Thanksgiving turkey cooking: What you need to know

Written by By Janna Holroyd, CNN

It’s a time for family, celebrating, expressing gratitude and experiencing a rare thing, as Thanksgiving is essentially a turkey breakfast — a first hot turkey dinner for many families.

“There are many ways to prepare, but one of the biggest things that we advise people to do is not overcook the turkey,” explains Gregory Hemmelgarn, US Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service poultry expert and food safety educator . “The main reason is because it has a tendency to dry out which is going to lead to injuries.

“You want to make sure it is cooked to at least 165 degrees.”

(Thanksgiving turkeys are only required to be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Your grill is fine if it is less than 450 degrees Fahrenheit, for example.)

Why two-layer oven?

Overcooking a turkey can lead to bruises and the plumpest part of the leg may become lumpy after cutting through the thigh and other organs, making it hard to carve, explains Charlotte Pruett, a food safety educator at Western Washington University.

“If you overcook a turkey, the quality of it diminishes and it’s soft, it’s thick and this could cause people to suffer foodborne illness and more,” Pruett warns.

So how much food waste is there to worry about during Thanksgiving dinner?

Pruett, Hemmelgarn and Dan J. Freidenrich, a senior research associate at Michigan State University, estimate that an average Thanksgiving turkey provides $5 in value, not counting the cost of the turkey, but he notes that cooking over time will have a much greater impact on your grocery bill.

“Eating a turkey every day is not a great way to benefit from the cooking process,” explains Freidenrich. “It takes four hours to two and a half hours to cook a turkey from raw to cooked. The food safety benefits may help the cost savings, but at the end of the day the health and well-being of the meat is going to be best.”

In other words, a bigger bird could save you money in the long run.

How to avoid cooking dry

Don’t let the fear of dry turkey stop you from cooking it as reheating it can make a big difference, just ask Adam Greengart, senior director of technology at The Mesirow Financial Centers of Excellence .

“What we don’t want to do is over-bake it,” Greengart says. “You want to cook the turkey a minimum of three hours to a minimum of four hours.”

Properly care for the bird

As with everything on Thanksgiving, you want to leave plenty of room for the turkey to sit.

“It’s a two-man task,” adds Praetto. “The turkey will sit up in the oven until it is completely cooked. At that point in time the chicken should be placed on top of it to absorb the juices from the turkey. Then you will have a great holiday meal and you’ll have to wash the turkey the next day so it doesn’t dry out further.”

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