Thanksgiving Turkey Safety and Cooking Tips

Thanksgiving turkey tips for a safe and delicious birdThanksgiving Day is nearly upon us. Can you believe that? If you’re like 88% of Americans, a beautiful bird will be an integral part of your feast. According to the National Turkey Federation, we will consume more than 45 million turkeys this holiday! That is a whole lot of... PRESSURE!

If you are hosting a gathering at your house, along with making sure the turkey is tasty you also need to make sure it is safe. While Salmonella and E. Coli may be the most well-known, they are just two of a number of bacteria that can make people sick. That’s the last thing you want your guests to take away when they leave.

Thanksgiving Turkey Safety Tips

  1. Clean all surfaces thoroughly. Think of your kitchen as the lab. You want to control as many variables as you can in order to put out the best product. You would want your lab to be super clean so take some extra time wiping down all the surfaces you plan to use. Don’t forget the sinks and all the countertops! Thanksgiving is a larger meal so you might use more space than you normally would.
  2. Properly thaw the turkey! Leaving a frozen bird on the counter to thaw is a definite no-no! Let the turkey thaw in the refrigerator or use the microwave (follow instructions on packaging). Quick reminder: give yourself enough time. It takes approximately 4-5 days (you read that right) to thoroughly thaw a 20-pound turkey.
  3. Be conscientious during food prep. Pay extra attention to clean work areas, and clean hands and utensils. Don't reuse anything that was used with raw meat.  As we mentioned above, Salmonella is just one of many potential bacteria that can make you sick. Follow the CDC recommendations for safe handling (https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/keep-food-safe.html).
  4. Don’t wash the bird! Yes we know what grandma used to do, but studies now show that you run the risk of spreading a bunch of bacteria if you wash your poultry. There is one exception to this and that is after brining. Otherwise, cooking the turkey properly is enough to rid it of bacteria. 

How to Cook a Delicious Thanksgiving Turkey

There are many ways to cook your turkey but we all want the same outcome: a moist and tasty bird.

So let’s start with the increasingly popular question – to brine or not to brine? Brining is a process by which the bird is placed in a salt water solution (sometimes with other herbs and spices) before cooking. My husband has been doing this for as long as we’ve been married and there are never any complaints.

A word of advice if you do plan to brine, make sure you add enough time to the cooking process and that you keep the bird temperature at the proper and consistent temperature while in the brine. Once removed, cook as you see fit.

Though brining seems to have fallen out of favor with many top chefs, there are still those who swear by it.

Speaking of which (and here’s where we can potentially go down the rabbit hole), what the best way to cook your turkey? Here are a few ideas.

  • Classic Roasted Thanksgiving Turkey: This is probably what most of us think when we think about Thanksgiving feast. Roasting the turkey the classic way can take on many shapes but primarily involves the bird in a roasting pan surrounded by veggies and herbs, etc. There are tons of recipes out there so peek around until you find one you like.
  • Slow Cooker Turkey: Oh yes, you CAN put your bird in a crock pot! I love this idea because I’m big on taste and low maintenance. Check out this Slow Cooker Whole Turkey Recipe at The Little Kitchen.
  • Grilled Thanksgiving Turkey: Just because summer is over doesn’t mean you have to put away your grill! Grilling your turkey is a great way to seal in the moisture while freeing up a little space in the kitchen. Make sure you still adhere to recommendations regarding proper cooking temperature
  • Deep Fry Your Turkey: I have spent a lot of time in the south where I simply had to acquire a deep fryer shortly after moving to Texas. Deep Fried Turkey... Something first experienced at the Texas State Fair before I realized I could make it at home. And so can you!  


With all of these tips and tricks you are sure to have everyone walking away from the Thanksgiving table happy, healthy and FULL! Happy Thanksgiving!

Rene Syler is a former network news anchor and founder of GoodEnoughMother.com. Rene has always been interested in health and fitness, but a preventive mastectomy turned that interest into a lifestyle. The mother of two grown children now spends her time writing and daydreaming in her home outside Charleston, SC. Rene Syler

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