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Bring home the turkey


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

Published: Thursday, Nov. 15, 2012

Story source:

Tammy Roberts, 660-679-4167

BUTLER, Mo. – Cooking a Thanksgiving dinner for a flock of relatives doesn’t have to be an exercise in stress and frustration. Whether you’re a first-timer or a seasoned cook, a little planning can help make the turkey meal a big success.

Related radio news story by Debbie Johnson. For downloadable broadcast-quality audio, contact Johnson at 573-882-9183.

First, how big a turkey will you need to feed all your hungry guests?

“If you want to have leftovers for your Thanksgiving holiday, make sure you buy a pound of whole turkey per person,” said Tammy Roberts, nutrition specialist for University of Missouri Extension.

That amount drops to a 3/4 pound if you don’t want leftovers or if you’re planning to cook and serve turkey breast, Roberts said. To serve boneless turkey breast, you’ll need 1/2 pound per person.

Now you have the turkey, but it’s frozen solid. Defrosting that bird cannot wait for turkey day.

“The best way to safely thaw the turkey is in the refrigerator,” Roberts said. “You need to allow 24 hours for every 4 pounds of turkey, so a 12-pound bird will take three days to thaw.”

A cold-water bath can defrost the turkey faster, but requires some extra work. Completely submerge the whole turkey in cold water, and change that water every half-hour. She said it takes about a half-hour of thawing for every pound of turkey.

The microwave is also an option for thawing, but Roberts warns that the microwave will defrost unevenly, so you’ll need to place the turkey in the oven for roasting immediately after you remove it from the microwave.

Never defrost the bird at room temperature. Roberts said that’s a recipe for disaster.

“The outside of the turkey thaws first because of the warmer air temperature. So while the inside is still thawing, the outside reaches a temperature where bacteria can grow,” she said. “The bacteria can make your guests sick.”

If you’ve planned ahead, you’ll be ready to cook a picture-perfect turkey that will delight everyone.

For more information from MU Extension on food, nutrition and many other topics, go to