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Helpful hints on cooking turkey for Thanksgiving


Debbie Johnson
University of Missouri Extension
Phone: 573-882-9183

Photo available for this release:

Basting the turkey

Credit: Ethan Lofton

Description: Basting the turkey

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2015

Story source:

Tammy Roberts, 660-679-4167

"Extension on the Go" podcast by Debbie Johnson. Episode 155: Cooking Turkey

BUTLER, Mo. – Some people are all about the stuffing, for others it’s the mashed potatoes. And the argument of sweet potatoes with or without marshmallows has sparked decades-long family feuds.

Don’t sweat the sides, because Thanksgiving is all about the bird. The turkey is the centerpiece, and delivering a succulent, perfectly browned bird can be a challenge.

The first question: to stuff or not to stuff.

“We don’t recommend stuffing the turkey, said Tammy Roberts, nutrition specialist for University of Missouri Extension. “It’s really safer for the stuffing to be cooked in a casserole.”

The reason is it takes the stuffing inside the cavity of the bird a long time to reach a good, strong internal temperature. Roberts says more people get sick whenever the turkey is stuffed with stuffing.

If your heart is set on a stuffed turkey there are ways to do it safely.

“Prepare the stuffing right as you’re getting ready to put the turkey in the oven, and stuff it loosely, Roberts says. “If the stuffing is placed in the bird loosely it will be much easier for it to reach a proper temperature while the bird is cooking.”

Once it’s ready for the oven, put the turkey, breast-side up, on a rack in a shallow pan. Using a rack will allow the drippings to fall below the turkey, and will help to evenly distribute the heat around the bird, Roberts says.

Then grab a meat thermometer.

“That thermometer is your best insurance that the meat will be completely and well cooked, Roberts says. “Place the meat thermometer in the thickest part of the breast or the thickest part of the thigh and roast the turkey until the thermometer reaches a minimum of 165-degrees.”

Be careful when placing the meat thermometer, Roberts says. Make sure it’s not touching bone. The temperature of the bone will go up faster and it will be hotter than the turkey itself, she says.

Set the oven for 325 degrees. For an 8-12 pound, unstuffed turkey it’ll take 2 3/4 to 3 hours to cook. A stuffed turkey will take 3 to 3 1/2 hours, Roberts says.

Some turkeys you buy are labeled basted or self-basting. Roberts says that means the meat has been injected with something to make it flavorful and moist. She says you can do that yourself with butter, oil, broth or spices.

What about basting while the turkey is cooking? The image of mom lovingly spooning the juices over the roasting turkey is a perfect Rockwell picture, but does it make difference?

“The liquid only penetrates about an eighth to a quarter of an inch. So, it only makes a difference in the very top layer of the turkey, Roberts says. “You can choose to baste or not to, but it doesn’t really impact the entire turkey”

There is one trick that will help insure a moist turkey.

“Once you take the turkey out of the oven, allow it to sit for 20 minutes,” Roberts said. “That allows for the even redistribution of the juices so they spread back through the turkey, and whole turkey will be moist.”


Cooking Turkey and Stuffing Safely: