How to choose and cook the perfect Thanksgiving turkey

·4 min read
Nancy Wilcox, of Harrisonville, shops for a Thanksgiving turkey on Friday at the Hy-Vee grocery store at 3100 Broadway. Wilcox decided to take advantage of the buy a ham and get a free turkey special.
Nancy Wilcox, of Harrisonville, shops for a Thanksgiving turkey on Friday at the Hy-Vee grocery store at 3100 Broadway. Wilcox decided to take advantage of the buy a ham and get a free turkey special.

Turkey is the mainstay of most Thanksgiving meals, but those preparing them for guests have a lot to consider.

Here are some tips, ideas and things to know ahead of Turkey Day:

How big of a turkey should you buy?

"If you're going to a typical grocery store or a local producer, you should consider about a pound per person," said Londa Nwadike, extension associate professor of food safety for both University of Missouri and Kansas State University.

If you want more leftovers, 1 1/2 pounds of bird per person should work, Nwadike said.

If you're just using a turkey breast, 3/4-pound per person should be enough, she said.

Thawing turkeys

If you buy a turkey frozen, there's thawing to consider. The safest way to thaw it is in the refrigerator, she said. In the fridge, that would require a day of thawing for every five pounds of turkey.

If one doesn't have that much time, they can put the bird in cold water in the sink, Nwadike said. That will require 30 minutes of thawing for each pound of turkey. So a 14-pound turkey would thaw in seven hours using that method.

"Change the cold water every 30 minutes," she said when using that method.

Never thaw your turkey on the kitchen countertop, she said.

More: Where you can go to get your Thanksgiving dinner together in Columbia — even without the cooking

"On the kitchen counter, the outer part of the turkey is at room temperature while it's frozen inside," she said. "Microorganisms love to grow at room temperature. It could potentially make you sick."

And your guests.

A guide to giblets

Hy-Vee Grocery Store meat market manager Brendan James weighs turkeys before pricing them on Friday at the Hy-Vee grocery store at 3100 W. Broadway.
Hy-Vee Grocery Store meat market manager Brendan James weighs turkeys before pricing them on Friday at the Hy-Vee grocery store at 3100 W. Broadway.

There may be giblets inside the bird. Take them out, Nwadike said. She always throws them away, but they could be used in gravy.

She shared her own embarrassing experience with giblets. The first time she cooked a turkey, she didn't check in the cavity for the giblets. They were in plastic, which melted inside the turkey as it cooked.

How to safely prep a turkey

"When preparing the turkey, wash your hands before and after touching it," she said. "You don't need to rinse your turkey. The rinsing doesn't have any benefit, and it could spread germs around the sink."

Put it in an oven set to 325 or 350 degrees. A 10-pound bird should take three hours to cook, or 3 1/2 hours if you cook it with stuffing inside.

"Definitely use a thermometer, checking the innermost part of the thigh or breast in the muscle part, not touching the bone," Nwadike said. It should be at least 165 degrees.

Stuffing inside the turkey, or separately outside?

"I personally love stuffing inside the turkey," Nwadike said. "Sometimes I see recommendations not to stuff inside. Make sure you stuff it loosely if it's inside the turkey."

Make sure the stuffing in the turkey also reaches 165 degrees, she said.

Leftovers

There are things to consider after the meal, too.

"You do want to make sure you remove the meat from the carcass," she said. "It's better to get it done with. After the meal, put it into smaller containers for leftovers. You want to make sure you cool down the meat to below 41 degrees within two hours of cooking."

Leftovers can stay in the fridge for three or four days. Any longer, put it in the freezer, she said.

Supply chain worries?

Will there be turkeys when you shop for them? Everything else seems to be in short supply.

"We'll have a plentiful supply," said Sheila Regehr, spokeswoman for Gerbes. "We know based on feedback from our customers, when we surveyed them in April, 42% of our customers plan on celebrating with a larger family gathering than in 2020."

The same is true for Schnucks, said spokesman Paul Simon.

"We have a great stock," he said. "We have more turkeys than in 2020."

Both recommended shopping early for a better selection of turkey sizes.

"If buying a fresh bird, get your order in as soon as possible," Simon said.

rmckinney@columbiatribune.com

573-815-1719

This article originally appeared on Columbia Daily Tribune: Selecting and cooking the perfect turkey for Thanksgiving Day 2021