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Thaw And Cook Your Thanksgiving Turkey Safely

On Thanksgiving, many of us will take on the challenge of cooking 12 to 20 pounds of poultry not something we do every day! The basics of roasting a turkey at 325 F for approximately 15 minutes per pound are pretty simple, but there is more to the safe preparation.

Before purchasing the turkey, assess freezer and refrigerator space. Is there ample freezer space to store a frozen turkey and enough refrigerator space to thaw a turkey?

Thawing a turkey takes time. In the refrigerator allow 24 hours (or more) for each four to five pounds. Hold no more than one to two days after thawing. You can speed up the process by thawing in cold water. Place the turkey in its original packaging in cold water, allowing 30 minutes per pound to thaw. Change the water every 30 minutes and cook the turkey immediately after it is thawed. Do not thaw frozen food on the counter.

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It is safe to cook a turkey from the frozen state, but the cooking time will take at least 50 per cent longer than recommended for a fully thawed turkey. For example, a frozen 18-to 20-pound turkey will take about 6-1/2 hours. With a fully thawed turkey check for doneness after four hours. Remember to remove the giblet package before cooking.

Even if your turkey has a pop-up temperature indicator, it is recommended that you also check the internal temperature of the turkey in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast with a food thermometer. A whole turkey is safe when cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 74 C (165 F). Consumers may prefer to cook the turkey to higher temperatures of 77 C (170 F) in the breast and 82 C (180 F) in the thigh.

Within two hours, put leftover cooked turkey in shallow containers and place in the refrigerator. Use leftover turkey, stuffing and gravy within three to four days. Cooked turkey keeps for three to four months in the freezer. When using leftovers, reheat the food thoroughly to 74 C (165 F).

Deb Botzek-Linn is a food science educator with the University of Minnesota Extension.

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