The Thanksgiving meal is the largest many cooks prepare each year. Getting it just right, especially the turkey, can be stressful. Follow these tips to make sure your Thanksgiving meal is both delicious and safe to serve.
Steps to follow before cooking a turkey:
- Read labels carefully. Temperature labels show if the bird is fresh or frozen.
- If you plan to serve a fresh turkey, purchase it no more than two days before Thanksgiving.
- Purchase two thermometers: a refrigerator thermometer to ensure the turkey is stored at 40 °F or slightly below and a food thermometer to make sure the cooked turkey reaches a safe 165 °F.
- Thaw the turkey by using the microwave, the cold water method, or the refrigerator. The refrigerator method is USDA recommended.
Kitchen Cooking Safety
- Keep children and pets out of the kitchen and any food preparation areas.
- Make sure knives are sharpened before you start cooking. A dull knife is more likely to slip when trying to slice or cut.
- Turn pot handles toward the wall or sideways.
- Do not wear loose-fitting clothing while cooking. Baggy sleeves can catch the handle of a pot or even catch fire around open flames. Save your fancy clothes for dinner.
- Don’t overcrowd the oven. If you have several items that need to stay hot during serving times, remember that an insulated cooler can keep hot things hot. Wrap them in newspaper or towels before placing them in the cooler.
Steps to follow when cooking a turkey:
- Wash hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before touching any food to prevent the spread of many types of infection and illness.
- Do not wash the turkey. This only spreads germs and bacteria onto kitchen surfaces. The only way to kill bacteria that causes foodborne illness is to fully cook the turkey.
- Keep raw turkey separated from all other foods at all times.
- Use separate cutting boards, plates, and utensils when handling raw turkey to avoid cross-contamination. Wash items that have touched raw meat with warm soap and water, or place them in a dishwasher.
- Cook the turkey until it reaches 165 °F, as measured by a food thermometer. Check the turkey’s temperature by inserting the thermometer in three places: the thickest part of the breast, the innermost part of the thigh, and the innermost part of the wing.
- Refrigerate leftovers within two hours to prevent bacteria from growing on the food.
- Store leftovers in shallow pans or containers to decrease cooling time. This prevents the food from spending too much time at unsafe temperatures (between 40 °F to 140 °F).
- Do not store stuffing inside a leftover turkey. Remove the stuffing from the turkey, and refrigerate the stuffing and the meat separately.
- Avoid consuming leftovers that have been left in the refrigerator for longer than 3 or 4 days (next Tuesday to be exact). Use the freezer to store leftovers for longer periods of time.
- Keep leftovers in a cooler with ice or frozen gel packs if the food is traveling home with a guest who lives more than two hours away.
Deep Fried Turkey
With the speed of deep-frying a turkey, the irresistible flavor, and juiciness that results, turkey frying has become a Thanksgiving tradition for some. But turkey fryers have the potential to cause fire and serious injury, which is why organizations like Underwriters Laboratories and the National Fire Protection Association advises against using them. If you plan to deep-fry your holiday bird, be sure you know how to safely use the fryer, and take these precautions to protect yourself, your guests, and your home.
Tips to help prevent deep-fried turkey accidents
- Keep outdoor fryers off decks, out of garages and driveways, and a safe distance away from trees and other structures.
- Make sure the turkey is thawed and dry before cooking. Ice or water that mixes into the hot oil can cause flare-ups.
- Watch the weather. Never operate a fryer outdoors in the rain or snow.
- Place the fryer on a level surface, and avoid moving it once it’s in use.
- Leave 2 feet between the tank and the burner when using a propane-powered fryer.
- Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to avoid overfilling. Most fryers have a fill level mark inside the fryer pot. Oil can ignite when it makes contact with the burner.
- Choose a smaller turkey for frying. A bird that’s 8 to 10 pounds is best; pass on turkeys over 12 pounds.
- Never leave fryers unattended. Keep children and pets away from the cooking area.
- Use an oil that is specific for deep frying turkeys.
- Purchase a fryer with temperature controls, and watch the oil temperature carefully. Cooking oil that is heated beyond its smoke point can catch fire. If you notice the oil is smoking, turn the fryer off.
- Turn off the burner before lowering the turkey into the oil. Once the turkey is submerged, turn the burner on.
- Wear goggles to shield your eyes, use oven mitts to protect your hands and arms, and keep an “ABC” or grease-rated fire extinguisher close by. Do not to use water or a garden hose on a turkey fryer fire. Call 9-1-1 immediately.
- Skip the stuffing when frying turkey, and avoid water-based marinades.
- Keep children and pets away from the fryer at all times.
- Once finished, carefully remove the pot from the burner, place it on a level surface, and cover to let the oil cool overnight before disposing of it. Do not pour the oil down the drain.
- Opt for an oil-less fryer. This uses infrared heat, rather than oil, to cook the turkey.
Sources: State Farm Insurance, Centers for Disease Control