Because many of us save turkey and all the trimmings for a once- or twice-a-year feast, even experienced cooks can use a refresher course on buying, thawing, and cooking the traditional bird.
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Buying and Thawing a Turkey
- When buying a turkey, allow 1 pound per adult serving if the bird weighs 12 pounds or less. For larger turkeys, count on 3/4 pound for each serving. If you want leftovers, buy a bird that's 2 to 4 pounds larger than the size you'll need for serving.
- Although not all turkeys are labeled indicating whether the bird is a hen or tom, select a hen turkey if you want more white meat and a tom if you want more dark meat. Also check for the "sell by" date on the label of a fresh turkey. This date is the last day the turkey should be sold by the retailer. The unopened turkey should maintain its quality and be safe to use for one or two days after the "sell by" date.
- If you buy a frozen turkey, look for packaging that is clean, undamaged, and frost-free. Allow plenty of time to thaw a frozen turkey. For a whole frozen turkey, leave the bird in its wrapping and place it on a tray in the refrigerator. Plan on at least 24 hours for every 5 pounds and don't count the day you'll roast the bird. (Once thawed, turkeys will keep one or two days in the refrigerator.)
- If you run short of time and the turkey isn't completely thawed the day you plan to roast it, place the bird in a clean sink full of COLD water and change the water every 30 minutes. Do NOT thaw turkey at room temperature or in warm water -- these methods will allow harmful bacteria to grow quickly to dangerous levels. You'll know the bird is ready for roasting if the giblets can be removed easily and there are no ice crystals in the interior cavity. If the turkey is still frozen in the center, the bird will cook unevenly.
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