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How to safely thaw, roast a turkey

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By Kay Kennedy

Whether you have 4 days or 12 hours, you can safely thaw your frozen turkey without rising bacteria growth.  Thawing your turkey in the refrigerator is the preferred method for safety reasons, but you can also thaw it in cold water.  The thing to remember about both methods is that they keep your turkey cold while thawing – the key to preventing excessive bacterial growth.

And, no matter which method you select, cook the turkey promptly after thawing.

Thawing In The Refrigerator:

The following chart shows how long it will take to thaw turkeys of various sizes in the refrigerator.  Simply place the turkey in its original wrap on a tray or in a pan to catch moisture that accumulates as it thaws.

Whole turkey

8 to 12 pounds - 1 to 2 days

12 to 16 pounds - 2 to 3 days

16 to 20 pounds - 3 to 4 days

20 to 24 pounds - 4 to 5 days

Pieces of large turkey

Half, quarter, half breast - 1 to 2 days

Thawing in Cold Water:

If it is the day before you plan to serve your turkey and you just remembered that it’s still sitting in the freezer, don’t despair.  Check the wrapping to make sure there are no tears, and simply place the bird in its unopened bag in the sink or in a large container and cover it with cold water.  If the wrapping is torn, place the turkey in another plastic bag, close securely, and then place in water.  You will need to change the water frequently to assure safe but effective thawing.  The National Turkey Federation recommends every 30 minutes as a rule of thumb.

8 to 12 pounds - 4 to 6 hours

12 to 16 pounds - 6 to 9 hours

16 to 20 pounds - 9 to 11 hours

20 to 24 pounds - 11 to 12 hours

Once your turkey has thawed, it requires little preparation before cooking.  Remove the neck and giblets from the neck and/or body cavities.  Wash the inside and outside well.  To prevent the spread of bacteria, wash your hands, utensils and sink after they have come in contact with the raw turkey.

Roasting the Turkey:

Turkeys of any size may be roasted.  Correct roasting is slow cooking by dry heat on a rack in an open pan.  It requires no water, no basting, no cover and no searing.  Always roast turkey done in one continuous cooking period.

Low temperatures assure better flavor and appearance, less shrinkage and less loss of juices.

A shallow, open pan allows the heat to circulate around the bird, roasting it evenly.  A rack at least 1/2 inch high raises the bird off the bottom of the pan, keeping it out of the juices.

For best results, follow these simple steps:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (slow.)

Rinse bird with cold water, drain and pat dry.  Rub cavity of bird lightly with salt, if desired.  Do not salt if stuffed.

Fill wishbone area (neck) with stuffing, if used.  Fasten neck skin to back with skewer.  Fill cavity lightly, if stuffing is used.  Push drumsticks under band of skin at tail, if present; or tie them to tail.

Place turkey on rack in shallow roasting pan, breast side up.  Brush skin with fat.  If a roast meat thermometer is to be used, insert itso that the bulb is in the center of the inside thigh muscle or the thickest part of the breast meat.  Be sure that the bulb does not touch bone.

Place in reheated oven.  If desired, baste or brush occasionally with pan drippings – especially any dry areas.  When turkey is two-thirds done, cut cord or band of skin at drumsticks.  Place a loose covering of aluminum foil over the turkey to prevent excessive browning.  Continue to roasting until done.

To test doneness, a roast meat thermometer placed in the center of the inside thigh muscle or the thickest part of the breast muscle should register approximately 185 degrees F. If stuffing is used, it should register 165 degrees F at the same time.  Turkey is done when the thickest part of drumstick feels very soft when pressed between protected fingers.