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How to handle your Thanksgiving bird safely
Turkey recipe

By Blake Carter

Effingham County Extension agent

Hello Effingham County! It is just about turkey time. 

There is nothing I love more than feasting with the family and watching some good football. A crucial part of that Thanksgiving trifecta is the feasting portion. 

No Thanksgiving season is complete without the turkey. In the spirit of Thanksgiving I wanted to give a few tips on safely handling your bird this year.

It is very easy for us to be running around like a turkey with his head cut off and lose sight of some basics to make sure we are not going to get sick from eating the turkey. (Nothing says Thanksgiving like dressin’ and mild food poisoning. Am I right?) 

The main thing to remember is that it is all about the temperature. ad bacteria grows anywhere from 40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Making sure we keep the turkey refrigerated until it’s time to roll is priority number one.

Once the time comes, trim, season and cook the turkey without any stalling so that the temperature does not promote bad things to happen. The other big reminder I want to stress is to not cross contaminate. The bacteria on the raw turkey can easily spread from the bird to your hands, to a counter, or even to another dish of food.

To safely handle the turkey, it has to be properly thawed if it is frozen. There are three safe ways to thaw turkey. The refrigerator is the safest way. That is because the internal temperature does not go above 40 degrees Fahrenheit. That is 100 percent the slowest way to thaw a turkey and takes very good planning to make sure it is fully thawed before putting it into the oven.

A rule of thumb is that it takes 24 hours for every 5 pounds of turkey to thaw. 

The second method is one I have used since I can remember, letting it thaw in a cold water bath. Of course, there are some drawbacks to this method. You have to do some maintenance. The container it is in needs to be clean, the packaging needs to remain completely sealed  and you need to change the water every 30 minutes.

It is recommended to immediately cook the turkey after it is thawed if using this method.

 The final method is really for only small birds. You can take the smaller birds and defrost them inside the microwave. Each microwave has specific settings for thawing turkey. Follow those for your machine.

Just as recommended with the water thawing method, cook the turkey immediately after thawing. The microwave could have brought temperatures in some parts of the bird high enough where harmful bacteria can grow.

Once you have that thawing done, it is time for the fun part — cooking the turkey. There are, of course, several ways to cook a turkey. I have included my favorite recipe for fried turkey courtesy of Georgia’s own Alton Brown.

One last tip for this Thanksgiving — if for some reason you prefer “stuffing” over the far superior dressin’, make sure you cook the stuffing separately from the turkey. The rule of thumb is that stuffing needs to be an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. That is sort of hard to do surrounded by a giant bird. By the time the stuffing fully cooks, the turkey can be over cooked.

We all know what overcooked turkey tastes like … a desert in our mouth. To avoid this, just simply cook the stuffing separately and then come carving time simply stuff the cooked bird with the fully cooked stuffing before putting it out onto the table.

With these tips and reminders, your turkey can be something that your family is thankful you cooked! Stay safe and happy Thanksgiving from all of us here at the Effingham County Extension Office!

Joke of the Day: What do you call a Turkey that runs away on Thanksgiving? A chicken! (Isn’t that justa cock-a-doodle-HOOT!)

If you have any questions, suggestions, or want further information, please give me a call at or stop by the Effingham County Extension Office, (912)754-8040, 501 N. Richland Ave., Rincon Ga., 31326.