Many people enjoy a traditional turkey dinner during the holiday season. It is estimated that each Thanksgiving, more than 46 million turkeys are prepared and eaten in the United States. Because of the number of turkeys prepared, the incidence of food-borne illness also increases during the holidays. If not prepared properly, turkey and all other poultry can carry Salmonella, a common type of bacteria that can cause food-borne illness. Consider these tips for preparing a safe and tasty turkey this year.
For turkeys less than 16 pounds, estimate 1 pound per serving (this accounts for bone weight). For larger birds, a bit less is fine; they have a higher meat-to-bone ratio. But if your goal is to have very ample leftovers, aim for 1½ pounds per person no matter how big the turkey is.
For 8 people, buy a 12-pound turkey
For 10 people, buy a 15-pound turkey
For 12 people, buy an 18-pound turkey
For 14 people, buy a 20-pound turkey
The big thaw
The safest way to thaw a frozen turkey is in the refrigerator. You’ll need about 24 hours per 4 to 5 pounds of turkey. For speedier thawing, put the turkey in a sink of cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes, and plan for about 30 minutes per pound.
Use an instant thermometer inserted at the innermost part of the thigh (without touching bone) to determine when your turkey is done. The meat needs to hit 165 degrees for safe eating, though some people say thigh meat tastes better at 170.
If the outside of the bird gets too dark before the center reaches the proper temperature, cover it with foil.
The following roasting time estimates are based on a stuffed turkey cooked at 325. Reduce cooking time by 20 to 40 minutes for turkeys that are not stuffed (estimate total roasting times at 15 minutes per pound for unstuffed birds). And remember, a crowded oven cooks more slowly, so plan accordingly if your bird needs to share the space.
Using a convection oven? Either cut the temperature by about 25 degrees from what is called for by the recipe and cook for the time directed, or roast at the suggested temperature, but reduce the cooking time by about 25 percent.
For a standard oven:
12-pound turkey: 3 to 4 hours at 325 degrees
15-pound turkey: 4 to 4½ hours at 325
18-pound turkey: 4½ to 5 hours at 325
20-pound turkey: 5 to 6 hours at 325
At altitudes above 5,000 feet, you might need to cook the bird a little longer. Use a thermometer to test for doneness.
Basting the bird with its juices helps crisp the skin and flavor the meat. Do it every 30 minutes, but no more. Opening the oven door too frequently lets heat escape and can significantly slow the cooking.
The turkey never should go directly from the oven to the table. Like most meat, it needs to rest before serving for the juices to redistribute. Cover the turkey with foil and a few bath towels layered over that (to keep it warm), then let it rest for 20 to 30 minutes.
Carrots: a 1-pound bag makes 4 to 5 servings
Cranberry sauce: a 12-ounce package of fresh cranberries = about 2¼ cups of sauce; a 16-ounce can has 6 servings
Gravy: plan for cup of gravy per person
Green beans: 1½ pounds of beans = 6 to 8 servings
Mashed potatoes: a 5-pound bag of potatoes = 10 to 12 servings
Stuffing: a 14-ounce bag of stuffing = about 11 servings
For food safety reasons, leftovers should be cleared from the table and refrigerated within two hours of being served. Once refrigerated, they should be consumed within three to four days. Leftovers can be frozen for three to four months.