Thursday, November 26, 2009

Phyllis' Fables: A Thanksgiving Turkey To Remember

Bob and Terri – a newlywed couple – were hosting their first family Thanksgiving dinner. Terri, an aspiring attorney who had never prepared a turkey before, sat down at her computer early on Thanksgiving morning and Googled "turkey recipe". To her delight, up popped the following fail-safe instructions:

( - The proper turkey cooking times ensure the best tasting food this Thanksgiving day. By following some simple tips, anyone can cook their dinner with guests raving for more.

Cooking a turkey is not rocket science! Follow a few basic rules and plan out your dinner for the best results.

First, set the oven to 325 degrees and move the rack to a middle to lower position. Next, clean turkey of the inner guts through the front cavity opening. Dry the turkey well with paper towels.

Place the turkey in a shallow roasting pan usually with water on the bottom for basting later.

Pin the wings close to the turkey using cooking rope and wrap around the neck. Use an oven safe thermometer which has the stem into the thick part of the leg. This will ensure the proper cooking temperature needed to decide when it has been fully cooked. Make sure the thermometer does not touch the bone or you will get a misreading.

The inner temperature is the most important when cooking a turkey. Most cooks will use the 12 minutes per pound under 10 pounds. This rule is basically 2 hours for a 10-12 pound turkey. If the bird is larger than this, theory is to add 15 minutes per pound on top of this two hours.

Averages for an 18-20 pound turkey is 3-3.5 hours if it is unstuffed. With stuffing inside the cavity of the bird, expect to cook it from 4-4.5 hours in the oven. Temperatures usually are around a minimum of 325 degrees but you must check the label on the turkey as each are different.

Not being a rocket scientist, Terri was reassured by the statement that "Cooking a turkey is not rocket science!".

She pulled her 15-pound bird out of the refrigerator (she had transferred it from the freezer the night before), cleared out – with some effort and much splashing around – the still-frozen cavity, and blotted it dry with paper towel. Terri then stuffed the cavity, trussed the bird, placed a meat thermometer in the thigh, and left the turkey on the counter to continue thawing until it was time to pop the bird into the oven.

"Let's see," she calculated, "We're planning to serve dinner at 4 o'clock. That means I should start roasting my turkey at noon."

And that's what Terri did.

At 4 o'clock, Terri removed her turkey from the oven, transferred it to a platter and proudly placed it at the head of the table for Bob to carve. It looked delicious, and Bob did a masterful job of slicing the bird (he had been secretly practicing his carving technique). Everyone exclaimed over Terri's tender turkey.

The next day, Terri and Bob were exclaiming over something else. Both had spent a restless night of toilet trips. "Must have eaten too much," they both thought. But then, Bob had a call from his Dad, and Terri from her Mom. Everyone who had eaten Terri's turkey was sick. Stomach cramps, diarrhea, and nausea made the day after Thanksgiving a true Black Friday.

"It must be food poisoning from the turkey," Bob told Terri.

"But how could that be? I followed the directions exactly," Terri answered.

Sadly, the recipe that Terri had followed so carefully was incomplete.
  • It gave no instructions on how to thaw a frozen turkey safely.
  • It did not say that the cooking times applied to a completely thawed turkey.
  • The recipe should have said that a bird must be placed in the preheated oven immediately after stuffing.
  • The thermometer placement was wrong. In a stuffed turkey, the stuffing is the last place to heat up. That's where the thermometer should be placed.
  • The recipe did not provide a target temperature – just a recommended cooking time.

These flaws were Terri's downfall. The bird and its stuffing were not cooked for long enough to allow the coldest area – the stuffed cavity – to reach a safe temperature. Salmonella survived.

The moral of Phyllis' Fable:– When preparing for Thanksgiving dinner, plan well ahead.
  • Be sure that your turkey has been completely thawed.
  • Never allow the raw bird to sit at room temperature.
  • Buy a good meat thermometer and learn to use it correctly. The coldest part of the turkey must reach 165ºF.
  • Consult a reliable source – such as the USDA web site – for a safe recommendation on cooking and handling procedures.

Finally, to ensure that you enjoy Thanksgiving leftovers safety, never let them sit out at room temperature after dinner. Refrigerate or freeze all of your leftovers as quickly as possible.

Wishing all of my US readers a Happy and Healthy Thanksgiving!


  1. Good advice, Cuzzie... a phine phable, Phyllis. ;) Happy T Day!

  2. Interesting story. Often the simple, yet crucial steps are left out of instructions. I'll admit, I never use a thermometer, but slice into the drumstick to see if it's juices run pink. If so, back into the oven. If not, and the leg wiggles easily - it's done!
    Happy Thanksgiving to all. Oh, I found you through Hilary's blog.

  3. Hi Cuzzie! I always enjoy your phrendly visits.

    Wendy, welcome to eFoodAlert. I hope you visit often. Please buy and use a meat thermometer !-)


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.