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Six Top-Turkey Questions

By Herb Gantz

After years of answering over 20,000 calls about turkey handling and preparation, USDA's Meat and Poultry Hotline home economists say these are the six questions they hear most often:

How long will turkey last in the freezer - and is it safe to use a turkey I've had frozen since last Thanksgiving?

Yes, a whole frozen turkey can be stored in your home freezer at 0F for up to one year without appreciable loss of quality. To prevent freezer burn, wrap the turkey in heavy freezer paper.

Which tastes better, fresh or frozen turkey - and if I choose a fresh turkey,
how long will it keep in my refrigerator?

There is no significant difference in quality between a fresh turkey and a frozen one. But you can only keep a fresh turkey refrigerated 1-2 days before cooking.

How should I thaw turkey and how can I quickly thaw a turkey when time has run out?

Thawing your turkey in the refrigerator is the preferred method. Allow one day for each five pounds.

In a hurry? Thaw the turkey in a clean sink. Put it in a heavy freezer bag secured with a twist tie. Cover the bird with cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes to keep it cool. Allow 6-9 hours for a 12 to 16 pound turkey, 9-11 hours for a 16 to 20 pound bird.

And turkey can be thawed in the microwave oven, if it will fit. Be ready to cook the bird as soon as it's thawed.

What's the safest way to stuff a turkey and is it okay to stuff a large turkey?

You can stuff a turkey, but do it just before you put it in the oven. To save time, chop up and refrigerate your stuffing ingredients the night before roasting. Stuff the bird loosely.

What's the best way to cook a picture-perfect, delectable turkey?

There are several cooking methods which will provide a delicious, tender turkey. You can roast the bird uncovered in a 325F oven. This will give you drier meat but a great roasted flavor. Or you can put the turkey in an oven cooking bag for a more moist bird in a shorter time. Other cooking methods include the microwave, rotisserie or outdoor kettle grill.

Can I cook the turkey the day before thanksgiving?

How do I safely store it and then warm it up for dinner? Cooking ahead requires special attention to safe handling. First, cook the bird to an internal temperature of 180F in an oven set no lower than 325F. Bake stuffing separately.

When roasted, let the bird stand for 15 minutes. Carve the meat off, leaving legs, thighs and wings intact if you like.

Refrigerate the turkey in small, shallow containers.

On Thanksgiving day, reheat the meat in a 325F oven or warm in the microwave. To keep meat tender when using a conventional oven, cover it with gravy or the natural cooked juices.

Serve the heated slices on a platter with the whole pieces garnishing the edges.

Source: The National Turkey Federation

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