Turkey Dos and Don'ts
If you're Googling "how to prepare and stuff a turkey" on Thanksgiving Day you're probably a bit late and are going to run into trouble.
Choosing and preparing a turkey can be a daunting task.
"A turkey kind of scares a few people because it is the biggest type of meat that you'll be handling," said Michel Benoit, general manager of the B.C. Turkey Association.
That's why McLaughlin On Your Side turned to the experts for advice.
Angie Quaale of Well Seasoned, a gourmet food store, is no stranger to birds and opened up her kitchen for us.
"I think there's a lot of opportunity in your home kitchen for cross contamination," Quaale said.
Which is why you need to know what you're doing and do it right, otherwise your family could be looking at the toilet bowl after Thanksgiving dinner.
Choosing a turkey:
First choose a bird - fresh or frozen? You will probably need to reserve ahead for a fresh bird. A frozen bird can keep for up to a year. But don't leave it until the last minute to thaw.
"18, 20 pound bird – it's going to take probably about three days to thaw properly in the refrigerator,” Quaale explained.
That's about 24 hours of thawing time for every five pounds of whole turkey. Don't thaw over top of other food as the drippings will cross contaminate. It's best to thaw in a pan.
And never leave it out on the counter overnight to thaw.
Preparing the bird:
First pull out the giblets. Some people like to cook them separately or in the pan with the turkey for added flavour when making gravy or you can precook them and add them to the stuffing.
Pat the bird dry with paper towels and makes sure to toss them directly into the garbage to avoid cross contamination.
Next rub some olive oil on the skin and then season.
Quaale likes to season her bird inside and out with kosher salt and pepper, sometimes adding lemon or orange wedges and fresh herbs to the cavity.
She uses one gloved hand to hold the raw turkey and the other clean hand to season. You can use your bare hands but never touch anything else until after they are thoroughly washed.
You can either make and bake your stuffing in the oven or put it in the bird.
"You want to make sure you're stuffing the bird and then cooking it immediately," said Quaale.
Never stuff and refrigerate overnight.
"This is like the best case scenario to breed bacteria inside your turkey," she said.
She makes her stuffing with a mirepoix (gourmets you know this) – it's a mix of chopped celery, carrots and onions sautéed in butter until lightly browned. Add some turkey stock then let it cool to room temperature before mixing with dried bread crumbs. Never stuff piping a hot mixture into a cold bird, it could set up.
Rule of thumb, about a half cup of stuffing per pound. Then put the turkey straight into the oven.
Cook anywhere from 325 degrees Fahrenheit or hotter, cooking times will vary. Quaale cooks her turkey at 375. ThinkTurkey.ca has helpful advice about this. Roughly, 15 minutes per pound. It's the temperature of the meat that counts.
Use a digital thermometer to test the thickest part of the breast and the thickest part of the thigh, being careful not to touch the bone. The temperature should be 165 degrees Fahrenheit for unstuffed bird and 175 for stuffed. The temperature will continue to rise slightly as it sets.
Remove the stuffing and be sure to store any leftovers in the fridge right away. You can cut them up and separate into smaller packets and leave uncovered in the fridge for a while to cool them down faster. Or freeze them.
Make sure to clean all surfaces, cutting boards, knives, etc. with hot soapy water followed by a diluted bleach solution.
"If you follow the proper instructions you should be able to enjoy a beautiful dinner without any concerns," added Benoit.