Thanksgiving is right around the corner. I could caution you against overeating, but I’m not even going to try. Breaking our collective diet plans between Thanksgiving and the New Year seems to be an indestructible annual tradition. Instead, I’d like to look at some actually preventable dangers, like not becoming one of the 2,400 people who burn down their house while deep frying turkey, or the 1 in 6 people who get a food-borne illness. Instead of spending Black Friday hugging the porcelain goddess or dealing with fire damage, let’s chat turkey safety.
Before we get into any specifics: I’m sure you already know this, but turkey is poultry, so you’ll want to follow all the same rules that apply to chicken. That means washing your hands after touching raw turkey and sanitizing any countertops, cutting boards, and sinks that it comes into contact with. As far as temperatures go, you’ll want the breast meat to reach 165°F and the dark meat to hit 175°F.
Safely thaw that monstrous birdHere’s the deal guys: If you buy a frozen turkey, it won’t just magically defrost on its own. And unlike a frozen dinner you can pop into the microwave, turkeys take some serious time to get ready. If you’re tempted to toss it onto the countertop to give it a last-minute thaw, resist said temptation for your own good. That’s a sure-fire way to get everyone at your party sick.
There are three safe ways to thaw a turkey. The best (and most hands-off) method involves time – 24 hours for every 4 pounds, to be exact. Thawing that 16-pound turkey in the refrigerator might take up all your space for the next four days, and it does require you to plan ahead, but it’s so safe that you could actually re-freeze the turkey if no one showed up for dinner (aww, how sad).
If you’re running short on time, the thaw-in-cold-water method only requires 30 minutes per pound, so that 16-pound turkey would be ready to cook in only eight hours. Here’s the caveat: The turkey needs to be completely covered with water that must be changed every 30 minutes. Not terrible, but not great, either.
The last “safe” method is kind of a terrible option. Yes, you can pop the turkey in the microwave, assuming you have one big enough to fit a gigantic bird. If you’re going this route, you’ll need to cook the unwrapped turkey at the power level and timing stated in the microwave’s instruction manual (because you totally keep those things). Since this method will start to cook portions of the turkey as it thaws, you may as well just cook a frozen turkey. While I’ve never tried it, the Kitchn claims it’s possible in a 325°F oven. They say it’ll turn out fine…but it takes twice as long to cook.
Skipping the stuffing stepI love stuffing as much as the next person. In fact, it’s probably my favorite side dish on the table (especially when I drown it in turkey gravy…because Thanksgiving is all about being healthy). Technically you it can only call it stuffing if it’s stuffed inside something, but I simply refuse to call it bread dressing.
If you want to shove seasonings you don’t plan to eat – like lemons, oranges, herbs, or garlic cloves – up your turkey’s you-know-what, go right ahead. But stuffing the turkey with anything bulky (bread, rice, couscous, etc.) will slow down the rate at which the turkey cooks. Not only that, but the stuffing takes forever to reach a safe, edible temperature of 165°F, overcooking the meat in the process. That’s not a compromise I’m willing to make. Do yourself a favor and make the stuffing on the side.
Don’t drink and fryIf you’re mesmerized by the idea of deep frying your turkey, let me be very clear: Deep frying a turkey is not without risk. Anyone who has been responsible for the fry station in a restaurant can tell you firsthand that oil burns hot, hard, and fast. I don’t want to tell you NOT to fry that turkey (because, the result is totally delightful!), but just be careful and take precautions.
That includes setting up your fryer in a place that’s far from combustible materials. You should also make sure no one will walk in between the propane tank and the burner – because that’s how clumsy people trip and dump out a vat of boiling oil.
Figure out your max fill line so your oil doesn’t overflow by placing the turkey in the pot, filling it with water, and removing the turkey (and then, patting everything super dry because oil and water don’t mix).
Finally, when you’re ready, use the turkey kit’s hanger-hook-thingie to SLOWLY lower the turkey into the oil while wearing oven mitts, pants, and shoes (no, not Chacos – shoes).
There are plenty of resources out there that provide comprehensive Thanksgiving guides, so get your Google on and stay safe this holiday season.
Lindsay D. Mattison is a professional chef and food writer living in Durango. She enjoys long walks in the woods, the simplicity of New York-style cheese pizza, and she’s completely addicted to Chapstick. Contact her at [email protected].