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Special Re-broadcast Talking Turkey

December 10, 2018

Host:  Dr. Jennifer Hunter, Assistant Director for Family and Consumer Sciences Extension, University of Kentucky

Guest: Dr. Heather Norman-Burgdolf, Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist in Food and Nutrition

Guest: Annhall Norris, Extension Associate for Food Safety

Special Re-Broadcast

0:00 Welcome to Talking FACS; what you need to know about family, food, finance and fitness. Hosted by the University of Kentucky Family and Consumer Sciences Extension Program, our educators share research knowledge with individuals, families and communities to improve quality of life.

0:20 Dr. Jennifer Hunter: Hello and welcome back to Talking FACS. This is your host, Dr. Jennifer Hunter, Assistant Extension Director for Family and Consumer Sciences at the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food, and Environment.

Today, I'm excited because we are talking turkey. The holidays are going to be quickly upon us and I know that I certainly have lots of questions about how to prepare that perfect turkey.

So, I'm pleased to be joined by Annhall Norris, Extension Associate for Food Safety and Dr. Heather Norman-Burgdolf, Extension Specialist for Nutrition to talk all things Turkey today. Thank you all for joining me.

0:57 Annhall Norris: Yeah, Thank you for having us.  

0:58 Dr. Heather Norman-Burgdolf: Thank you.

0:59 Dr. Jennifer Hunter: So, we are going to get started. And I think I panicked you all a little bit when you came in and I said, “I'm just going to ask you all of my questions about preparing a turkey.

But to get started, and I will say that I think I have prepared a turkey one time, that I have not quite reached that status in my family yet that they feel like they can trust me with the big job of the turkey preparations.

But let's start with if I was going to the grocery store to purchase a turkey, what am I even what am I looking for as a consumer?

1:32 Annhall Norris: Well, you can purchase fresh or frozen; either one is fine, it's just a personal preference. I like to get mine frozen, because you can purchase them weeks or even a month in advance. You can watch the sale ads and wait till the price drops just where you want it and get a good price for it.

I like to plan about one and a half pounds per person when I'm picking out the size of the turkey. The USDA recommends about a pound, but some of that bird is bones too. So, you're not going to eat the full weight of that turkey.

2:03 Dr. Heather Norman-Burgdolf: And to plan for leftovers too.

2:05 Annhall Norris: Yes. I always plan for two pounds, because if you plan for two pounds, then you're going to have leftovers and you're not going to run out.

2:11 Dr. Jennifer Hunter: Okay, great. And I love that you mentioned about planning ahead and checking the sales ads. Then I know Turkey is one of those items that the grocery stores will use to you into their store as you're purchasing the rest of your holiday meal as well. So, definitely check the sales circulars and find the best price out there.

For those individuals that want to purchase a frozen turkey, what about maybe someone that might procrastinate, if we're looking at purchasing a fresh turkey?

2:40 Dr. Heather Norman-Burgdolf: So, I would suggest that you purchase it no more than two days prior to the day that you're going to prepare it. So, you want to make sure that they have them in stock. So, if you are purchasing a fresh bird that close to the holiday, it might be worth calling the grocer ahead of time and just seeing if they have them available because they may not, especially at that last minute crunch. So, that's something to keep in mind.

And then again check the sell-by or the use-by date just to make sure that that turkey is fresh when you're going to be preparing it.

3:08 Dr. Jennifer Hunter: Okay. So, let's say that I have planned ahead, I found my turkey on sale and so I bought it a couple weeks out and it is a frozen turkey. How do I go about thawing that turkey?

3:20 Annhall Norris: Okay. So that's probably the question we get most. You don't want to leave it out on the counter or in the sink or in the basement or in the garage overnight. There are actually three ways that you can thaw it. And the preferred way is to thaw out in the refrigerator, but that also takes some planning ahead.

Depending on the size of your bird, it could take one to three days or maybe even up to six days. Larger birds are going to take longer to thaw.

So, the rule of thumb is to allow about a day for each four to five pounds of turkey you have. So, you really want to plan ahead and go ahead and put it in the refrigerator to thaw, maybe a week before.

3:58 Dr. Jennifer Hunter: Okay.

4:00 Dr. Heather Norman-Burgdolf: Another thing too is when you thaw with this method in the refrigerator, you can actually leave it thawed in the fridge for one to two days before it needs to be prepared. So, it gives you a little more flexibility in having the bird thawed.

4:11 Annhall Norris: And also, put it in one of your roasting pans. I go ahead and buy a couple of those pans.

4:16 Dr. Jennifer Hunter: Just the disposable ones?

4:17 Annhall Norris: The disposable one. That way, I can throw it away. You want to put it in that pan in the refrigerator, because it's going to drip and some juices will come out of the bag and you don't want those juices to contaminate anything else in the refrigerator.

4:29 Dr. Jennifer Hunter: How do I know that my turkey is actually all the way thawed or does it matter that it's all the way thawed?

4:34 Dr. Heather Norman-Burgdolf: Not necessarily. That's something we can get to in a little bit is cooking; the actual prepping the turkey. But you can prepare turkeys that are partially frozen. It will just lengthen the amount of time that it has to cook a little bit.

4:45 Annhall Norris: Yeah.

4:47 Dr. Jennifer Hunter: So how do I know if it's still frozen?

4:49 Annhall Norris: When you start taking though the wrapping off and you'll want to go ahead and clean out the inside cavity, that's going to be your first indication that it might not be completely thawed. If that's still hard and you can feel it, the bag is still kind of icy; it's not all the way thawed.

5:06 Dr. Jennifer Hunter: Okay, great. And I know, especially our county extension officers, that they receive a lot of phone calls about how to properly thaw a turkey. So, I think that that's good information to share with consumers. I know that when I actually worked in a county office, that we had some people call with very creative way to thaw turkeys.

But really and truly, from a food safety standpoint, our best plan of attack is to thaw in the refrigerator, over several day time period.

5:31 Annhall Norris: That's right. And if you can't do that, if you don't have that many days to thaw, you can use the cold water method. And that's placing the turkey, still in its packaging and its wrap in your sink, covering it with cold water and then changing that cold water every 30 minutes.

So, that will be quicker, but you do have to change that water every 30 minutes. And depending on the size of your bird; if you've got a big 20-pound bird, it might take 12 hours to thaw it, changing that water every 30 minutes.

5:58 Dr. Jennifer Hunter: So, that's a significant commitment there as well, just to monitor it.

6:00 Annhall Norris: Right.

6:01 Dr. Jennifer Hunter: So, let's move from thawing the turkey to actually cooking and preparing the turkey. What are the best methods that someone should consider?

6:09 Dr. Heather Norman-Burgdolf: So, there are so many ways that you can prepare Turkey; roasting in the oven, cooking in those bags that are specifically made for Turkey's. Roaster ovens are a little more popular now and then you might see people that are actually deep frying their turkey.

So, lots of different methods. Oven roasting is probably the most popular method. And this honestly again depends on the size of the bird. So, it could range from a small bird, maybe only take an hour and a half, to our much larger birds, which are going to be about six hours.

And another good rule of thumb to remember in this case is that if you are stuffing the bird, it's going to take longer to roast than if the bird was unstuffed. Because just like we need to get the turkey to that right internal temperature, knowing that it's safe to eat, we also need to make sure the stuffing gets to that correct internal temperature of one 165 degrees.

We can prepare in the roaster oven, that's going to be similar to roasting in like the appliance that can sit on the counter, and it's going to be similar to oven roasting as well; and then deep fat frying. So, this is another popular one. Really, you can expect about 3 to 5 minutes per pound in oil that's at 350 degrees.

So, there's a lot of safety concerns with that as well. So, there's some information from the extension office that you can also get about the fat frying turkeys, to be on the safe side.

And then also you can microwave a turkey. This might be for someone…

7:29 Dr. Jennifer Hunter: That just sounds crazy to me.

7:31 Dr. Heather Norman-Burgdolf: Yes.

7:32 Dr. Jennifer Hunter: I thought about microwaving a turkey.

7:34 Dr. Heather Norman-Burgdolf: Right. Well, for the, most part turkeys aren't going to fit. So, you might have to quarter the bird or cook it in pieces. One thing to keep in mind there is that you're not going to get that lovely, golden brown color as you would on the skin as if you were roasting the bird. So, you may want to add some seasonings and spices like paprika, to kind of give the skin some color because it's going to be cooked all the way through, but it's just going to be white.

So, just kind of think about if the presentation is important to you, microwaving might not be the best option.

8:03 Dr. Jennifer Hunter: Let's back up and talk a little bit about, and you mentioned the stuffing and making certain that that comes to temperature. So, from a food safety standpoint, is it safe to stuff the bird?

8:14 Annhall Norris: It is.  As long as you make sure the temperature gets to 165 degrees F. We actually recommend that you cook the stuffing outside of the turkey for food safety reasons. But you can do it inside and there are a lot of people that still like to do that.

So, when you start taking the temperature of your turkey to make sure it's done, you also want to check the temperature of the stuffing.

8:33 Dr. Jennifer Hunter: That was going to be my next question. How do I know when my turkey is done?

8:38 Annhall Norris: Well the best way to ensure that it's done and cooked properly to eliminate all the bacteria is to take a temperature with a mental stem thermometer; a food thermometer.

It's a probe, and you want to take the temperature in two places; the thickest part of the breast and then where the leg meets the body, right in the crease; that cavity there.

So, you want to check those two places. And the temperature you're looking for is 165 degrees F.

9:03 Dr. Heather Norman-Burgdolf: And I think one thing to point out here too, since you emphasized that metal stemmed meat thermometer, really we want to use that instead of the pop up temperature gauge.

9:13 Dr. Jennifer Hunter: I was going to ask about the pop up. I was getting ready to ask. So, definitely double check that.

9:18 Annhall Norris: Right, the pop ups are not temperature specific. So, they could pop up before 165, they could pop up maybe at 155 or 160, and then sometimes I've had them not pop up at all. And so, you don't want to rely on that and then overcook it, you know have a dry turkey. So, it's always best to not rely on that, to use your mental stem food thermometer.

9:39 Dr. Jennifer Hunter: So, you just mentioned having a dry turkey. Are there tips to keep your turkey more moist while it is baking?

9:44 Annhall Norris: Yes, you can baste it. When you are roasting in an oven or in a roasting pan, you want to put it on a rack and include maybe a cup of chicken broth, Turkey broth or water and that'll give it some moisture and then you can baste it ever so often. You can also coat the outside of the skin with olive oil or butter, you know, it's going to crisp it up and keep those juices sealed in.

10:05 Dr. Heather Norman-Burgdolf: And another option too that is common is brining the turkey. So, that is soaking it, if it's thawed, in water-salt mixture that's going to allow the water to be absorbed and actually kind of break down the meat a little bit and give it a little bit more flavor as well. So, it's not likely to dry out.

10:21 Dr. Jennifer Hunter: So, if I'm brining my turkey in the water-salt mixture, do I need to keep that in the refrigerator as well.

10:27 Dr. Heather Norman-Burgdolf: Yes for sure.

10:28Dr. Jennifer Hunter: So, we always want to make certain that if it's not in the oven, that it's in the refrigerator.

10:33 Dr. Heather Norman-Burgdolf: Yes.

10:33 Annhall Norris: That's right.

10:34 Dr. Jennifer Hunter: And then after we prepared our turkey, we've cooked our turkey and we've enjoyed our feast, what is it that we can do with our leftovers; like how long should they be left out? I can kind of remember sometimes, especially growing up maybe at my grandparents’ house that the leftovers would just sit on the table.

10:51 Annhall Norris: Sometimes they were covered with a nice tablecloth and then the cloth was removed for dinner.

10:59 Dr. Jennifer Hunter: Or something along those lines. So, from a food safety standpoint, what should we do with those leftovers and how quickly should we be moving them into the refrigerator?

11:06 Annhall Norris: Well the rule of thumb is two hours. You don't want to sit out for longer than two hours on the table. And they should be broken down, especially your turkey, you should go ahead and remove it from the bone, put it in smaller baggies or containers and put them in the refrigerator. You should eat those ideally within three to four days.

And then your other casseroles and stuffing, they say should have already cooled down to about room temperature sitting out for two hours. So, just go ahead and cover those and put them in the refrigerator.

11:34 Dr. Jennifer Hunter: So, I know I think sometimes we just get caught up and join family or watching football or whatever it is that we may be doing on that holiday. We kind of forget everything that's sitting out on the table, but we want to make certain that we're taking care of that as soon as possible.

So, before we close today, and I'm not certain that this is on the top of everyone's mind. But because I think it's interesting and also may make folks feel a little bit better about the meal that they're eating, let's talk a little bit about the nutrition of the turkey.

12:03 Dr. Heather Norman-Burgdolf: So, when we typically you're talking about the holidays, we are just always focused on those overindulging foods, like the sweets and those casseroles with cheese and cream, all those types of things.

But it should make people feel better that turkey is actually probably going to be the healthiest thing that's on the table. It is an excellent source of protein, it's typically low in fat, if you're not just soaking it and drowning it in gravy. I'm just keeping that in mind. But it's a great source of iron, zinc and B vitamins. And actually, a pretty large serving is around three to four ounces, which is about the size of your hand. So, it's a healthy portion and it's only going to essentially be around 160 to 200 calories. So, it's actually a pretty healthy food.

12:46 Dr. Jennifer Hunter: So, I can feel good about the turkey on my plate.

12:48 Dr. Heather Norman-Burgdolf: Absolutely.

12:49 Dr. Jennifer Hunter: I might not feel too good about the pumpkin pie afterwards, but I can feel good about the turkey.

12:53 Dr. Heather Norman-Burgdolf: Yes.

12:54 Dr. Jennifer Hunter: Great. Well, thank you all for joining us today and for sharing these very timely tips about Turkey and Turkey preparation.

13:03 Dr. Heather Norman-Burgdolf: Yes. Thank you.

13:04 Thank you for listening to Talking FACS. We deliver programs focusing on nutrition, health, resource management, family development and civic engagement. If you enjoy today's podcast, have a question or a show topic idea, leave a ‘Like’ and comment on Facebook @UKFCSExt. Visit us online at or contact your local extension agent for Family and Consumer Sciences. We build strong families. It starts with us.