Published on 11/06/08

Put a tasty turkey on the table this Thanksgiving

By Faith Peppers
University of Georgia

For generations, Americans have sought the secret to cooking the perfect turkey for holiday meals. Some have abandoned the time-tested roasting ritual for fast frying or other cooking methods, but a tasty bird can still be found in the oven.

“Over the years people have come up with all types of strange tactics they think will make a better turkey, like cooking it in a brown paper bag,” said University of Georgia Cooperative Extension food safety expert Judy Harrison. “We don’t recommend it.”

She offers these tips for oven roasting:

  • Set the oven temperature no lower than 325 degrees F.
  • Place the turkey on a rack in a shallow roasting pan large enough to hold it and a meat thermometer.
  • Check the internal temperature at the innermost part of the thigh and wing and at the thickest part of the breast.
  • Turkey meat, including that which remains pink, is safe to eat as long as it reaches at least 165 F.
  • Cook turkey to as high as 180 F to remove pink appearance or rubbery texture.
  • Use a food thermometer to check the temperature, even if the turkey comes with a pop-up temperature indicator.
  • Roasted

    Many factors can affect the roasting time of a whole turkey, she said. For example, a turkey in a dark roasting pan with a lid or in a cooking bag will cook faster. A foil tent over the turkey can slow cooking.

    In general, an unstuffed turkey weighing between 14 pounds to 18 pounds takes 3 and three-quarters hours to 4 and a quarter hours to cook. One weighing 20 pounds to 24 pounds, unstuffed, takes as long as 5 hours.

    A stuffed turkey that weighs between 14 pounds and 18 pounds takes about 4 hours to cook. One weighing between 18 pounds and 20 pounds takes 45 minutes longer.

    It’s OK to cook a frozen turkey, but it takes at least 50 percent longer to cook than a thawed one.

    “For optimum safety, we don’t recommend stuffing a turkey,” she said. “For more even cooking, we recommend you cook your stuffing outside the bird in a casserole dish. Use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of the stuffing. The stuffing must reach a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 F.”

    More Hints

  • Tuck wing tips under the shoulders of the bird for even cooking. This is called akimbo.
  • Add half of a cup of water to the bottom of the pan.
  • If the roasting pan doesn’t have a lid, put a tent of heavy-duty aluminum foil over the turkey for the first hour and a half to keep it moist.
  • To prevent overbrowning, put foil over the turkey after it reaches the desired color.
  • If using an oven-proof food thermometer, place it in the turkey at the start of the cooking cycle to check internal temperature during cooking.
  • Follow the manufacturer's guidelines when using a cooking bag.
  • Always wash hands, utensils, sink and anything else that comes in contact with raw turkey and its juices with soap and water.

    For more cooking methods, contact the local UGA Extension office at 1-800-Ask-UGA1. Or, call the federal Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-674-6854.

    (Faith Peppers is a news editor for the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

    Faith Peppers is the director of public affairs with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.