For some, the thought of being in charge of the entire Thanksgiving meal can be intimidating. Meal preparation requires advance planning and organization. Younger home chefs may not have had the opportunity to perfect their cooking skills. But we’re here to help!
Want to share your Thanksgiving turkey skills? One way for seasoned Thanksgiving meal prep veterans to assist the newer cooks is to invite them to join you as you prepare the traditional family feast. They will gain valuable experience and skills plus loving memories of the occasion!
Here are several turkey preparation tips to get you started:
How much turkey should be purchased?
Allow 1 pound of uncooked turkey per person from an 8 to 12 pound turkey. Larger birds have a larger proportion of meat to bones, so 3/4 pound per person should be sufficient with leftovers for the beloved day after Thanksgiving turkey sandwich.
By purchasing a larger turkey than needed for the holiday feast, you can transform holiday leftovers into time-saving meals. Freeze the extra cooked turkey and you’ll have your own “ready-to-prepare” healthy food for quick and easy post-holiday dishes. The National Turkey Federation database offers dozens of recipes for cooked turkey. Check the variety of cooked turkey recipes for entrees, salads, appetizers, sandwiches and soups in the recipe section.
How should the turkey be thawed?
Frozen turkey, like all meat and poultry, should be thawed in the refrigerator, never at room temperature. When foods are thawed at room temperature, surface bacteria can rapidly multiply to dangerous levels at temperatures of 40 degrees F and above.
For safety and superior quality, leave turkey in the original packaging and place in a shallow pan. Thaw, in the refrigerator, using this simple formula: whole turkeys thaw at a rate of 4 to 5 pounds per 24 hours. Example: A 15-pound frozen bird will take 3 to 4 full days to thaw in the refrigerator.
Speed thawing: keep turkey in the original tightly sealed bag and place in a clean and sanitized sink or foodservice safe pan. Submerge in cold water and change the cold water every 30 minutes. The turkey will take about 30 minutes per pound to thaw. Refrigerate (at 40 degrees F or below) or cook the turkey when it is thawed. Do not refreeze uncooked, defrosted turkey.
Stuffing should be prepared and stuffed into the turkey immediately before it is placed in the oven for roasting. If preparing the stuffing ahead-of-time, wet and dry ingredients should be refrigerated separately and combined right before stuffing the turkey.
Stuff the turkey loosely, about 3/4 cup of stuffing per pound of turkey.
Test the internal temperature of the stuffing as well as the turkey. The internal temperature in the center of the stuffing should register 160 to 165 degrees F.
For optimal safety and uniform doneness, cook stuffing separately.
When is the turkey done?
For a whole turkey, use your food thermometer to check the internal temperature in three places: the innermost part of the thigh, the thickest part of the breast and the innermost part of the wing. Try not to hit the bone, which can throw off the temperature reading. The internal temperature of the turkey should measure 165 degrees F.
Juices should run clear and the drumsticks should be soft and move easily at the joint.
Since turkey is low in fat and high in protein, the meat is sensitive to extreme heat and prolonged cooking. Loosely place an aluminum foil tent over the turkey breast during the first 1 to 1 1/2 hours of roasting, then remove to allow the turkey to brown.
You may also want to try cooking your turkey breast down to help keep the meat moist and tender.
A turkey should be cooked just until it is done. The best way to determine the level of doneness is with a food thermometer. Use these tests to determine doneness and to keep the turkey juicy.