Friday, November 02, 2012

What Route will Your Turkey Take to the Table?

Thought there was only one way to cook a turkey?

The oven is often needed for side dishes. That means the big bird may have to take an alternate route to the table according to Dr. Pam Duitsman, nutrition and health education specialist with University of Missouri Extension.

“No matter what route you chose, always ensure whole turkeys reach 165 degrees as measured in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast,” said Duitsman.

Here are some things to keep in mind with various turkey cooking methods.

Electric Roaster Oven: This appliance can be used on the countertop as an “extra oven” for a whole turkey. The cooking time and oven temperature should be identical to a conventional oven. Preheat to at least 325 degrees, and place the turkey on a meat rack. Keep the lid on throughout cooking. Cooking bags may be used, as long as the bag does not touch the oven surface on any side.

Grilling: This popular method allows a completely thawed bird to cook over indirect heat in an outdoor gas or charcoal grill. Keep the grill covered, and place a pan of water beneath the grilling surface to catch drippings. Do not stuff the turkey – it can be unsafe because the indirect heat may not allow the stuffing to get hot enough to kill bacteria.

Smoking: Smokers vary widely, and use either electricity, gas, or charcoal for heat. Ensure the smoker reaches an internal temperature of 225 to 300 degrees before introducing the completely thawed, unstuffed turkey. If using water-soaked wood, do not use softwood like pine, fir, cedar or spruce. These woods will give the food a turpentine flavor and coat the meat with black pitch.

Deep Fat Frying: A whole unstuffed turkey of 12 pounds or less can be successfully cooked in a short amount of time. Follow manufacturer directions, and ensure the oil covers the turkey by 1 to 2 inches. Select a safe location for your fryer, and heat oil to 350 degrees. Slowly and carefully lower the turkey in the hot oil. Monitor the temperature, and never leave unattended.

Pressure Cooker: Use turkey parts such as breasts, legs, and thighs for this device. Follow the manufacturer instructions for a quick-cooking (about 1/3 or less of conventional time) product.

Slow-Cooker: Use cut-up parts of the turkey like legs, thighs, breasts, wings, or quarters. Begin heating on “High” for an hour or more before turning to “low” (or, just continue cooking on “high”). A minimum heating temperature between 170 and 200 degrees should be maintained. Do not remove the cover while cooking.

Microwaving: This can work successfully with either a whole unstuffed turkey, or using parts of the turkey in a covered dish. Limit the size of your bird to around 12 - 14 pounds, ensuring that you allow 3 inches oven clearance on top and 2 to 3 inches of space around the bird. Because microwaves can heat unevenly, a cooking bag will aid heat distribution.

Conventional oven: If you decide to go with your regular conventional oven, set your oven temperature no lower than 325 degrees. Place your turkey on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. For food safety, it’s best to cook stuffing outside of the cavity – in a casserole dish. Cook the turkey immediately and use a food thermometer to check the center of the stuffing and the internal meat have both reached 165 degrees.

More Questions? If you have more questions about cooking a turkey call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-674-6854, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Central Time, Monday through Friday; 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Central Time on Thanksgiving Day.

Informational chart: A chart showing alternate methods for cooking a turkey and the time needed to cook it safely can be found in the nutrition section of the Greene County Extension website at


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