Routt County CSU Extension: Let’s talk turkey |

Routt County CSU Extension: Let’s talk turkey

Karen Massey/For the Steamboat Today
Karen Massey

— As Thanksgiving approaches, the Colorado State University Extension office always receives numerous questions about cooking the traditional turkey dinner. People want to know if they should buy a fresh or a frozen turkey. They want to know how big of a turkey to buy and how to thaw, cook and store it. So as we approach the holidays ahead, let’s talk turkey.

Planning ahead is the first step to a stress-free holiday. When purchasing a whole turkey, plan for at least one pound of uncooked turkey per person. This will give you enough for the feast and for some leftovers the next day.

Before purchasing your turkey, take some time to decide if you want a fresh or frozen turkey. There should be no quality difference between the two, but there is a difference in cost and preparation time. Fresh turkeys must be purchased 1 to 2 days before cooking and some prefer them because they don’t require thawing. The benefits of a frozen turkey is that you can purchase it in advance and take advantage of special sales. Just make sure you have adequate space in your freezer and a plan for defrosting it.

You never should defrost a turkey on the counter, but there are other safe defrosting methods that can be used.

The most fool-proof method is in the refrigerator. The key to this method is to plan ahead and allow about one day for every 4 to 5 pounds of bird weight for thawing in the refrigerator. This method is the safest and will result in the best finished product. Place the bird in the original wrapping on a shallow baking sheet in the refrigerator. Once thawed, a turkey can remain in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days.

If you forget to thaw the turkey or don’t have room in the refrigerator for thawing, don’t panic. You can submerge the turkey in the original wrapping in cold water, and change the water every 30 minutes. With this method, it you should allow about 30 minutes defrosting time per pound of turkey.

It is recommended that your stuffing be cooked outside the bird in a casserole to assure that it reaches 165 degrees. If you choose to stuff your turkey, stuff the bird with hot stuffing right before cooking and stuff loosely.

There are numerous methods for cooking a turkey, but all methods should involve using a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of the bird. A whole turkey is safe when it is cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.

When the big meal is finished and everyone is settling in for family games, watching football or taking a nap, make sure to put the leftovers back in the refrigerator within two hours. Make a plan to use leftover turkey and stuffing within 3 to 4 days or freeze the food for another time.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Karen Massey is a registered dietitian nutritionist and family and consumer science Extension agent with Colorado State University Extension in Routt County. Questions call 879-0825 or email

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