contaminated with germs – and no one wants to spend Thanksgiving being sick! 

Preparing Your Cooking Space

Often, foods become contaminated not only because of cooking mistakes, but also because of unsanitary conditions in the cooking area. For one, cleanliness begins with your own hands. The truth is, raw poultry can carry many germs. If you touch the raw turkey and then handle other items in your kitchen, such as spice containers or countertops, germs can spread to those items.  

To that end, it is critical that you don’t touch your children after touching the raw meat. Distractions are aplenty with little kids running around, but imagine handling your food, forgetting to wash your hands, and then wiping chocolate off your child’s face.  To avoid unnecessary food-borne illnesses, it is essential that you wash your hands thoroughly, frequently, and with soap.

You also want to keep the area clean. Use separate surfaces, like plates and cutting boards, as well as dedicated utensils for your raw turkey, from the ones you’re using for ready-to-eat food.  Don’t use the surface again until it is completely washed with soap and hot water.

Though you may have been taught to rinse off your meat before cooking it, this is no longer a recommended practice. By rinsing the turkey, you spread more germs! 

Safely Cooking a Turkey

Once your turkey is in the oven, be sure to monitor it with a food thermometer. Like thawing time, the cooking time depends on the weight of your bird. You can use this guide from the Food Safety and Inspection Services to help determine how long you should keep your turkey in the oven. 

Above all, the goal for safely cooking a turkey is to ensure that it has an internal temperature of 165 degrees. You should check this by inserting the thermometer into the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. Sanitize the thermometer in-between tests.

While we’re discussing safety, we would be remiss if we didn’t address oven safety. When it comes to our little ones, the stove and oven can be one of the most dangerous things in the house. Be sure not to leave hot water unattended on the stovetop. If curious fingers pull at the pot handle, boiling water could come down on them, causing severe burns.

Additionally, make sure that all oven knobs are covered or in the "off" position. Last, make sure to have a lock on the oven door. Sure, it’s one extra step. But rest assured, you’ll be glad you were careful when it comes to the safety of your child!

Storing the Leftovers

Within two hours of your meal, place your leftover meat in the refrigerator. If your turkey is stuffed, remove the stuffing and store separately.

When reheating, food should be cooked until it has once again reached 165°F. Additionally, it should be consumed within three to four days, or otherwise frozen.

Happy eating!

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