ShelfLifeAdvice.com™ Serves Thanksgiving Dinner Tips
Preparing the Turkey
• If you’re getting a fresh turkey, buy it no more than 1-2 days before you plan on cooking it.
• To defrost a frozen turkey safely, thaw it in the refrigerator in its original packaging atop a plate to capture drippings. Generally, thawing requires at least 24 hours for every five pounds of weight. To thaw the turkey in less time, place the bird in leak-proof packaging and submerge it in cold tap water. Change the water every 30 minutes to keep it cold, and expect thawing to occur at a rate of 30 minutes per pound. Depending on bird and oven size, defrosting the turkey in the microwave is another option. If thawed in the microwave, the turkey should be cooked immediately after thawing.
• Most experts on food safety recommend NOT stuffing a turkey.
• When cooking the turkey, the oven temperature should be no lower than 325°F. To determine the approximate cooking time, consult the directions that came with the turkey or a cookbook. (Note that stuffed turkeys must be cooked longer.) The turkey is “done” when it reaches 165°F. For better quality, cook white meat to 170°F and dark meat to 180°F. Use a food thermometer to check the turkey’s internal temperature in three places: the innermost part of the thigh, the wing and the thickest part of the breast.
• If you do stuff your turkey, check the temperature of the stuffing to be sure it has also reached at least 165°F. Do not assume the stuffing has reached 165°F if the turkey has.
• If your turkey is ready early or your guests are late, don’t carve the turkey in advance. Try to keep the whole turkey above 140°F. (The “danger zone” in which pathogens grow rapidly is 40°F-140°F.) For a short wait, wrap the turkey tightly in heavy-duty aluminum foil, and then cover it with a towel. For a longer wait, preheat the oven to 200°F and put the whole bird back in this low oven to keep it warm without overcooking it. To keep the bird moist, put a pan of water at the bottom of the oven. (That’s also a good technique to keep already carved meat warm.)
Carving the Turkey
• Before carving, wait about 15-20 minutes to let your cooked turkey absorb its juices and obtain maximum moistness. Allowing it to cool a little will also make the carving process easier.
Preparing the Sides
• If you’re making your own cranberry sauce, begin by looking over the berries and discarding any that are wrinkled or have blemishes. (You can use the white ones.) By the way, fresh cranberries will keep well in the fridge for about two weeks. If you buy them further in advance than that, freeze them. They shouldn’t be defrosted before cooking.
• Be sure to wash all fruit and vegetables well (including your sweet potatoes and pumpkin for a pie) just before serving or cooking them. Rinse under cool water. Even if the outside of a fruit or vegetable is not going to be consumed, it should still be washed to remove dirt and other contaminants that might otherwise reach the inside of the produce.
Putting Perishable Leftovers Away
• Get all perishable food cooled down fast and into the fridge as soon as possible. For more rapid cooling, cut leftover turkey meat off the bone and discard the carcass. Large bowls of hot foods can be set in a pan of ice water to cool them down. Don’t put large amounts of hot leftover stuffing, casserole, or vegetables in the refrigerator in one big container. Divide these foods into smaller portions, and put these containers in different sections of the fridge.
The Shelf Life Advice home page has a lot more tips for Thanksgiving chefs. For additional information about food preparation, see the following articles from Shelf Life Advice:
• Yikes! The Turkey Is Done, But the Guests Are Delayed! How Do I Keep My Thanksgiving Dinner Warm?
• Using a Turkey Fryer: Tips and Warnings
• Everything You Need to Know about Cranberry Sauce
• Turkey Quiz for Your Holiday Dinner
ShelfLifeAdvice.com™ is a free website with comprehensive shelf-life and storage information on hundreds of foods, with data from university and government websites, food scientists, and other reliable sources.
Contact: Bianca Garrison-Quick
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