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Tips for your holiday turkey

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No need to wing it this Thanksgiving, here are some turkey tips you’ll love.

A tastier, healthier turkey makes everyone happy for the holidays.

“If you follow some very basic guidelines, cooking a turkey does not have to be so hard,” commented Amanda Horn, a Registered Dietitian and the Oklahoma County OSU Extension Family and Consumer Sciences educator.

When purchasing a turkey be choosy.  Look for turkeys that say USDA Grade A.  Grade A turkeys are of the highest quality.  They are usually meaty and are nearly free of pinfeathers, bruises, cuts, tears and broken bones.  Also, skip the birds that are pre-stuffed.  It’s much safer to stuff the bird yourself right before cooking it.

Also, make sure to get the right size.  Biggest isn’t always best.  Buying more turkey than you really need may just make it harder to store, cook and deal with the enormous amounts of leftovers.  Generally, you need about a pound to a pound and a half of uncooked turkey per person.

When you get your turkey home make sure to store it properly.  You can store a fresh bird safely in your refrigerator for one to two days.  You can store a frozen turkey in your freezer for up to a year. If you buy a frozen turkey right before Thanksgiving, just remember to buy it early enough so that you can safely thaw it.

Generally, a turkey can be thawed safely either in the refrigerator or in cold water.  You never want to thaw a turkey at room temperature, because this allows bacteria to grow.  For every four pounds of turkey, expect 24 hours of defrost time.  Thaw a turkey in an unopened bag on a tray in the refrigerator.  Remember that a 20 pound turkey will take 4 to 5 days to defrost, so allow plenty of time before you cook it.  In a pinch, you can defrost a turkey in a sink full of cold water.  First, put the turkey in a waterproof bag.  Change the water every half hour to make sure that it stays cold.  It takes about 30 minutes to defrost every pound of turkey using this method (10 hours for a 20 pound turkey).  When a turkey is thawed in the refrigerator or in cold water, it can be safely kept in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days.

When it comes to cooking your turkey it should be slow roasted at 325 degrees Fahrenheit until it’s done.  Resist the urge to put it in the oven the night before at 150 degrees, and then finish the cooking the next day.  This can allow bacteria to build up.  To get a beautiful brown-roasted turkey, consider rubbing a light coat of vegetable oil on the carcass.  And if you cook your turkey under a tent of foil (make sure it doesn’t touch the turkey) or covered by a roasting lid (which helps seal in moisture), lift the covering during the last hour so it can brown.

As a round estimate, you need 15 to 18 minutes of cooking time for every pound of unstuffed bird.  A whole turkey is done when the temperature reaches 180 degrees Fahrenheit in the inner thigh.  Stuffing should be cooked to a temperature of 160 degrees.  Use a meat thermometer to test the temperatures.  Before carving, let the turkey sit for 20 minutes first, then serve.  This helps it cool down so that it will actually carve easier.

Lastly, don’t “leave” the leftovers.  Turkey and most of the fixings that go with it shouldn’t be left at room temperature more than two hours.  So soon after you eat, plan to un-stuff and debone your turkey and store the leftovers in small containers in your refrigerator.

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