BY KIM HUGHES, COUNTY AGENT – FCS –
A simple checklist could help keep chefs from having a food safety meltdown on Thanksgiving Day. Most people don’t cook turkey more than once or twice a year and despite the relative simplicity of slow roasting, there are still plenty of actions that require planning and good timing.
Be organized and find out in advance when to thaw and how long to cook it. If you buy a 20-24-pound turkey, it’s going to take five to six days to thaw it. Home chefs should be sure the turkey is thoroughly de-iced because cooking directions depend on the bird being fully thawed. Ice in the bird could cause a longer cooking time – and a hungrier family.
Fresh birds should remain in the refrigerator until ready for the oven, but no more than three days. Properly working equipment also is important. Be sure the oven and the roasting pan are the correct size and depth and are in working order.
When roasting, make sure the oven temperature is no lower than 325 degrees. Use the oven thermometer to get the reading and adjust the dial as needed. An incorrect temperature will not only lengthen cooking times, but also give bacteria an extra chance to grow.
Once the timer goes off, check the bird for doneness – in three places. The center of the stuffing should reach a safe temperature of 165 degrees. Check the temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing; and the thickest part of the breast. Pop-up indicators aren’t recommended because they only reflect the temperature in one spot.
Once it’s reached 165 in all three of those places, take it out and let it stand for 20 minutes before carving it. Letting the turkey stand gives the meat a chance to cool and become more firm, as well as reabsorbing some juices. Don’t let it stand too long at room temperature; don’t let it sit around for more than two hours.
Two weeks before Thanksgiving
___Decide on the turkey size, based the number of guests you’re expecting
___Find out how long it will take to thaw the turkey in the refrigerator
___Clear enough space in the fridge to allow the turkey to thaw
___Be sure the roasting pan is deep enough and handles are firm to prevent spills
A week before Thanksgiving
___Buy your frozen turkey, store in the refrigerator to thaw
___Purchase a meat thermometer and an oven thermometer if you don’t already own one
___Check the accuracy of oven temperature gauge and dial setting
___Become familiar with the bird’s cooking directions
Three days before Thanksgiving
___If buying a fresh turkey, now is the time to bring it home
___Double check recipes for sides to be sure all needed ingredients are purchased
__Set your alarm – cooking a large bird may require an early start