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Get the most out of your holiday turkey


Turkey is gobbled up during holiday meals every year, but purchasing the bird and cooking it is still a mystery for some home cooks.

va-farm-bureauBefore buying your turkey, determine how many people you are going to feed.

“Generally speaking you want to have about 4 to 6 ounces of useable meat per person,” said Kendra Bailey Morris, cookbook author and host of “Heart of the Home,” a cooking segment on Real Virginia, Virginia Farm Bureau’s weekly television program. “You can feed about three people to the pound.”

Most supermarkets carry fresh and frozen turkeys. A frozen turkey must be thawed in the refrigerator for several days, Morris said, so you need to consider how long you will store the turkey before preparing it. “If you don’t let it thaw in the fridge, you can end up with serious bacteria problems. If you don’t have the space in your fridge to thaw the turkey, then buy fresh.” A rule of thumb is one day of thaw time for every 4 pounds of turkey.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends purchasing a fresh turkey only when you will be cooking it within two days. Always check the sell-by date on any fresh or frozen turkey.

There are different ways to cook a turkey. “I’ve had turkey roasted, fried and smoked, and they are all delicious,” Morris said. “If I had to choose a favorite, I adore fried turkey since the skin gets so crispy and the meat stays juicy.”

When roasting a turkey, the breast has a tendency to dry out before other parts are fully cooked, Morris said. “I use an old family recipe to roast my turkey, and the method is to roast the turkey upside down for a period of time so the drippings from the dark meat keep the drier breast meat juicy.”

Morris likes to roast the bird breast-side-up at 400 degrees for 30 minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees for the reminder of the cooking time. She also puts chicken broth in the bottom of the roasting pan and places a piece of aluminum foil loosely around the turkey in a tent fashion to keep the wings from burning. Remember to baste the bird every hour.

During the last 45 minutes of roasting, remove the foil tent, and flip the turkey upside down. When the turkey is done, flip it breast-side-up, and let it rest for at least 30 minutes before carving.

An unstuffed 20-pound bird will take around five hours to fully cook, Morris said. The finished internal temperature should read 175 degrees at the thickest part of the leg, 165 degrees in the breast and 160 degrees in the center of the stuffing.

While most people buy turkeys at supermarkets, they also can be ordered from butchers, and some farms raise turkeys to sell directly to consumers. CheckLocalHarvest.org/store/turkey.jsp to find a local turkey source near you.

Virginia is among the top turkey-producing states,” said Tony Banks, a Farm Bureau commodity marketing specialist. “Many of the turkeys in retail stores in Virginia are actually locally grown, but with a few exceptions, they are sold under a national label. Consumers that want to buy a local turkey should check its origin with their stores or look for opportunities to buy direct.”

According to the National Turkey Federation, U.S. turkey consumption has nearly doubled since 1970; Americans ate an average of 16.1 pounds of turkey annually in 2011, up from 8.1 pounds in 1970. U.S. turkey production has seen a 110 percent increase, from 124.2 million birds in 1970 to 248.5 million birds in 2011.




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