Be sure turkey time inspires memories, not nightmares

Farm Forum

“Here are the bags for brining a turkey. I think I’ll use a garbage bag,” my husband noted as he looked at the price tag.

I hope he was teasing me.

“No, you won’t. Garbage bags are meant for holding trash not dinner,” I replied.

If my husband is inspired to make a different type of turkey, I certainly will buy the accessories, including the plastic bags to marinate the bird.

I think he knew what my reaction would be all along.

I thought about all the types of turkey we have enjoyed and the many interesting situations surrounding Thanksgiving dinner through the years.

On my first major culinary endeavor as a newly married person, I had the honor of cooking the bird. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a large enough roasting pan, so I stuffed the turkey in the pan I had. That was not a good idea.

When I pried my golden-breasted bird from the pan, its wings popped up to reveal anemic “wing pits.” The centerpiece of Thanksgiving dinner was partially raw and everything else was ready to eat. This was a little embarrassing.

I swallowed my pride and held my hungry guests at bay with appetizers while the turkey finished cooking on a cookie sheet. I bought a large roasting pan the next year.

Your roasting pan definitely influences cooking time. A deep pan reduces the heat circulation, and a dark pan cooks more quickly than a shiny pan. Using a roasting bag and covering the pan with a lid will speed cooking time.

I should have tucked the wings of my inaugural turkey behind the shoulders, which is called “akimbo.” Had I done that, I might not have had my pale-winged gobbler waving at me after taking it from the oven.

Another year, we had a smoked turkey made by my father-in-law. Despite constant tending, the fire kept dying all night during the winds of a November snowstorm. I wondered if we’d survive eating the bird, and eventually the turkey had to be cooked in the oven. It had a nice smoky flavor, though.

Besides roasting and smoking the bird, we can grill or deep-fry a turkey. Regardless of how you decide to prepare your bird, ensure a successful and safe turkey dinner by taking some precautions. Like other high-protein foods, turkey needs to be handled safely from purchase through the time you enjoy the leftovers.

Start by buying the right-sized bird. On average, we each enjoy about 16 pounds of turkey per year. When you are planning a meal, allow at least 1 to 1.5 pounds per person for ample leftovers.

If you purchase a frozen bird, allow about one day of thawing in the refrigerator for every 5 pounds of turkey. You can thaw the bird in water in a sink, but be sure to wash and sanitize the sink before and after thawing the bird.

For optimum safety, cook stuffing in a casserole instead of in the roasting pan. If you decide to stuff the bird, stuff it loosely right before you roast the bird and cook it to an internal temperature of 165 F.

Cook the bird to a safe temperature and measure the internal temperature with a calibrated meat thermometer. Remember that sometimes the thermometers that come with the bird pop out before the bird is fully cooked.

Roast the bird in an oven set at 325 F. On average, a 15-pound turkey will require about four hours to cook and should reach an internal temperature of at least 165 F. The recommended temperature was reduced from 180 F a few years ago after testing showed that the lower temperature was safe. Measure the internal temperature in the thickest part of the breast and the innermost part of the thigh and wing.

Do you have some leftover turkey? Chill it promptly and use it within three or four days or freeze it in recipe-sized amounts. Label the package with the package contents and date. Use your safe and delicious leftovers in a recipe courtesy of the National Turkey Federation (

Turkey and Wild Rice Bake

1 (6-ounce) package wild and white rice mix

2 1/3 c. water

1 (4-ounce) can mushrooms, drained

1 (14-ounce) can artichoke hearts, drained and quartered

1 (2-ounce) jar pimientos, drained and chopped

2 c. cooked turkey, cubed

1 c. Swiss cheese, shredded

Preheat the oven to 350 F. In a 2-quart casserole, combine rice with seasoning packet and water. Stir in mushrooms, artichoke hearts, pimientos and turkey. Cover with foil. Bake for one hour and 15 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Remove from oven and top with cheese. Bake uncovered for five to 10 minutes until the cheese is melted and golden brown.

Makes six servings. Each serving has 270 calories, 8 grams (g) of fat, 25 g of carbohydrate, 24 g of protein and 572 milligrams of sodium.