Purchasing, thawing and cooking your turkey

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Adapted by Jessica Kovarik, RD, LD, former Extension Associate, from materials written by Tammy Roberts, MS, RD, LD, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, University of Missouri Extension

Many people only purchase and prepare turkey around the holidays, so the following information has been developed as a guide for purchasing and preparing turkey.

Selecting a turkey
The first decision you need to make is whether you will purchase a fresh or frozen turkey. A fresh turkey is more convenient because it can be purchased and prepared at the last minute. However, fresh turkeys often must be ordered in advance to assure their availability.

Because fresh turkeys require special handling, they can be more expensive. The advantage of the frozen bird is that it can be bought in advance. This allows you to take advantage of special prices.

Next, after you’ve decided on a fresh or frozen turkey, you’ll need to decide how large of a turkey to purchase. If you’re planning to have leftovers, purchase one pound of turkey per person. If you don’t want extra turkey at your house, or are purchasing a bone-in turkey breast, plan on 3/4 of a pound per person. When buying boneless turkey breast, look for a turkey that will provide 1/2 pound of turkey per person. In addition to pounds, the size of a turkey can also be classified by the terms “hen” or “tom.” Tom turkeys are the larger turkeys and hens are the smaller ones.

Also, you may see the terms “basted” or “self-basting” on the package. This means the turkey has been injected with products such as butter, other types of fat, broth, spices or flavor enhancers to add flavor and a golden brown color to the skin. Each manufacturer may use different ingredients, so be sure to read the label to determine which ingredients were used.

Storing and thawing turkey
A fresh turkey should be purchased no more than three days prior to preparation and should be refrigerated at a temperature of 40° F or below. Frozen turkey should be kept in a freezer at 0° F or below until it’s time to thaw the turkey.

The preferred method for thawing a frozen turkey is in the refrigerator. Allow one day of thawing for every five pounds of turkey. To thaw the turkey faster, use a cold water bath. When using a cold water bath, keep the turkey wrapped during the process and completely submerge the turkey in cold water. Change the water every thirty minutes. For every pound of turkey to thaw, allow thirty minutes in the cold bath. It will take approximately four hours to thaw an eight pound turkey in a cold water bath.

For much more information on how to cook stuffing & turkey, including tips for roasting, smoking & frying a turkey, view the full version of this article at http://missourifamilies.org/features/nutritionarticles/nut200.htm

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