(I have found I have a big part in the cooking and serving turkeys this time of year. I think much of it is because they tend to be heavier than some family members want to lift when they are hot.)
Buy a pound of whole turkey per person.
Drop that to a 3/4 pound if you don't want leftovers or proportionally less if there will be a second or third main meat dish.
Planning to cook and serve turkey breast, you will need 1/2 pound per person.
If the turkey is frozen solid, defrosting cannot wait for turkey day.
The best way to safely thaw the turkey is in the refrigerator. You need to allow 24 hours for every 4 pounds of turkey, so a 12-pound bird will take three days. Refrigerator temperature should be 40 degrees F or lower for safe food handling. Keep the turkey in the original wrapper until ready to cook. Even with a wrapped turkey, place it on a tray or platter to catch drips. A thawed turkey can be kept in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days. If necessary, a turkey that has been properly thawed in the refrigerator may be refrozen within 1 to 2 days.
Cold-water bath can defrost the turkey faster, but requires some extra work. Completely submerge the whole turkey in cold water, and change the water every half-hour. It takes about a half-hour of thawing for every pound of turkey. Our 12 pound turkey takes 12 water changes and 6 hours to thaw.
The microwave is also an option for thawing if it is large enough to hold the turkey. Check your owner's manual for the size turkey that will fit in your microwave oven or is recommended, the minutes per pound and power level to use for thawing. Microwaves will defrost unevenly, so the turkey will need to be placed in the oven for roasting immediately after removing it from the microwave. Remove all outside wrapping. Place on a microwave-safe dish to catch any juices that may leak.
Never defrost the bird at room temperature. That is a recipe for disaster. The outside of the turkey thaws first because of the warmer air temperature. So while the inside is still thawing, the outside reaches a temperature where bacteria can grow. The bacteria can make you and your guests sick."
REMINDER: Remove the giblets from the turkey cavities after thawing and cook separately.
Some regions and butcher shops may have fresh turkeys. A fresh turkey takes special handling.
Again, allow 1 pound of a fresh, whole turkey per person.
Buy the fresh turkey only 1 to 2 days before Thanksgiving or when its cooking is planned. Reserve a turkey from a supplier ahead to ensure having one to cook because of the short holding time before cooking.
Page 2 of 2 - Keep it stored in the refrigerator until it is time to cook it. Place it on a tray or in a pan to catch any juices that may leak.
Do not buy fresh, pre-stuffed turkeys. If not handled properly, harmful bacteria in the stuffing can multiply very quickly.
USDA recommends only buying frozen pre-stuffed turkeys displaying the USDA or State mark of inspection on the packaging. These turkeys are safe because they have been processed under controlled conditions.
DO NOT THAW before cooking. Cook a frozen pre-stuffed turkey from the frozen state. Follow package directions for proper handling and cooking.
Allow 1¼ pounds of pre-stuffed turkey per person.
Turducken is a classic method of preparing nested birds. A deboned chicken in a deboned duck in a deboned turkey is roasted in a style from 18th century England and France. Home preparation of the three birds has caused problems from inexperienced deboning taking too long and unrefrigerated birds being above safe holding temperatures for too long leading to food poisonings. Buy precooked, fresh or frozen turducken from a reputable commercial source.
Turkey should be cooked at oven temperatures of at least 325 degrees F and internal temperature in the leg and breast of 165 degrees F. Do not keep leftover, refrigerated turkey, stuffing or gravy over 3 to 4 days. Reheat leftovers to 165 degrees F. Frozen leftovers should be used within 4 to 6 months for best quality.
Planning ahead allows the cook to be ready to cook a picture-perfect turkey that will delight everyone.
For more information from MU Extension on food, nutrition and many other topics, go to www.missourifamilies.org. The United States Department of Agriculture also has turkey handling and cooking recommendations at: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/Factsheets/Lets_Talk_Turkey/index.asp.
Jim Jarman, agronomy specialist – Hey, turkeys are an agricultural commodity.