How to properly prepare the perfect turkey this holiday season


Jimmy Carroll

An image of a turkey in the oven
Use caution when cooking turkey this holiday. Photo by Kamrin Baker/the Gateway

Proper planning during the holiday season makes an impact. Families come together to enjoy each other’s company, give thanks and eat delicious food. But, happy and joyful thoughts can all change in an instant when the main course – the holiday turkey – is inedible. Turkey preparation should be handled with care, as undercooked turkeys can lead to serious foodborne illness.

The Douglas County Health Department advises everyone who buys a frozen turkey and stores it in their fridge, to keep it at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit in the original wrapping. For every four to five pounds of turkey, allow about 24 hours for thawing. It is best to decide beforehand if you will be purchasing a frozen or fresh turkey and what size your turkey will be.

It is usually best to plan accordingly for buying that perfect holiday turkey. Knowing which grocery store to get the turkey is important. An article from Business Insider called “7 Thanksgiving hacks that will make your turkey juicier, evenly cooked, and tastier than ever” says having a working poultry thermometer should be your number one tool for a properly cooked turkey.

Using soap and water to wash utensils in the kitchen is very important, as washing a turkey before cooking it may spread bacteria. Cooking a turkey directly from frozen state is okay, but it is recommended that cook time is 50% longer than a thawed turkey.

University of Nebraska at Omaha faculty and students have expressed their concern for turkey preparation at family holidays.

“Thankfully our family has not had an underdone turkey,” said UNO instructor Casey Riesberg. “We have always had our turkey grilled and ended up being charred, scorched, blackened and well-done.”

Riesberg said her family does well to prepare for holiday dinners and leaves the “turkey part” to her in-laws.

“I’ve always been a ham person,” said UNO senior Will Olsen. “But, preparation-wise, I think it’s very important, so you don’t end up poisoning a family member or friend.”

As for cooking the turkey, it is best to keep it away from other foods being prepared. If you’re unsure of a turkey being completely cooked, make sure the internal temperature is at least 165 degrees. It may be best to overcook the turkey—even if on accident.

In the oven, turkeys should be cooked at a temperature of at least 325 degrees. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that turkeys are cooked in a pan that is about 2 ½ inches deep.

An ABC News article from 2018 shows that people fail to wash their hands 97% of the time before and after dinner. The same study found that 80% of people who prepared turkey accidentally contaminated other food, due to raw turkey not being washed off hands properly. We have been taught to scrub our hands with soap and water for a continuous 20 seconds, getting between fingers and especially under the nails.

And, last but not least, who doesn’t love leftovers? Leftovers need to be cared for as well, as bacteria outbreaks can happen in November and December. Leftovers should be stored at 40 degrees and heated to at least 165 degrees when being served again.

Have a happy and safe, turkey-filled holiday season.