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Turkey tactics for the holiday season

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With Thanksgiving and the year-end holidays fast approaching, it will soon be time to put together a plan of action for preparing the ‘perfect turkey’ for your family feasts.

There are many things to consider when it comes to selecting, thawing, roasting, and saving leftovers from your holiday turkey.

The first thing to consider is, fresh or frozen and what size of turkey to purchase.

When purchasing a turkey to prepare, allow about one pound per person served; that way there will probably be leftover turkey for future meals.

The majority of grocery stores have fresh and frozen turkeys.

Frozen turkeys can be selected months in advance and can be kept frozen indefinitely, but for best quality; it should be cooked within 12 months.

There are three ways to thaw a turkey safely:

-in the refrigerator,

-in cold running water,

-in the microwave oven (IF the turkey will be cooked immediately!).

Thawing the turkey in the refrigerator is the most efficient and safest way.

Thawing does take some planning, because the average time for thawing a whole turkey is 3-5 days, depending on the size of the bird.

When thawing a turkey in the refrigerator, keep the turkey in the original wrapper.

Place it on a tray or in a pan to catch any juices that may leak.

Once thawed, a turkey can remain in the refrigerator for no more than two days before cooking.

A fresh turkey may be selected when you don’t have several days to thaw a whole turkey in the refrigerator.

If preparing a fresh turkey, purchase it only one or two days before cooking.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture does not recommend buying fresh, pre-stuffed turkeys.

If these turkeys are not handled properly, harmful bacteria can grow in the stuffing.

Frozen, pre-stuffed turkeys should not be thawed before cooking.

These turkeys must be cooked from the frozen state.

Follow the package directions for handling and cooking, if you choose a pre-stuffed bird.

To roast a turkey, never cook in an oven at a temperature of below 325 degrees F.

A shallow roasting pan with a rack works well for turkeys.

Cook the stuffing outside of the turkey in a casserole dish.

This works better because it allows the turkey to cook evenly, and it is safer.

Remember to remove the giblets from the cavity before you roast a turkey.

There are several ways to season the turkey.

Most seasonings will have little effect on the safety of the turkey.

Generally, simply rubbing the skin with olive or vegetable oil and sprinkling the turkey with pepper works well.

To allow for even cooking and browning, tuck the wing tips under the shoulders.

Add ½ cup of water to the bottom of the roasting pan, and cover the turkey during the first 60-90 minutes by using the lid of the roaster or by placing a heavy-duty aluminum foil tent over the turkey.

Checking the temperature of the turkey is a key step in making sure it is safe to serve.

USDA recommends roasting the turkey to an internal temperature of 165-180 degrees F. (165 degrees F for stuffing; 170 degrees F for turkey breasts; 180 degrees F for whole turkeys).

Even if your turkey has a pop-up temperature indicator, you still should check the temperature in the innermost thigh and wing and in the thickest part of the breast with a meat thermometer.

After cooking, allow the turkey to stand for 20 minutes before carving to allow the juices to set, and the turkey will carve more easily.

Once the meal is over, do not allow the turkey to remain at room temperature for longer than two hours.

Divide leftovers into small portions before refrigerating.

It’s better to refrigerate leftover turkey in shallow containers because they allow the meat to cool to a safe temperature faster.

Leftover turkey must be used within three days.

Plan to use or freeze leftover gravy within two days.

For further information, contact Rita M. Hodges, County Extension Agent-Family & Consumer Sciences, Texas AgriLife Extension Service, 701 South I-35 E, Waxahachie, or call: 972-825-5175 or e-mail: rmhodges@ag.tamu.edu .

Extension programs serve people of all ages regardless of socioeconomic level, race, color, sex, religion, disability or national origin. The Texas A & M University System, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the County Commissioners Courts of Texas Cooperating.

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