Extension professionals are a good resource for Thanksgiving food questions – Part 1

Many consumers have questions regarding Thanksgiving meal preparation. Here are some questions that MSU Extension experts typically receive, along with the answers.

Whether you are cooking a Thanksgiving meal for the first time or are an “old hand” at turkey cooking, sometimes questions arise when preparing for the holiday meal.

Here are typical questions that Michigan State University Extension educators receive, along with the answers, so that your Thanksgiving holiday can be a safe one!

Question: I plan to buy a fresh turkey this year. Is there anything special I should know about storing and preparing it?

Answer: Fresh turkeys are prepared pretty much the same as their previously frozen counterparts. The one difference is that fresh turkeys should be purchased no more than one or two days before the holiday meal and then, of course, stored at temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit until cooking begins. MSU Extension does not recommend buying a pre-stuffed fresh turkey because of food safety concerns.

Question: How much turkey should I buy? I’m planning on serving 10 people dinner.

Answer: If you plan on buying a smaller turkey, estimate one pound of turkey for each person. This will generally be enough for ample portions, as well as leftovers. Large turkeys over 16 pounds have more meat per pound, so each pound generally serves two people.

Question: How do I clean the turkey before cooking it?

Answer: You don’t! The United States Department of Agriculture recommends that consumers not wash poultry before cooking, due to potential spread of bacteria throughout the kitchen. Keep the turkey in its’ original wrapper until just before cooking, then remove the giblet packet from the cavity, visually inspect the bird and remove pinfeathers, if any remain, and roast the turkey.

Question: Do I have to thaw the turkey before I cook it?

Answer: You can cook an unstuffed turkey from its frozen state but there are guidelines to follow. Roast at a temperature of at least 325 degrees Fahrenheit, preferably on a rack, so heat can circulate around the bird. A higher temperature may mean that the outside cooks too quickly and becomes overdone once the inside is up to temperature. Check the temperature with a food thermometer after about 2.5 hours and remove the giblet bag. You may want to turn the bird so it cooks evenly. After about 3.5 hours add seasonings, if you wish and begin basting the turkey. The turkey is done when it reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit on a food thermometer placed in thickest part of the thigh and breast areas. This will take about five hours for a small bird and about seven hours for a 15 to 20 pound bird.

This is part one in the Thanksgiving food safety series. For more information on food safety during the Thanksgiving holiday please read the other articles in this series. For additional information about preventing foodborne illnesses, as well as other issues of interest to families, contact a MSU Extension educator in your area or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464).

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