I love roasted turkey so much that I serve it for dinner at least a half-dozen times a year. But to me, the Thanksgiving turkey is the best. Served with stuffing, sweet potatoes, and cranberry sauce, turkey is the star of the show. By now, preparing the holiday’s main dish is second nature to me. From buying the bird to safely storing leftovers, here are my rules of thumb:
Buying. Gather the rest of the items on your list first, then add the turkey to your cart right before heading to the checkout lanes. Check to see that the wrapping is tightly sealed and that it’s labeled with “safe food handling” instructions. Not sure how big of a bird you’ll need? If you’re buying a whole turkey, make sure you have at least 1 pound per person.
Thawing. Thaw a frozen turkey in the fridge for a few days. If you don’t have time for that, thaw it in a bucket of cold water. The trick is to keep its temperature below 40°F. Above that and your bird will be in the danger zone: the temperature range where foodborne bacteria quickly multiply.
Preparing. Bacteria can contaminate your hands, utensils, the sink, and any work surfaces the turkey comes in contact with. Clean them all thoroughly before prepping other food.
Stuffing. The safest bet is to cook stuffing in a casserole dish. But if you prefer to cook it inside the bird, stuff it just before sticking it in the oven.
Cooking. Set your oven no lower than 325°F, and make sure the turkey is completely thawed. Roast it breast side up on a rack in a roasting pan. Use a cooking thermometer on the breast, thigh, wing joint, and stuffing to be sure the safe internal temperature of 165°F has been reached. If your bird has a pop-up “done” sensor, you should still check the temp to be safe.
Serving. Let the turkey stand for 20 minutes before removing the stuffing and carving the meat. This will make both jobs much easier.
Leftovers. Refrigerate uneaten turkey within two hours, and use it within three to four days. Frozen leftovers stay good for up to six months.