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Wilburn: Remember the basics when cooking turkey

POSTED: November 28, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Cooking a turkey can seem daunting, but it's simply a matter of following directions and watching your food thermometer.

What? You don't have a thermometer?

OK, that's the first - and, essentially only - thing you need to buy, along with the turkey. The thermometer is key when cooking, as it ensures a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 F has been reached to destroy bacteria and prevent foodborne illness.

Otherwise, follow the instructions below for a delicious - and safe - turkey dinner for Thanksgiving this year.

Roasting instructions

  • Set the oven temperature no lower than 325 F. Preheating is not necessary.
  • Be sure the turkey is completely thawed. Times are based on fresh or thawed birds at a refrigerator temperature of 40 F or below.
  • Place turkey breast-side up on a flat wire rack in a shallow roasting pan 2 to 2 1/2 inches deep.
  • Tuck wing tips back under shoulders of bird (called "akimbo"). (optional)
  • Add one-half cup water to the bottom of the pan. (optional)
  • A tent of aluminum foil may be placed loosely over the breast of the turkey for the first 1 to 1 1/2 hours, then removed for browning. Or, a tent of foil may be placed over the turkey after the turkey has reached the desired golden brown color. (optional)
  • For optimum safety, cook stuffing in a casserole dish as a dressing. If you decide to stuff your turkey, mix ingredients just before stuffing it; stuff loosely. Additional time is required for the turkey and stuffing to reach a safe minimum internal temperature (see chart).
  • For safety and doneness, the internal temperature should be checked with a food thermometer. The temperature of the turkey and the center of the stuffing must reach a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 F. Many people may choose to cook to 180 F to ensure that the meat is not pink and is well done. Check the temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast.
  • Let the bird stand 20 minutes before removing stuffing and carving.
Source: USDA Food Safety Inspection Service

Debbie Wilburn is county extension agent in family and consumer science with the Hall County Extension. Contact: 770-535-8290.


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