Talking turkey: tips for preparing holiday foods

Karen Blakeslee, coordinator of the K-State Research and Extension Rapid Response Center, outlines ways to keep food safe and reduce cooking stress. Whether you’re a cooking novice or the experienced short-order cook at your house, chances are you don’t prepare 14-pound holiday turkeys every day.

Blakeslee says there are ways to avoid last-minute stress and keep food safe when putting it all together. She provided these tips for before and after the holiday meal.

Before the meal

• Make a list well in advance of the holiday. Include a timeline when activities should happen. Whether it’s five days before the meal, two days before or two hours before.

• Plan in advance the foods you’ll prepare and how. Will the turkey go in the oven or in a countertop roaster? How will you prepare and cook the other foods? Will you cook them in the pressure cooker, or on the stovetop?

• Consider asking guests to bring a dish.

• Wash your hands often, including before, during and after food preparation.

• If you want a fresh turkey, order it ahead of time so your store will have it ready.

• A frozen turkey can be purchased much earlier. Store it in the freezer until it’s time to thaw and cook it. Also look for any sales at this time of year.

• The turkey’s thaw time depends on the size of the turkey. A 12- to 16-pound turkey needs to thaw for a full week in the refrigerator. For a smaller turkey, move it from the freezer to the refrigerator the weekend before Thanksgiving.

• Did you forget to thaw the bird in advance? Submerge it in clean, cool water in a large pot. Change the water every 30 minutes or so. This takes a few hours as opposed to several days in the refrigerator.

• If all else fails and you completely forget, the turkey can be cooked from a frozen state, but it will take about 1-1/2 times the amount of time to cook a thawed turkey.

• When prepping the turkey, there’s no need to wash it. Food scientists say rinsing the bird can splash water with bacteria on countertops and other foods. Cooking it will take care of any potential bacteria.

• Cook at 325 degrees Fahrenheit or higher until a meat thermometer shows 165 degrees. You should insert the thermometer in the meatiest area of the bird — typically the thigh. It’s a good idea to take readings in multiple places.

• Cover the turkey with a lid or aluminum foil to ensure consistent cooking. Take the cover off toward the end of cooking to allow the skin to brown.

• Pop-up thermometers that come with some turkeys are an indicator of temperature, but they may not show the true temperature of the turkey. These thermometers can pop up before the bird is cooked through.

• Are you making stuffing? Food safety experts encourage baking the stuffing in a separate pan from the turkey. This will make it easier to reach the desired temperature of 165 degrees.

• If you stuff the bird, stuff it loosely. Packing it tightly slows down the cooking time.

• As with any kind of meat, it’s a good idea to let the turkey “rest” for 15-20 minutes when it comes out of the oven. It helps the juices reincorporate into the meat.

After the meal

• To help prevent foodborne illness, don’t let food sit out more than two hours after it comes out of the oven or off the stove. That invites potential bacterial growth. No one wants foodborne illness after a nice holiday meal.

• Remember, cold foods should be kept cold and hot foods should be kept hot.

• To help chill turkey meat faster, take the meat off the bones. Save the bones in the refrigerator or freezer to make turkey soup.

• If possible, store leftover foods in a flat, wide container — about two inches high — before refrigerating. That also helps it chill faster, which keeps bacteria from growing.

To learn more, visit or listen to the Sound Living radio interview on this topic at

Matt Young39 Posts

Matt Young is the Brown County Extension District director, as well as an agent in the area of agriculture and natural resources.


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