As Thanksgiving approaches, it’s time to talk turkey. There are
many questions surrounding the age-old tradition of cooking turkey,
such as whether to
buy fresh or frozen, and how to safely thaw a
Buying and storing
If you buy a fresh turkey, check the date on the
package and purchase only if the date has not passed. If the date is a
“sell by” date, that is the last day the turkey can be
sold. It is best to prepare the turkey by that date also. If it is a
“use by” date, cook it by that date.
Fresh turkeys should be kept below 40 degrees Fahrenheit in the
refrigerator until you’re ready to cook it. Put the bird on a
tray or pan to catch any juices.
When serving fresh turkey, allow for one pound of turkey per person.
Don’t buy fresh pre-stuffed turkeys. If not handled properly, any
harmful bacteria that may be in the stuffing can multiply very quickly.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends buying pre-stuffed
turkeys only if they are frozen and display the USDA or state mark of
inspection on the package. These turkeys are safe because they’ve
been processed under controlled conditions.
Pre-stuffed turkeys should be cooked frozen, not thawed. Follow package
directions for proper handling and cooking. Allow 1¼ pounds of
turkey per person.
If you choose a frozen turkey, allow one pound per
Safe handling begins when you store and defrost the bird. USDA
recommends three ways to thaw a turkey: in the refrigerator, in cold
water or in the microwave.
Never thaw a turkey on the kitchen counter. Room temperature is a
breeding ground for bacteria that can cause food safety concerns.
The basic rule for thawing a turkey in the refrigerator is 24 hours of
thawing time for every five pounds of turkey. Once thawed, refrigerate
the turkey for no more than one to two days before you cook it.
If you don’t have room in the refrigerator for a big bird, use
the cold water thawing method. Follow these steps:
times are suggested for thawing a turkey in water:
the bird or cut-up parts in cold water in its airtight packaging or in
a leak-proof bag.
about 30 minutes defrosting time per pound of turkey.
the water every 30 minutes to be sure it stays cold.
turkey immediately after it hass thawed.
- 8 to 12
pound turkey, 4 to 6 hours
- 12 to
16 pound turkey, 6 to 8 hours
- 16 to
20 pound turkey, 8 to 10 hours
- 20 to
24 pound turkey, 10 to 12 hours
Turkeys can be kept frozen indefinitely, however for best quality, they
should be wrapped in freezer packaging and cooked within one year.
The third way to thaw a turkey is in the microwave. Because every
microwave is different, it’s very important to carefully follow
the manufacturer instructions. The instruction manual should tell you
how long to defrost per pound of turkey and what kind of container to
put the bird in.”
Microwave-thawed turkeys should be cooked immediately after thawing.
Turkey by the Numbers
According to USDA’s Agricultural Marketing
Service, the U.S. is the world’s largest turkey producer and
largest exporter of turkey products. An estimated 46 million turkeys
will be sold and cooked during the holidays this year.
A small percentage of the birds on holiday tables will be wild turkeys
hunted on private and public lands. There are more than 7 million wild
turkeys roaming the countryside, but their numbers were not always that
robust. According to the National Wild Turkey Federation, the native
U.S. game bird faced extinction in the 1930s.
Today, there are roughly 5 million Eastern wild turkeys in 38 states
and four Canadian provinces. The Rio Grande species of wild turkey is
the second-largest population, with more than 1,000 found in North
America. Rio Grande wild turkeys are native to the Plains states and
grow to 4 feet tall but with longer legs than the Eastern wild turkey.
Smaller populations of wild turkeys include the Osceola found primarily on the
peninsula of Florida that number between
80,000-100,000; Merriam’s wild turkeys in the ponderosa pine,
western mountain regions of the U.S. that number 334,000 ; and a relative handful
– 700 or so – oGould’s wild turkeys found in
southern portions of Arizona and New Mexico.
Only two species of turkeys are under the scientific genus Meleagris: Meleagris gallopavo, or the North
American wild turkey that includes five distinct subspecies, and Meleagris ocellata, the oscillated
turkey that exists only in a 50,000-square-mile area that includes
parts of Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala.
(Turkey handling instructions)
of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences
Turkey for the Holidays
techniques, selection, carving, side dishes, turkey facts, turkey
safety, turkey farms, nutrition information, and how to deal with
leftovers.; recipes for soups, wraps,
pies, and broths
Turkey by the Numbers