Preparing a Thanksgiving turkey can prove tricky for even the most experienced cooks. How big of a bird to select, how to thaw it in time, and how to avoid undercooking, overcooking or—even worse—food poisoning, are among the challenges faced by holiday chefs. Here are some tips from Mayo Clinic to help avoid turkey-related mishaps:
*Turkey selection: At least 1 pound per person is the rough rule of thumb. That might sound like a lot, but much of that weight comes from bone and fat that you will trim away. If you enjoy leftovers, do the math for the number of people you will serve, then choose a turkey at least a few pounds heavier.
*Defrosting: Keep your turkey frozen until it is ready to thaw. To thaw it in the refrigerator, leave it in its original wrapper, place it on a tray, and allow at least a full day for every four pounds. For example, a 12-pound turkey, enough for about 8 people plus leftovers, will take three or four days to thaw. You can also thaw the turkey in its wrapper submerged in cold water in a clean sink; allow a half-hour per pound and change the water every 30 minutes.
*Turkey prep: After thawing, remove the giblets, and rinse the turkey inside and out with cold water.
*The base: Raw, chopped vegetables make a nice base on which to place the turkey in the pan. They keep the turkey off the bottom of the pan and let air circulate. And, roasted vegetables make a healthy side dish.
*Take steps to avoid salmonella: Use sanitizer to wipe down anything the raw poultry might have touched. Then, wash your hands to avoid spreading salmonella.
*Start at a high temperature and finish low and slow: Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Starting at a high temperature will sear the outside of the turkey, brown it nicely, and push moisture toward the center of the bird. In about 30 minutes, reduce the heat to 275.
*Quitting time: Use a meat thermometer to test whether the turkey is done. Insert it in the thickest part of the thigh and make sure it reaches 165 degrees. A 12-pound bird will take roughly 5 hours to cook.
*Let it rest: Resist the temptation to nibble when the turkey comes out of the oven. Let the turkey rest for at least 20 minutes, putting a lid on it if you're worried about the bird cooling. Letting the turkey rest will help redistribute the moisture throughout, keeping the meat tender.
*Carving: Pop the thighs down first, then take off the wings and separate the legs from the thighs. Cut across the grain of the turkey.
*Leftovers: Refrigerate or freeze leftover turkey promptly. Leftovers can be kept in the refrigerator safely for three or four days. Do not let the turkey sit at typical room temperatures for more than two hours.
"Knowing how to properly prepare your turkey makes for a great-tasting main course for your Thanksgiving meal," says Donald Hensrud, M.D., a Mayo Clinic specialist in nutrition and obesity. "And proper preparation is also important to make sure your meal is safe."
Worried about fat, calories, and sodium with your Thanksgiving feast? See MayoClinic.org for healthy turkey and side dish recipes.