Published on 12/14/16

Festive food prep: new ways to cook a turkey this holiday season

By MaryBeth Hornbeck

Everyone has seen that idyllic Norman Rockwell painting of a proud mother placing her perfectly cooked turkey on the table as the crowning jewel of a holiday feast. Although our family dinner tables may not be so picturesque, they do usually include a turkey. Many family chefs opt for roasting the turkey, but there are several other methods that yield wonderful results.

If you want to cook turkey with a different twist this year, read on for some tips from University of Georgia Cooperative Extension for a delicious, juicy and safe final product.

No matter the cooking method, be sure to cook the turkey to 165 degrees Fahrenheit and check for that temperature in several places on the bird with a calibrated food thermometer recommended for poultry. This is required to make sure your food is safe to eat.

Some favorite tools for cooking turkeys include electric roaster ovens, grills, smokers and even deep fat fryers. These offer a different way to cook the traditional turkey, while freeing up oven space for other dishes.

Electric roaster ovens are tabletop appliances made specifically for cooking poultry. Check the manufacturer’s instructions for recommended temperature settings, but temperature requirements are generally the same as they are for conventional ovens. Check the internal temperature of the turkey in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. To remove the pink appearance and rubbery texture, cook turkey to a higher temperature, such as 180 F.

Grilling has become a popular method for cooking turkey. Place a pan of water below the grill rack to catch turkey drippings. It is only recommended that you grill turkeys that are 16 pounds or less, as larger turkeys stay in the danger zone too long and may lead to foodborne illness. Grilled turkeys should never be stuffed, as it takes too long for the stuffing to reach 165 F, the safe zone.

Smokers are usually cylinder-shaped and can use gas, electric or charcoal. Follow the manufacturer’s directions for operating and cooking with the smoker. The necessary cooking time depends on several factors, such as the size and shape of the turkey, temperature of the coals and distance from the heat source. Generally, it will take about 20 to 30 minutes per pound, but always check the turkey with a food thermometer. 

Whole turkeys can be safely cooked in a deep fat fryer as long as the turkey is fully thawed and unstuffed. For frying, choose a pot that is large enough for the turkey to be completely submerged in oil at 350 F. Ideally, a commercial fryer designed for frying whole turkeys should be used. Follow the manufacturer’s directions for heating the oil and cooking the turkey. Carefully lower the turkey into the fryer; once submerged, it should take about three to five minutes per pound to cook the turkey. (Check the internal temperature with a food thermometer as described above.) If the turkey is not done, return it to the cooking oil and let it finish cooking. Let the turkey stand for 20 minutes before carving and serving it.

MaryBeth Hornbeck is the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension family and consumer sciences agent in Rockdale County.

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