Top turkey tips for Thanksgiving

‘Tis the season, but you may be feeling more stressed than thankful if you are responsible for cooking the turkey! Holiday meals comes with high expectations and that bird can be intimidating if you haven’t cooked it before. Here are answers to some of the most common questions representatives from Butterball receive to help you make a perfect Thanksgiving turkey that will leave the whole family stuffed.

How big of a turkey should I buy?

Are you feeding a small family or an extended crew? If you have light eaters or are taking children into consideration, it’s safe to say one pound per person. If you are aiming to have leftovers or have hearty eaters, 1.5 to 2 pounds per person is a better bet. Butterball.com has an easy Plan Perfect Portions calculator to help with figuring out how many pounds to buy, as well as how much stuffing to make.

How do I thaw a frozen turkey?

If your turkey is frozen, hopefully you discover that before Thanksgiving Day, because it can take quite some time to thaw depending on the size of the bird. If you have enough time, the preferred option is to thaw the turkey in its unopened wrapper in the refrigerator. Allow at least one day of thawing for every four pounds and cook within four days after thawing. If you are pressed for time, do a cold water thaw by submerging the wrapped turkey covered completely in cold water. Change the water and rotate the turkey every 30 minutes. It will take about 30 minutes of thawing time per pound, so plan accordingly! 

Is it called stuffing or dressing?

In many regions, that delicious bread/vegetable/sausage side that is separate from the turkey is called dressing. But if you like it cooked inside the bird, it’s known as stuffing. If you are going to stuff the bird, there are some simple steps to do it safely:

– Make sure you use cooked ingredients like sauteed vegetables or cooked meats and stuff the bird just prior to putting the turkey into the oven.

– Loosely pack the stuffing into both the neck and body cavity of the thawed turkey, allowing ½-¾ cup of stuffing per pound.  

– Stuffing should be 165 degrees in the center when done and it’s important to make sure of this to prevent any food-borne illness.

How do I cook this bird?

Roasting a fresh whole turkey is easier than you think, so don’t fret. Preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Drain the juices, remove the giblets and pat the turkey dry with a paper towel. Place the turkey with the breast up on a flat rack in a shallow roasting pan. Tuck in the wings, then brush the skin with vegetable or cooking oil. Check out butterball.com for cooking times depending on your turkey size and whether it’s stuffed. Generally, a 7-10 pound bird needs 2.5-3 hours to cook and a 22-24 pound turkey needs 4-4.5 hours. When the turkey is about ⅔ done, loosely cover the breast with a piece of foil to prevent overcooking.

What’s the perfect temperature?

While juice color and aroma may be signs that your turkey is almost done, the only sure fire way to know is by reading the temperature. So get out that meat thermometer and you want it to read 180 degrees in the thigh, 170 degrees in the breast and 165 degrees in the stuffing. Insert the thermometer close to, but not touching, the thigh bone to get an accurate reading.

How do prevent illnesses?

No host wants to be responsible for making their guests sick, so make sure you follow some basic food safety rules. Besides thawing accurately and making sure the cooked temperature is 180 degrees, make sure to wash prep utensils and surfaces that come in contact with uncooked turkey and juices with hot, soapy water. Do not stuff the turkey the night before because it allows salmonella and bacteria to grow. After you enjoy that meal, make sure you store those delicious leftovers in separate containers within two hours after cooking. And leftovers will last only three days in the refrigerator, so make sure to eat those turkey sandwiches in time or freeze before then.

Need an expert?  

Butterball has a Turkey Talk Line where experts are available to answer you questions by phone, email, text and online chat. Call 1-800-BUTTERBALL or check out butterball.com for more tips and tools to help get you through this turkey holiday season. 

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