Don't Let Your Turkey Turn You into Jerky

The most important holiday is upon us, humans. Thanksgiving—or as Safety Cat likes to call it, Big Delicious Bird Day—is usually a day of feasting and napping, but that can all be ruined if the turkey decides to exact post-mortem revenge.

Safety Cat's knows you bipeds love—to eat—turkeys as much as he does but, alas, you hairless creatures refuse to eat it the best way: raw.

Because of their massive size, turkeys are tricky to cook. That is why the USDA has dedicated an entire section in their holiday food safety Web site on how to cook the delicious feathered gobbler.

Here are some of the site's tips with Safety Cat's illuminating insights in brackets:

Purchasing the turkey

Be prepared! Before purchasing your turkey, make ample space in your refrigerator, moving shelves if necessary [To prevent nightly raids on the ice box, place the bird out of reach of any hungry dogs. Despite their drooling, glass-eyed facades, these barking creatures will do anything to get to that turkey.]

Fresh or frozen? There is no quality difference between a fresh or frozen turkey [not true. It's harder to chew on raw, frozen flesh] although fresh turkeys have shorter shelf lives. By purchasing a frozen turkey, you can get the turkey in advance and take advantage of special sales. Fresh turkeys provide convenience because they do not require thawing.

What size turkey do I need to buy? When purchasing a whole turkey, purchase at least one pound of uncooked turkey per person. You'll have enough for the feast and for leftovers too [I have ordered my human to purchase one for herself and one for Safety Cat. We wouldn't want to run out of turkey, now would we?].

When should I buy it? Keep in mind that a whole turkey takes about 24 hours per four to five pounds to thaw in the refrigerator. (For example: A 15-pound frozen bird will take 3 to 4 full days to thaw in the refrigerator.) Ideally, purchase your frozen turkey as far in advance as necessary to safely thaw it in the refrigerator. If buying a fresh turkey, purchase it only 1 to 2 days before the meal and keep it refrigerated.

Thawing and handling

Always wash hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after handling the turkey.

Never defrost turkey on the counter! [Why? Those smelly barkers will eat it!] Turkey can be thawed in the refrigerator or in cold water. The refrigerator method is the safest and will result in the best finished product. Leave the bird in the original packaging and place in a shallow pan and allow refrigerator thawing time at a rate of 4 to 5 pounds per 24 hours. To thaw in cold water, keep turkey in the original packaging, place in a clean and sanitized sink or pan and submerge in cold water. Change the cold water every 30 minutes. The turkey will take about 30 minutes per pound to thaw. Cook the turkey immediately after it is thawed. Do not refreeze.

Now what? Once thawed, remove neck and giblets from the body cavities and keep bird and parts (if using) refrigerated at 40 degrees F or below until it is ready to be cooked [ or give to Safety Cat].

Cooking time and temperature

Time to cook. There are several methods for cooking your turkey [apparently, some humans like their turkey fried. Remember to never fry a frozen turkey, or you will explode yourself and your four-legged creatures out of a residence.]. The single most important thing to know, no matter the cooking method, is that the turkey must be cooked to the proper internal temperature as measured with a food thermometer. A stuffed turkey will take additional time to cook.

Stuff safely. Stuffing should be prepared and stuffed into the turkey immediately before it's placed in the oven. Mix the wet and dry ingredients for the stuffing separately and combine just before using. Stuff the turkey loosely, about 3/4 cup stuffing per pound of turkey. Bake any extra stuffing in a greased casserole dish. Cooked inside or outside the bird, all stuffing and dressing recipes must be cooked to a minimum temperature of 165 degrees F. (For optimum safety and more even cooking, it’s recommended to cook your stuffing in a casserole dish.)

Take the temperature! Insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh, not touching bone. Cook to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees F as measured with a food thermometer. Check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. For reasons of personal preference, cook turkey to higher temperatures but not to exceed 170 degrees F in the breast and 180 degrees F in the thigh. [Is it time to eat, yet?]

Safe carving and serving

It’s best to let the turkey rest for 20 minutes before carving to allow the juices to set, so the turkey will carve more easily [Safety Cat volunteers to keep guard of the turkey]. Use a clean cutting board that has a well to catch juices. Remove all stuffing from the turkey cavity. Make sure your knife is sharp before you start carving. Do not leave any extra turkey, stuffing or other leftovers out for more than two hours.

For more information on how to cook a turkey, go to www.holidayfoodsafety.org.

After all that turkey talk, Safety Cat is famished.

Remember, humans, don't feast and drive. Meow.

S.C.

Posted by Safety Cat on Nov 23, 2009


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