Thanksgiving is just around the corner and that means many folks will be cooking turkeys – some for the first time. Daily Journal food editor Ginna Parsons recently spoke with Janet Jolley, county coordinator for Mississippi State Extension in Marshall County, about how to thaw, cook and stuff a turkey properly.
Q. How long does it take to thaw a frozen turkey and what are the appropriate methods?
A. Two safe methods for thawing your frozen whole turkey are in the refrigerator and in cold water. The length of time to thaw depends on the size of your turkey. For the refrigerator method, you need to allow 24 hours per 5 pounds of turkey. A 16- to 20-pound turkey would take three to four days in the refrigerator. For the cold water method you will need to sanitize your sink, leave the turkey in the original packaging and submerge it in a sink of cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes and allow 30 minutes per pound of turkey. For a 16- to 20-pound turkey, it will take eight to 10 hours. Do not thaw the turkey on the kitchen counter.
Q. How long does it take to cook a turkey, and how do you know when it’s done?
A. You’ll need to cook your turkey at 325 degrees. For a 14- to 18-pound whole turkey, that means 31⁄2 to 41⁄2 hours. Use a meat thermometer to check the temperature, checking in the breast, wing and thigh. Insert the thermometer into one of the areas and wait 15 seconds for the temperature to register. The internal temperature must reach 165 degrees in all areas. Let the turkey stand 20 minutes before carving.
Q. How do you stuff a turkey with dressing safely?
A. Stuffing is tricky. I recommend you cook your stuffing or dressing in a separate pan. If you insist on stuffing your turkey, you’ll need to be extra careful. Do not prepare your stuffing ahead of time, but if you plan to use raw meat, poultry, or shellfish, including oysters, you need to precook the raw ingredients. When you do prepare your stuffing, if it’s hot – like from using hot broth – do not let it cool. Immediately stuff the turkey lightly with about 3⁄4 cup of stuffing per pound of turkey. The stuffing should be moist. For a 16- to 20-pound turkey, you will need 12 to 15 cups of stuffing. A meat thermometer should be used to check for doneness. For doneness, the thigh should reach 180 degrees and the dressing/stuffing should reach 165 degrees. Let it stand 20 minutes before removing the stuffing and carving.