URI suggests alternative methods for cooking the Thanksgiving turkey

Media Contact: Todd McLeish 874-7892

URI suggests alternative methods for
cooking the Thanksgiving turkey

KINGSTON, R.I. — November 12, 2002 — “There is more than one way to cook a Thanksgiving turkey,” said Martha Patnoad, food safety education specialist at the University of Rhode Island’s Cooperative Extension. “Maybe this is the year you will choose a different way rather than using a conventional oven to cook the big bird.”

Grilling, smoking, and deep fat frying have grown in popularity in recent years. Since these methods require the cooking to be done outdoors, Patnoad said that weather conditions will impact the cooking time and the temperature of the heat source. Cooks should monitor the temperature of the heat source to ensure the temperature is maintained at a high enough level to destroy harmful bacteria that may be present.

Patnoad also notes that the following alternative cooking methods work best for whole turkeys under 16 pounds or for turkey parts (legs, wings, breast), as larger turkeys may not be thoroughly cooked.

Deep Fat Frying
Only use oils with a high smoke point such as peanut, canola or sunflower oil. Heat the oil to a temperature of 350 F, which usually takes 45-60 minutes. Do not overheat as a fire may result. Place the turkey in the basket and slowly lower it into the hot oil. Whole turkeys require approximately 3 minutes per pound to cook. At the end of the cooking time, remove the turkey from the oil, drain the oil from the cavity, place on paper towels and check the internal temperature with a food thermometer. The temperature should reach at least 180 in the breast. It’s normal for the skin to be very dark, almost brown.

Despite their growing popularity, turkey fryers have not been certified by Underwriter’s Laboratory (UL). Therefore, cooks choosing this method should use extreme caution and follow directions closely.

“Smoking a turkey is certainly not a short cut method,” said Patnoad. Cooking time depends on the size and shape of the turkey, the distance from the heat, temperature from the coals, and temperature of the outside air. Estimate 20 to 30 minutes per pound cooking time. When smoking, add water-soaked hardwood or fruitwood , if desired, to add flavor to the turkey, but do not use a softwood (pine, fir, cedar or spruce) because it gives the food a turpentine flavor and coats it with a black resin.

Smokers require a liquid to create the moist, hot smoke needed for cooking. When using a charcoal smoker, fill the pan for liquid with water, wine, apple juice, or other desired liquids. Most smokers start hot and cool down as the fire settles down. When the smoker has reached 250 °F, place the turkey on the smoker rack and replace the cover. Add charcoal every 1 to 2 hours, or as necessary, to maintain 250 °F. Replenish the liquid as necessary. Heat and liquid are critical to maintaining the hot smoke that cooks the turkey.

The skin of the bird will sometimes absorb smoke and have a bitter taste, so cooks may choose to discard the skin before serving.

This method is best for slower, more even cooking of large turkey cuts ( bone-in breast) or a whole turkey not larger than 16 pounds. Sometimes referred to as indirect grilling, the turkey is cooked by the smoky, steamy air. Place an appliance thermometer on the food rack to monitor the air temperature inside the grill. When the air temperature inside the grill reaches 300 F, place a drip pan in the center of the grill bed and carefully surround the pan with hot coals. Put the grill rack in the grill and place the turkey, breast side up, on it directly over the “drip” pan and cover with the grill lid. You will need to add about 15 new charcoal briquettes every hour or so to maintain the air temperature inside the grill. Estimate 15-18 minutes per pound cooking time using a covered grill.

Gas grills are also suitable for this method. Set the temperature control to 350 F and preheat for 20 minutes. If the grill has only one large burner, place a pan of water under the grate to create indirect heat. Place the turkey in a roasting pan on the grill’s cooking rack. The alternative is to place the turkey, breast side up, on the cooking grate directly over a drip pan. Depending on the burner arrangement, it many be necessary to turn the bird about half-way through the cooking process to ensure the turkey is completely cooked. If your grill has as two or more burners, after the grill has been preheated, turn off one of the burners and place the turkey in the area of the unlit burner. Allow at least 4 hours to thoroughly cook a 16 pound turkey.

With the use of the these nontraditional cooking methods for cooking turkey, Patnoad said it’s important to follow a few basic food safety principles “to ensure that you are not serving your guests harmful, pathogens that could make them sick.”
They are:
-Always follow the instructions for use and safety precautions that come with your equipment;
– Be sure the equipment you choose will accommodate the “bird”. When grilling, the lid should close with at least one inch of space between the top of the turkey and the lid;
-Always completely defrost the turkey in the refrigerator. Allow approximately 24 hours for every 5 pounds of turkey;
-Never stuff the turkey. Because cooking occurs at such a low temperature, the stuffing may not reach the safe temperature of 165 F.
-Remove the “pop-ups” and rely on a food thermometer to check the temperature in the meatiest part of the bird – usually the breast. The turkey should reach a temperature of at least 180 F.
-Turkey grilled or smoked outdoors will appear pink in color, even when well done. Test for doneness by using a food thermometer to insure that the internal temperature reaches at least 180 F.

For additional information about alternative cooking methods, call the URI Gardening and Food Safety hotline at 1-800-448-1011.

Ten Food Safety Rules for a FoodSafe Holiday Season

1. Wash hands with warm water and soap thoroughly before handling and preparing foods. Practice good personal hygiene.

2. Practice good sanitation. Keep food preparation and serving areas and equipment clean, including plates, silverware, bowls, pans and utensils clean.

3. Separate, do not cross contaminate. Keep raw meat, poultry and seafood away from cooked and/or ready-to-eat foods.

4. Cook meat, seafood and poultry to the correct internal temperature. Use a food thermometer.

5. Avoid partial cooking because it allows bacteria to grow. Cook meat, poultry and seafood thoroughly at one time.

6. Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Cold food should be kept at 40 F and hot food should be kept at 140 F, especially during buffet service.

7. Do not cool leftovers on the kitchen counter. Divide them into smaller portions and place in the refrigerator so they will cool quickly.

8. Reheat all foods thoroughly to a temperature of 165 F or until hot and steaming.

9. Store foods in the correct place. Read the labels if unsure.

10. When in doubt, throw it out.

For Information: Martha Patnoad 874-2960