It just wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without turkey, would it? But sometimes, turkey is a lot of hassle. It’s big, it’s complicated, it takes up a lot of room in your fridge—but you know, once you get the hang of it, turkey isn’t that hard. Just think of it as a big chicken, and follow the same rules you’d use when roasting a hen. And since we’re featuring turkeys on sale this week, this is the perfect time for a little Turkey 101.
If you choose a frozen turkey, allow plenty of thawing time—about 1 day for every 5 pounds of turkey. A 15-pound turkey would require three days of thawing time, so make sure to clean out the fridge to have plenty of room If you’re expecting 10 guests for Thanksgiving dinner, a 15-pound turkey will give you plenty of meat, plus some leftovers. 1 ½ pounds per person is a good way to estimate how large a turkey to buy.
Most nutritionists—and I’m a nutritionist—will advise you not to stuff your turkey. It increases cooking time and increases the chances of foodborne illness. It’s a much safer bet to cook the stuffing in a separate baking pan. If you do stuff your turkey, however, fill the turkey cavity only 2/3 full of loosely packed stuffing, and make sure the internal temperature reaches at least 165 degrees.
So what do you get for your work? Turkey is full of health benefits. It’s low in cholesterol and fat, and it provides nearly 50 percent of the daily allowances for folic acid. That helps protect against birth defects, some forms of cancer, and heart disease. A 3-ounce serving of turkey has about 100 calories and plenty of protein. It’s good for you! It’s what you put on the plate along with the turkey that leads to problems!
If you’re new to all this, you can contact the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline for answers in English or Spanish from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays (or 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day) by calling 1-888-674-6854. And, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service of the USDA offers the “Ask Karen” service at http://www.fsis.usda.gov/Food_Safety_Education/Ask_Karen/index.asp. You can type in your food safety question and receive a list of questions and answers related to your inquiry.