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Wilburn: Have a holiday cooking question? We’ve got an answer

POSTED: December 3, 2008 5:00 a.m.

With a holiday such as Thanksgiving, when the main event revolves around cooking, there are invariably going to be some questions that come up.

Especially when working with large poultry such as turkey. And while the technique to cooking it is fairly simple, everyone has their own way to do it. But if you find you're stumped on Thanksgiving morning, here are some answers to common questions.

Question: Which is better, fresh or frozen turkey? How much should I buy?

Answer: The taste of fresh and frozen turkeys is comparable. Consumers may, however, be able to purchase a frozen turkey at a pre-holiday sale price to save money. Fresh turkeys may need to be ordered and then picked up only a day or two before they will be cooked. The general rule in buying a bone-in turkey is to allow 1 pound per person. If additional white meat is preferred, consider buying a larger turkey or an additional turkey breast.


Q: What's in the bag in the neck and/or cavity?

A: Turkey parts, such as the neck or giblets, a word that describes the heart, liver and gizzard (edible parts of the turkey), are typically packaged in a paper bag and placed in the neck or body cavity. The bag should be removed before cooking. The giblets should be cooked separately and may be used in dressing or gravy.

If you forget to remove the parts before cooking, it is possible to save them. Most giblets are wrapped in an oven-safe paper and will be safe to use. If they are wrapped in plastic, the plastic may melt into the turkey and leave an off odor. If so, the giblets should not be used.


A: How should I use a meat thermometer?

Q: With a whole turkey, insert the thermometer probe into the innermost part of the thigh and wing as well as the thickest part of the breast, but not touching the bone. With a turkey breast, insert the probe in the thickest part of the breast, with care not to touch the bone. The USDA recommends a cooked temperature of 165 degrees. Some people will choose to cook poultry to 180 degrees to eliminate pink color and for the texture they are accustomed to.

Instructions for using a meat thermometer vary, as thermometers range from a modestly priced probe to more costly high-tech gadgets. Follow manufacturer's instructions.


Q: Why is it necessary to store leftovers in a shallow pan? How long can we keep leftovers?

A: Placing leftovers in a shallow pan allows fast, uniform cooling. Covering leftovers prevents flavor migration and reduces the risk of cross contamination. The general rule of keeping leftovers is three to four days. If not eaten within three days, they should be wrapped, labeled and dated before being frozen for a future meal. If well wrapped, cooked turkey generally freezes well for three to four months.


Q: Should leftovers be reheated?

A: Turkey may be eaten cold or hot. Reheating leftovers such as turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy or a cooked vegetable casserole to 165 degrees is recommended.


Q: Should leftover pies be refrigerated?

A: A homemade pumpkin pie or any pie that is a custard-style pie containing eggs, should be covered and refrigerated. Leftover fruit pie, which typically is prepared without eggs, can be covered and stored on the counter. For best quality, refrigerate.


Q: Do you have any tips for getting everything ready on time?

A: Plan ahead and divide menu items into three categories: Make ahead, stove top and side dishes such as a salad, relish tray or vegetable casserole that others can bring. Sharing meal preparation reduces holiday meal costs for the host, but also shares the pleasure of preparing a meal for family and friends.

Source: Kansas State University Research and Extension

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



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