From Across the Field: 11/21/2019

Time to Talk Turkey

As an Extension educator who specializes in livestock production and meat quality and safety, I feel somewhat obligated to write about preparing of the Thanksgiving ham turkey.

Nearly 88 percent of Americans surveyed by the National Turkey Federation in 2016 at turkey ate Thanksgiving (I was likely part of the other 12 percent). On Thanksgiving alone 51.6, million birds of an average weight of 16 pounds are consumed. In total approximately 736 million pounds of turkey are consumed in the United States during Thanksgiving.

Benjamin Franklin, who proposed the turkey as the official United States’ bird, was dismayed when the bald eagle was chosen over the turkey. Franklin wrote to his daughter, referring to the eagle’s “bad moral character,” saying, “I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country! The turkey is a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America.”

As stated above, turkey is not often my protein of choice, however I can certainly offer some guidance when it comes to food safety and preparing the holiday bird. First off, how much turkey do you need? A rule of thumb is to figure around a pound of turkey per person, kids will likely eat less and some adults more, but this gives us a starting point.

Once purchased, in order to protect the natural juiciness and flavor of the turkey from over cooking, one can brine a thawed bird overnight prior to cooking. If available at your grocer, consider purchasing turkey that has already been enhanced to save time and cleanup. Once you’re are ready to cook, it is not recommended that you wash the turkey, rather wash your hands and kitchen surfaces before and after handling any raw poultry.

There are many ways to cook this year’s bird. One can roast, smoke, or fry at turkey. For those looking to fire up the deep fryer make sure the bird is thawed out before dropping it into the fryer. A turkey can be safely thawed in the refrigerator or in cold water. In a refrigerator it will take around 24 hours per 5 pounds of turkey. Therefore a 20 pound bird will take 5 days to defrost.

Whole birds need to be cooked until the thickest region of the breast and thigh reach 165 degrees internally. Using a meat thermometer is the only sure-fire way to who when the desired temperature has been reached. The pop-up thermometer that comes in the bird is convenient but not always accurate.

Once reached the desire temperature, let the turkey rest for at least 20 minutes. This will allow the natural juices or brine to redistribute themselves back into the muscle. By carving too early the meat will lose its moisture and be dry. I’ll wrap up this week with a quote from Frank Clark: “If a fellow isn’t thankful for what he’s got, he isn’t likely to be thankful for what he’s going to get.” Have a great week and a Happy Thanksgiving.

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