There are three ways to safely thaw your turkey: in the refrigerator, in cold water, and in the microwave. The most recommended way to thaw a turkey is in the refrigerator. While thawing in the refrigerator, the turkey will not reach internal temperature above 40 degrees, so harmful bacteria will not have the chance to grow. If the refrigerator temperature is set at 40 degrees it will take about 24 hours for every five pounds of turkey to thaw.
You may thaw turkey in cold water. Make sure the turkey is wrapped well in leak-proof packaging, as the flesh can absorb water and make a watery product. Submerge the turkey completely in cold water. The water should be changed every thirty minutes until the turkey is thawed; about thirty minutes per pound of turkey to thaw. The turkey should be cooked immediately after thawing.
The third method of thawing is in the microwave. You should follow the oven manufacturer's instructions for thawing turkey in the microwave. Always cook the turkey immediately after thawing in the microwave, as some parts of the turkey may have reached temperatures where harmful bacteria can grow.
There are many methods for preparing turkey so that a more flavorful end product is reached. Basting, brining, and marinating are often used. Basting is a process of moistening the turkey with butter, meat drippings, stock or some other type of liquid during the cooking process. Basting helps to prevent the poultry from drying out, while adding color and flavor.
Brining a turkey enhances its flavor and makes it more tender. A marinade is an acidic sauce in which the food is soaked. The acid helps to break down the tissues of the turkey. If the marinade is to be used as a sauce, it must be boiled to kill any harmful bacteria that may be present. Marinades should never be re-used.
It is recommended that you cook stuffing separately from the turkey. The stuffing needs to reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees in order to be safe. When the stuffing is inside of the turkey it takes much longer for it to reach a safe temperature. Often, by the time the stuffing reaches 165 degrees, the turkey has overcooked and may be dry.
If you decide to go ahead and stuff the turkey, do so just before cooking. Make sure that the stuffing is moist and loosely stuffed in the turkey. Take the internal temperature of the stuffing during cooking using a calibrated food thermometer. Keep in mind that a stuffed turkey takes longer to cook than an un-stuffed one.
For roasting a turkey the oven should be set at a temperature of 325 degrees or higher. Place the turkey on a rack in a roasting pan and into the center of the oven. Whole poultry is safe when cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. For reasons of personal preference, it is still best to cook turkey to higher temperatures such as 180 degrees to remove pink appearance and rubbery texture.
Even if the turkey comes equipped with a "pop-up" temperature indicator, it is important to use a food thermometer to ensure its safety. After taking the turkey out of the oven, let is stand 20 minutes before carving for best quality.