Holiday food safety ... 'Gobble! Gobble!'
If your family is among the thousands of "host families" that invite single or unaccompanied service members to share in your Thanksgiving meal, you are probably always looking for ways to top your last feast. One way to stay ahead of the curve is to deep fry a turkey. Aah yes, the fried turkey -- that dangerously delicious bird that will probably be so good that next year, accompanied service members may elbow their way into your dining room. The Department of Agriculture has a few tips that you should keep in mind in order to ensure the barracks "turkey talk" doesn’t include #Thanksgivingfail.
Now, let’s get back to that bird. Here are few things to remember before, during and after you fry a turkey.
Don’t buy the bird too early and don’t buy a frozen one too late
Doing the commissary shopping early is usually a key to success. But let’s face it, if you’re like me, you’ll be heading back to the commissary one, two or six more times before turkey day. With that in mind, don’t buy the turkey too early. But buy it early enough that if frozen, you have time to thaw it.
- If bought fresh, buy within one to two days of turkey day and keep it in the refrigerator (40 degrees Fahrenheit or less).
- If bought frozen, it takes 4 to 5 pounds per day to thaw safely in the refrigerator; for a 12- pounder it will take 2.5 to three days in the refrigerator to thaw, then cook within one to two days.
- Smaller birds work best for frying. The turkey should be no larger than 12 pounds – or you can fry parts instead, such as breasts, wings or legs. Remember, the turkey should be completely thawed and not stuffed.
- If you bought the frozen turkey and don’t have time to thaw it in the refrigerator before the family dinner, use our quick-thaw, water method:
- Submerge the frozen bagged bird in cold tap water, changing the water every 30 minutes so it continues to thaw. Small packages of poultry — about a pound — may thaw in an hour or less.
- For whole turkeys, estimate about 30 minutes per pound. A 12-pound bird will take about six hours to thaw with this method.
- With this method remember, when thawed completely, the food must be seasoned and cooked immediately.
Note: service members and their families should check with local emergency services or housing authorities for any rules on use of a turkey fryer.
- To determine the amount of oil needed, do a preliminary test using water. Place the turkey in the cooking vessel and add water to cover. Then remove the turkey and measure the amount of water. This is the amount of oil needed.
- When working with large amounts of hot oil, select a cooking vessel large enough to completely submerge the turkey without it spilling over. The oil should cover the turkey by 1 to 2 inches.
- Select a safe location outdoors for deep fat frying a turkey. Heat the cooking oil to 375 F. Temporarily turn off the burner. Very slowly and carefully, lower the turkey into the hot oil. Turn the burner back on and monitor the temperature of the oil with a frying thermometer.
- Never leave a cooking turkey or the hot oil unattended.
- Allow about three to five minutes of cook time per pound.
- When reaching approximate time needed, check to see if the turkey is safely cooked by removing the turkey from the oil, draining the oil from the cavity and with a food thermometer, check the internal temperature of the bird. DO NOT test the temperature while the turkey is submerged in oil.
- The turkey is safely cooked when it reaches a minimum internal temperature of 165 F in the innermost part of the thigh and wing, and the thickest part of the breast. If the turkey has not reached 165 F in all three locations, return it to the hot oil for additional cooking.
- When the turkey is done, remove it from the oil and place it on a sturdy tray lined with paper towels. The skin can range in color from golden to dark brown to almost black. Let it rest about 20 minutes before carving, to let the juices set.
- Remember to follow the two-hour rule. For safety, do not leave the turkey or other perishable foods sitting out at room temperature longer than two hours. Slice leftover turkey and place it in a shallow container and store in the refrigerator for three to four days, or freeze for longer storage.
In the end, service members who couldn’t travel home for Thanksgiving will be extremely thankful for your generosity no matter what you serve. By following these tips or calling the USDA’s Meat & Poultry Hotline for advice, you’ll make the most out of your Thanksgiving meal.
For help with last minute questions, the USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) is open Thanksgiving Day from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. EST. Live food safety experts are available to answer your food safety questions in English and in Spanish. Normal hours of operation are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday. If you and your family are stationed overseas, you can reach the food safety experts via email by visiting www.askkaren.gov.
(About the author: Luis Delgadillo has been the program manager for USDA's Food Safety Discovery Zone, a highly visible food safety education exhibit that tours the nation.)