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Talking Turkey: Get the Best From Your Bird

Experts offer tips for buying and cooking a tasty turkey

Turkey Prep 101 continued...

If you prefer the crispy fried version, don't worry about the extra fat calories, says registered dietitian Newgent: "Thanksgiving only happens once a year, so just go for it and enjoy!"

Newgent also shares a few basic turkey-cooking tips:

  • Buy 1 pound of turkey per person. That will allow plenty for the feast and leftovers, too.
  • Make sure the bird is completely thawed before cooking; otherwise, it will not cook uniformly.
  • Cook the turkey to the proper temperature. A meat thermometer is the only way to ensure proper cooking to 180 degrees. Place the thermometer deep into the thigh, without touching the bone.
  • Slowly cooking the turkey at 325 degrees will result in the most moist and delicious meat. Higher temperatures can overcook or dry out the bird.
  • Rub the bird with olive oil and season lightly with salt, pepper, onion and garlic powders, and a little sage. The rest of the meal is so flavorful that you shouldn't overpower the bird with heavy seasonings, Newgent says.
  • Baste oven-baked birds with their juices and a little butter for added moistness and rich color.
  • Cover the drumsticks and breast with foil when the bird is two-thirds done to prevent drying and scorching.
  • Plan to take advantage of all cooking surfaces when you prepare the meal. Use shallow baking dishes that fit on an oven shelf under the turkey. Prepare other dishes on the stovetop and in the microwave.

Safety First

It's always important to follow safe food handling practices to reduce the risk of food-borne illness. This year, consumers may also be worried about the potential for bird flu in their turkeys. But the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service reassures us that bird flu (avian influenza) is not transmissible by eating poultry.

The real concern, as always, is viruses and bacterial contamination. So keep these safety tips in mind on Thanksgiving (and anytime you're preparing food):

  • Wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling food.
  • Prevent cross-contamination by keeping raw foods separate from cooked foods.
  • Wash hands, cutting boards, utensils, sink, countertops and anything that comes in contact with raw turkey with hot, soapy water.
  • Sanitize cutting boards with a weak bleach solution (1 teaspoon bleach in 1 quart water).

To Stuff or Not to Stuff?

In many families, stuffing the bird has long been the preferred method of cooking. But the Department of Agriculture advises against this practice because of the risk of food-borne illness.

"It is difficult for the stuffing to reach the internal temperature of 165 degrees even when the meat is done," warns Diane Van, USDA meat and poultry hotline manager.

So instead of putting the stuffing inside the bird, experts advise, cook it separately in a casserole dish.

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