Plan ahead for a safe and tasty Thanksgiving turkey

Preparing the meal for Thanksgiving can strike terror into some people’s hearts, especially if it is their first time. How long does the turkey need to thaw it? How do I avoid giving someone salmonella?  Is it safe to eat the meat if it’s pink? All good questions!

Planning ahead will help ensure a successful Thanksgiving meal. “Select the recipes you want to make and purchase the ingredients ahead of time to reduce anxiety and stress before and on Thanksgiving,” says Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota Wellness Services Team Leader Lori Howard, who is a licensed, registered dietitian.

Plan to thaw your turkey in your refrigerator one day (24 hours) for each four to five pounds. For example, you’ll need to put a 12-pound turkey in the refrigerator three days prior, or on Monday. You can also thaw your turkey in cold water or in the microwave. Remember, a turkey thawed in cold water or the microwave must be cooked immediately, Lori says.

Avoid salmonella by washing your hands, kitchen work surfaces and utensils with soap and water immediately after they have been in contact with raw poultry.

Now the next big question is how long do you cook it? That, too, depends on the size of your turkey. That same 12-pound turkey will need to cook up to three hours. And if you add stuffing, it can take another 30 to 45 minutes. By the way, be sure to loosely stuff your bird, if you chose to stuff it.

If you’ve properly cooked it to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 degree F, don’t worry if the meat may still be slightly pink.  It is safe to eat. Let the bird stand 20 minutes before removing stuffing and carving. 

Unlike decades ago when your Grandma was making her first turkey, today’s cooks can access instructional videos on how to carve the turkey and make gravy. And if you run into questions on Thanksgiving Day, you can call the toll-free USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline at 888-674-6854 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Central  Time to answer your questions.

“Have fun and enjoy,” Lori says.

Bon appétit!

Denise Pinkney is an editor/project leader in the Communications department at Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota.

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