Extension professionals are a good resource for Thanksgiving food questions – Part 2

Common questions regarding Thanksgiving meal preparation: Questions that MSU Extension receives, along with answers.

This is the second article of three, in a series involving typical questions that Michigan State University Extension staff typically receives during the Thanksgiving season, along with the answers. Here’s hoping your Thanksgiving holiday is a safe one!

Question: You always recommend using a food thermometer. I don’t have one. Can’t I just cook it until the button pops out or until I think it’s done?

Answer: Pop-up buttons on turkeys are often unreliable: Sometimes the turkey is overcooked or undercooked when re-checked with a food thermometer. MSU Extension educators recommend using a food thermometer anytime meat or poultry is cooked. They are available at grocery stores and other retail outlets for less than $10 and sometimes available as part of MSU Extension food safety classes. A food thermometer is the only way to determine whether meat and poultry have been cooked hot enough to kill bacteria that may have existed on the meat product. They are also a great way to avoid overcooking meat.

To ensure a safe product, turkey must be cooked to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit. To measure this put the food thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh and the breast area. Don’t allow the tip of the thermometer to touch bone or fat, as these conduct heat differently from the meat. If you are letting your poultry “rest” prior to serving, it will increase about five to 10 degrees Fahrenheit on the counter during the 15 minute rest period prior to carving. If you are cooking a stuffed turkey the stuffing must also register at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit on the thermometer.

Question: What’s the safest way to thaw a turkey? My mom put it in the sink overnight, but that doesn’t seem right.

Answer: We know better now than to let any meat product thaw outside of the refrigerator all night! The most common and easiest way to thaw a turkey is to put the frozen bird on a tray in the refrigerator 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below, and to let it thaw slowly. Allow about a day for each four to five pounds of turkey. This means you must transfer a 16 to 20 pound turkey from the freezer to the refrigerator the weekend before Thanksgiving! Once it’s thawed you can continue to store in the refrigerator for up to two additional days.

You can also thaw a frozen turkey in cold (about 50 degrees Fahrenheit) water. Keep the turkey in its wrapper and submerge, changing the water every 30 minutes. Allow about 30 minutes per pound to thaw this way, so a 16 to 20 pound bird will take eight to10 hours. The poultry must then be cooked immediately.

A microwave can also be used to thaw a turkey. We recommend you follow the directions for your specific appliance; it is necessary to cook the turkey immediately after microwaving.

Question: We had the best turkey at Aunt Fabiana’s house last year. She put it in a 175 to 200 degrees Fahrenheit oven on Thanksgiving Eve and it roasted slowly all night. How long will a 24 pound turkey take to cook at that temperature?

Answer: Cooking a turkey this way can be hazardous! To insure a safe product a turkey must be cooked at a minimum of 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

This is part two in a Thanksgiving food safety series, be sure to read part three. 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 toll-free 1-888-MSUE-4-MI (1-888-678-3464).

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