Eye on Extension: It’s time to talk turkey

VALLEY — It’s that time of year! If you’ve never cooked a turkey before, there’s a lot to it, so here are some tips to help you with your Thanksgiving meal. When purchasing a turkey, allow one pound of turkey per person. Most of us buy frozen turkeys. Be sure to plan ahead when thawing the turkey.

Turkeys must be kept at a safe temperature while thawing. While frozen, a turkey is safe indefinitely. However, as soon as it begins to thaw, any bacteria that may have been present before freezing can begin to grow again. A package of frozen meat or poultry left thawing on the counter more than two hours is not at a safe temperature. Even though the center of the package may still be frozen, the outer layer of the food is in the “Danger Zone” between 40 and 140 degrees F –at a temperature where foodborne bacteria multiply rapidly.

There are three safe ways to thaw food:  in the refrigerator, in cold water, and in the microwave oven. Immediately after grocery store checkout, take the frozen turkey home and store in in the freezer. Frozen turkeys should not be left on the back porch, in the car trunk, in the basement, or any place else where temperatures cannot be constantly monitored. 

Thawing in the


Plan ahead: allow approximately 24 hours for each 4 to 5 pounds in a refrigerator set at 40 degrees F or below. Place the turkey in a pan to prevent the juices from dripping on other foods.

* 4 to 12 pounds – 1 to 3 days

* 12 to 16 pounds – 3 to 4 days

* 16 to 20 pounds – 4 to 5 days

* 20 to 24 pounds – 5 to 6 days

A thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator for 1 or 2 days before cooking.

Thawing in Cold Water

Allow about 30 minutes per pound. First be sure the turkey is in a leak-proof plastic bag to prevent cross-contamination and to prevent the turkey from absorbing water, resulting in a watery product. Submerge the wrapped turkey in cold tap water. Change the water every 30 minutes until the turkey is thawed. Cold Water Thawing Times:

* 4 to 12 pounds – 2 to 6 hours

* 12 to 16 pounds – 6 to 8 hours

* 16 to 20 pounds – 8 to 10 hours

* 20 to 24 pounds – 10 to 12 hours

A turkey thawed by the cold water method should be cooked immediately.  After cooking, meat from the turkey can be refrozen.

Microwave Thawing

Check your owner’s manual for the size turkey that will fit in your microwave oven, the minutes per pound and power level to use for thawing. Remove all outside wrapping. Place on a microwave-safe dish to catch any juices that may leak. Cook the turkey immediately. Do not refreeze or refrigerate the turkey after thawing in the microwave. Holding partially cooked food is not recommended because any bacteria present wouldn’t have been destroyed.

A turkey thawed in the microwave must be cooked immediately.

Roasting a Turkey

Set the oven temperature no lower than 325 degrees F.  Place turkey on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. For optimum safety, stuffing a turkey is not recommended. It is recommended you cook stuffing outside the bird in a casserole. Use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of the stuffing. It should reach a safe minimum temperature of 165 degrees F. 

A whole turkey is safe when cooked to a minimum internal temp. of 165 F. Place the thermometer in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. For reasons of personal preference, consumers may choose to cook turkey to higher temps.

For quality, let the turkey stand for 20 minutes before carving to allow juices to set. The turkey will carve more easily. 

Timetable for Turkey Roasting (Unstuffed)

8 to 12 pounds – 2 3/4 to 3 hours

12 to 14 pounds - 3 to 3 3/4 hours

14 to 18 pounds – 3 3/4 to 4 1/4 hours

18 to 20 pounds – 4 1/4 to 4 1/2 hours

20 to 24 pounds – 4 1/2 to 5 hours

Always check the temperature with a thermometer to ensure meat has reached the safe temperature of 165 F.

For more information contact Mary Ellen Fleming at 852-7381, or visit the CSU Extension Office for the San Luis Valley Area at 1899 E. Hwy 160 in Monte Vista.  Please feel free to visit our website at:  http://sanluisvalley.colostate.edu for information about services provided.