Celebrate Safely: How to Buy, Prep Your Thanksgiving Turkey

Meijer’s dietitian Shari Steinbach and Silver Cross Hospital offer suggestions for how to safely indulge with the holiday staple.

Thanksgiving cooking does not have to be stressful. With a few simple touches, a great turkey will serve as the cornerstone of a pleasing and sleep-inducing meal.

’s Registered Dietitian Shari Steinbach put together advice and a few techniques to make a Thanksgiving turkey safely and with a lot of flavor. The bird can induce a great tryptophan coma among all of your relatives, including the ones you like.  

Buy the right size turkey

People will need 1 pound of uncooked turkey for every guest. Add another half pound if you want leftovers. 

Proper cooking time

  • Steinbach suggests cooking an unstuffed turkey for 12-15 minutes per pound, and a stuffed turkey for 18-20 minutes per pound

Turkey thawing and safety tips

  • It’s a food safety risk to thaw a turkey at room temperature on the kitchen counter
  • Put frozen, wrapped turkey on a baking sheet in your refrigerator
  • For every 4-5 lbs., allow 24 hours of thawing time
  • If pinched for time, submerge the frozen, wrapped turkey in cold water (30 minutes per pound)

What's the proper cooking temperature for turkey?

  • Steinbach says that when the temperature in the thigh is about 180 degrees, it’s done
  • If the bird is stuffed, insert thermometer into the middle of the stuffing and wait for it to reach 160 degrees
  • Let a cooked turkey sit for about 40 minutes before carving it

Other turkey day dos and don'ts

Silver Cross Hospital in Joliet offers the following tips to celebrate safely:

  • Keep the stovetop free of clutter. Trying to cook all your dishes at once could cause grease to accidentally spill onto a range top and cause a fire.
  • Do not try to hold your child in one arm while cooking with the other. Holding a child while cooking is an invitation for a burn. “During Thanksgiving families are busy preparing the dinner and can get easily distracted and unfortunately that’s how painful burns can occur,” said Daniel Checco, D.O., emergency medicine physician at the Silver Cross Free-Standing Emergency Care Center in Homer Glen. “So to avoid any burns it’s best to keep your child out of the kitchen while you’re cooking.”
  • Never put a glass casserole or lid on the stove or over a burner. If it gets hot and explodes, it will send dangerous shards of glass in all directions.
  • Do not pour water on a grease fire. Pouring water on a grease fire can cause the fire to spread. In the event of a range-top fire, turn off the burner, put on an oven mitt and smother the flames by carefully sliding a lid onto the pan. Leave the lid in place until the pot or pan is cooled.
  • Avoid using a turkey fryer because they pose a number of distinct safety concerns, including burn and fire hazards.
  • Keep a clean work surface. Be sure to wash surfaces, utensils, the sink and hands after handling raw food. It’s a good idea to identify one cutting board for raw meats and one for other uses. “Unfortunately, cross contamination commonly occurs when preparing holiday meals and the last thing you want your guests to do is get food poisoning from your holiday feast. Be sure to be mindful of cleaning your food preparation tools and cutting boards,” said Checco.
  • Un-stuff the turkey. According to the USDA, for optimum safety, stuffing a turkey is not recommended. For more even cooking, cook the stuffing outside the bird in a casserole dish until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Thaw the bird with care. If using a frozen turkey, the USDA recommends thawing it in the refrigerator in its original wrapping, in a tray or pan that can catch any juices that may leak.
  • Call for help. If you’ve accidentally cooked the giblets inside the turkey, melted the “hock lock” or have any other questions about cooking your Thanksgiving bird, be safe and call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline: 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854).
  • Keep a fire extinguisher in the kitchen in case of emergency and know how to use it. Read the directions carefully before an actual emergency occurs.


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