Food FYI: Turkey

We are fast approaching Thanksgiving here in the United States.  So for this week, I thought I'd share a little with you about turkey.  Not the country, the Thanksgiving staple that so many men drool over this time of year.

Do you remember that bit from "A Christmas Story" where the dad sneaks into the kitchen to grab a bite of the not-yet-done turkey?  The mom screams from the basement, "Don't eat that turkey, it's not done cooking yet!  You'll get worms!"  Did you buy it?  And then remember the Bumpus hounds that came screaming in and devoured the entire bird while everyone else was busy in another room?  Oh the terror!  The disappointment.  That poor man.  All he wanted was turkey.

Well, I'm here to talk a little about turkey today.  Here's a few questions that I have always asked about:

Q: I'm having people over for Thanksgiving dinner.  How much turkey should I buy?
A: Rule of thumb is (without having leftovers) 1 pound per person.  So if you are like us (aka we live for Thanksgiving leftovers), we are having family over for dinner.  We will purchase a 15-20 pound turkey.  That should give us enough for our guests plus leftovers for some sandwiches the day after.

Q: I bought a frozen turkey.  How long should it take to thaw out?
A: First of all, let's talk defrosting safety.  NEVER EVER EVER EVER let your turkey thaw out on the counter.  Did I say EVER?!  You will give yourself and your guests salmonella poisoning!  No one wants to spend the day after Thanksgiving with those kind of leftovers.  Here are your guidelines:

  • In the Refrigerator (Slow Defrost, safest): 24 hours for every 4 pounds (so if I buy a 20 pound bird, I will plan on letting it defrost in the fridge for 5 days)
  • In the sink, submerged in cold water (Fast Defrost, still okay): 30 minutes for every pound (again, for a 20 pound bird, it will take 10 hours)

Q: I am planning on roasting my turkey.  How many hours will it take?
A: You should never cook your bird below 325 degrees.  This will ensure that the internal temperature of the turkey reaches a safe level quickly.  AND, it's safest if you don't stuff your turkey.  I wrap my stuffing in aluminum foil or put it in a large aluminum pan if I'm making a double batch and bake it separately.  Because I want you to be safe, I'm giving you guidelines for an UNSTUFFED turkey.  For a stuffed turkey, please see the guidelines on the USDA website.  And remember, these times are for roasting at 325 degrees:

  • 4-8 pounds (generally a breast): 1.5-3.25 hours
  • 8-12 pounds: 2.75-3 hours
  • 12-14 pounds: 3-3.75 hours
  • 14-18 pounds: 3.75-4.25 hours
  • 18-20 pounds: 4.25-4.5 hours
  • 20-24 pounds: 4.5-5 hours
So let's use the example of my turkey again. If I'm planning on roasting a 20 pound bird, and we're eating at 3:00 pm, I will put my turkey in a preheated oven at 10:00 am.  That will give my bird enough time to rest on the counter (keeping it juicy) and then for carving.  And when in doubt, the turkey "timers" that come with the bird are 99% of the time accurate.  I have only ONCE had a timer not pop out.  

Q: I am not using the timer that came with the turkey.  Instead I'm using a meat thermometer.  What should the internal temperature (aka the thickest part of the breast) be at before serving?
A: The safe temperature for consumption is 165 degrees.  

Q: Can you fry a turkey?
A: YES YES YES YES YES YES!  That is exactly how we do ours!  We bought a frying rig a few years ago, and ever since we made our first one we've been horribly addicted.  PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE note that frying a turkey can be extremely dangerous.  We take precautions - we don't fry near the house, hubs wears gloves, no one is outside around the fryer while it is going (aka curious little hands or pets), we ONLY use our professionally made fryer (never try to rig something up on your own), and we always have items near to put out a fire just in case.  The biggest tip I can give you for frying a turkey is to make sure that your turkey is completely thawed.  No ice.  If there is ice, when it hits the hot oil, it will cause the oil to bubble up, over flow, and catch on fire.  Bad situation for everyone involved. Dry the bird with paper towels before you slowly submerse it in the oil.

Now that I have scared the crap out of you.  Fried turkey is amazing.  Seriously.  And it's not difficult.  AND it cooks fast.  You want to make sure you are following the guidelines that come with your fryer as to how much oil to use (using peanut oil is best since it holds a temperature better than other oils). Generally you will want 3 gallons of oil per 10 pounds, but again, follow your instructions.  And never use a bigger bird than is suggested for your fryer.  Here are the guidelines for time, frying at 350 degrees:
  • 3 minutes per pound for a 10-13 pound turkey
  • 3.5 minutes per pound for a 14-20 pound turkey
Using my bird as an example again, it would take 1 hour and 10 minutes to fry my 20 pound turkey.  You would then let it sit and rest before carving.  So if we were eating at 3:00 pm, I would start frying my turkey somewhere around 1:00 pm.

Q: Can I marinade a turkey?
A: Yes!  You have a few options.  You can either do a traditional marinade (submersing the bird in a brine/liquid) or you can do an injectible marinade. I will be sharing my recipe for a turkey brine next week.  They sell kits for injectibles.  The best one we've tried I found at Bass Pro Shop, and it's a Cajun flavor.  OH DROOL!

Q: How long can I keep my leftovers?
A: Any turkey that is left out at room temperature for longer than 2 hours should be tossed.  So designate a clean up person (aka THE HUBS!) to get that delicious bird put away right after you are done eating.  You can refrigerate leftover turkey for up to 4 days.  If you are freezing leftovers, make sure they are wrapped really well and use within 6 months.  I usually divide my leftovers in half - half for consumption within 2 days after Thanksgiving, and then I freeze half for a casserole or chili later.

Q: Do you know the Turkey Song?
A: Why yes, yes I do.  I am old enough to remember seeing this for the first time.  Sigh.

So there you have it.  If you have any other turkey related questions, please feel free to leave a comment and I will try and answer them.  :)