By Gillan Ritchie
Poultry Times staff
GAINESVILLE, Ga. — Thanksgiving season is almost upon us. While families come together to spend time, it is important to know how to cook your turkey safely this holiday.
This year, the USDA has released food safety information for safe turkey cooking and alternative methods.
You should always use a food thermometer to test the internal temperature of the turkey when it is cooking. According to the USDA, the safe minimum temperature should be 165 degrees F; the temperature is ideal because it will destroy bacteria and help prevent foodborne illnesses.
There are several variables that can affect the roasting time of a whole turkey such as: partially frozen turkey; stuffed turkey; inaccurate oven temperature; the use of a foil tent; rack circulation; the use of a lid on a roasting pan and oversized roasting pan.
If you plan on roasting your turkey this season, the USDA recommends that oven temperatures should be set to 325 degrees F and you should ensure the turkey is completely thawed. Keep in mind that cooking times are based on fresh or thawed out birds.
Place the turkey breast-side up on a wire rack in a roasting pan that is 2 inches to 2 1/2 inches deep. For optimal cooking, you can add 1/2 cup water to the bottom of the roasting, tuck the wing tips under the shoulders or use an aluminum foil tent for the first 11/2 hours of cooking.
You can cook your stuffing in a separate casserole dish. However, if you choose to stuff the turkey, mix the ingredients in a separate bowl and loosely stuff the bird. Keep in mind that a stuffed turkey takes longer to cook.
There are other ways you can cook your turkey — or even chicken — this holiday season. You don’t have to traditionally roast the bird.
Electric roaster oven
If you plan on using an electric roaster oven, you should follow the same cooking times and temperatures as you would in conventional cooking.
You’ll want to preheat the oven to 325 degrees F and place the turkey on the roaster oven rack or another meat rack to ensure the turkey is raised out of the juices. Make sure to leave the lid and avoid removing the lid as little as possible.
You can use a cooking bag in the electric roaster oven as long as the bag doesn’t touch the sides, bottom, or lid. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions when using the cooking bag and be sure to use a food thermometer. Test the innermost part of the thigh or wing and the thickest part of the breast to make sure the bird reaches 165 degrees F internally.
You can use a grill to cook a turkey by using indirect heat on an outdoor covered charcoal or gas grill. Use a pan of water underneath the cooking surface to catch fat and juices from the turkey as it cooks. The heat from the grill and the water create a steam which cooks the turkey.
Covered gas grill
You can cook a turkey on a covered gas grill if you want. The heat can be supplied by either propane or natural gas piped from your home. If your grill only has one gas burner, place the pan of water under the grate to create indirect heat. Then place the turkey in the roasting pan and place it on top of the grate.
If your grill has two or more burners, the turkey should be placed away from the flame. To do this, turn of one of the burners and place the turkey in that area.
Covered charcoal grill
If you are planning on cooking the turkey on a covered charcoal grill, do not stuff it. Stuffing it will prevent the turkey’s internal temperature from reaching 165 degrees F on the covered charcoal grill.
Make sure your grill is clean and build a pyramid of charcoal on one side. Ignite the coals and allow them to get red hot. Monitor the internal temperature of the grill by using an appliance thermometer. The temperature should be between 225 degrees F and 300 degrees F. Place a drip pan with water in the center of the grill beneath the place where the turkey will be placed, and push the coals evenly around the edge of the drip pan. Lay the turkey breast side up and then put the cover on the grill.
You should replenish the briquettes every hour as needed to maintain the grill’s internal temperature. Water-soaked hardwood or fruitwood can be added in the form of chunks or chips to add flavor to the turkey but do not use softwood.
Cooking times on the charcoal grill will vary based on the size of the turkey, distance from the heat, temperature of the coals and the air temperature outside the grill.
The mentioned methods of cooking your turkey are not the only ones. You can also use a gas or electric smoker, deep fat fryer, microwave, pressure cooker or a slower cooker.
There are so many different methods but all have the same recommendation — never cook a stuffed frozen turkey. It is possible to roast a frozen turkey, just keep in mind that it will take longer.
For more information or to view the USDA’s cooking chart, read their publication “Turkey: Alternate Routes to the Table” at www.fsis.usda.gov/Fact_Sheets/Turkey_Alt_Routes/index.asp.