Turkey Triage

Our stores receive thousands of phone calls on Thanksgiving day. Whether you forgot to turn on your oven or you've set your bird aflame, our turkey triage tips are sure to help.

At Thanksgiving, a lot of home cooks — novice and experienced alike — attempt to cook something they’ve never tried before: turkey. Since our stores are open a few hours on Thanksgiving Day, we get a lot of calls from customers and we’re happy to help. Even reheating can be a challenge at times, so feel free to give us a ring. And so you won’t feel intimidated, here are a couple of our favorite calls:One year a man called who had purchased one of our cooked birds. He had been reheating it for three hours and said it was still cold. Lesson? Always make sure you’ve turned on your oven, and not just your oven timer. — Mike Gannon, Prepared Foods Associate Team Leader, Raleigh

If you’re buying a new oven, don’t test it on Thanksgiving. A woman called who had been “cooking” her turkey for seven hours and wanted to know why it was still raw. Luckily, we had a hot meal ready for her that afternoon. Needless to say, she got her oven replaced! —Mike Bradley, Prepared Foods Associate Coordinator, South Region

Here are our top turkey questions along with our best answers.

What’s this little bag doing inside my turkey? You may have a bag of giblets inside your bird. If you do, be sure to remove it before cooking. Giblets make great gravy. If you don’t plan on using them, discard. This turkey recipe includes an Herb Riesling Gravy opens in a new tab that calls for giblets.

How long does this thing have to cook? That depends on how large your turkey is and how hot your oven is, if it is stuffed or not and if you are cooking one of our fresh birds that cook faster than conventional frozen turkeys. At 350°F, you can expect to cook your bird for about 13 minutes per pound. See our Turkey Roasting Chart opens in a new tab (at the bottom of that page) for more help.

How do I know when it’s done? We recommend using a meat thermometer in the leg registering 165°F  – just make sure you don’t hit the bone, or you’ll get an artificially high reading. Use the turkey roasting chart for a guide and check that the juices run clear when you pierce the thigh.

What about that plastic thermometer stuck in my bird? Won’t that pop up when it’s ready? Pull it out and throw it away! Pop-up thermometers are often inaccurate. Invest in a good meat thermometer, preferably instant-read. (And you won’t have a pop-up thermometer in a turkey from our stores. *smile* )

Should I stuff before I roast? Your turkey will roast more evenly and quickly without the stuffing inside. If you do choose to roast the bird with the stuffing, plan for an extra 5 – 7 minutes cooking time per pound, and be sure the stuffing and turkey both register temps over 160°F separately before you serve them.

When do I baste? If the turkey is uncovered, spoon pan drippings over the breast and thighs every 45 minutes during the first half of the roasting time. Basting later may make the skin soft instead of crispy. If the drumsticks begin to brown too quickly, cover loosely with foil.

What if I forgot to defrost my frozen bird? Quick-defrost a bird by soaking it in cold water in the sink or tub and replacing the water every thirty minutes or so until fully defrosted. This will take about a half hour per pound. Whatever you do, don’t use hot water, don’t microwave it, and don’t cook it frozen. (You can’t microwave a whole turkey, although many have tried.) We sell fresh, unfrozen birds so you can always come pick up one ready for cooking and save your frozen one for later in the season.

My turkey caught on fire. Now what? First, put that fire out. Next, serve your delicious sides, pies, rolls and cranberry sauce with plenty of wine, accompanied by everyone’s favorite last-minute entrée: a cheese omelet. Save yourself a smoky kitchen and omelet dinner by reading our guide to cooking a perfect turkey opens in a new tabfirst. And remember, you can always call us. Happy Thanksgiving!

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