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For Better Living: Let’s Talk Turkey

By Sandra R. Cain

Sandra Cain
Sandra Cain

Purchase the right turkey

Consider buying a fresh turkey from your grocery store.  There is no need to defrost it and no added fat or sodium as  in the self-basting, frozen birds.  For a small dinner with 6 or fewer people, you may want to consider purchasing a breast.  A bone-in turkey breast gives you a small turkey roast that can be carved in the traditional style without the excess fat and leftovers from dark meat.

Purchase a half-pound of turkey for every guest.  Increase that to one pound if you want leftovers.  Turkeys heavier than 12 pounds yield more meat, so go with one-third pound per person.  If you are purchasing frozen turkey, it should be rock-hard.  A fresh turkey should be firm.

Store and defrost safely

Frozen turkeys should be thawed in the refrigerator.  Allow 1 day for every 5 pounds.  A frozen turkey can be defrosted in very cold water.  Change the water every 30 minutes.  The turkey should be roasted right away.

Roast it right

The minimum oven temperature should be 325 degrees.  Be sure to wash all utensils, your hands and any surfaces that come in contact with the raw turkey or juice.    Place the turkey in a shallow roasting pan with the rack on the bottom.  Leave the skin on the turkey while roasting and remove prior to carving.

Using a food thermometer is the only way to tell if food has reached a high enough temperature to destroy harmful bacteria and if it is the desired doneness.  Place it in the thickest part of the thigh or the breast if you are roasting just the breast.  A whole turkey is done when it reaches an internal temperature of 180 degrees. The legs will jiggle in their sockets and the juices will run clear.  If you are roasting the breast by itself, the internal temperature should be 170 degrees.

Recommended cooking times (at 325 degrees)

Weight of Turkey                           Hours for Roasting

8 – 12 lb                                             2 to 2 ½  hrs

12 – 14 lb                                           3 ½  to 4 hrs

14 – 18 lb                                           4 to 4 1/4 hrs

18 – 20 lb                                           4 1/4 to 4 3/4 hrs

20 – 24 lb                                           4 3/4 – 5 1/4 hrs


Keep in mind that cooking times may vary.  A roasted turkey should sit about 10 minutes before carving.  Turkey should never sit out a room temperature for more than 2 hours.


For best results, carve meat off the carcass and store it in shallow containers.  Once cooked, turkey can be stored safely in the refrigerator about 4 days, if temperature is properly maintained below 40 degrees.  Reheating the whole bird is not recommended.  If you must cook the turkey ahead of times and reheat it for later use, it is best to roast it all the way, carve it and store it refrigerated in shallow containers.  Reheat it quickly to 165 degrees.  You may want to use broth or gravy to keep it moist.


The USDA meat and poultry hotline is staffed from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. EST.  All other times, you can get an automated message system that lets you choose topics to hear. The number is 800-535-4555.

Source: Food & Health Communications, Inc.

White Turkey Chili

2 cups cubed turkey breast, cooked

2 cans (15 ounces) white kidney beans, rinsed and drained

1 can (10 ¾ ounces) reduced-fat cream of chicken soup

1 1/3 cups skim milk

1 can (4 ounces) chopped green chilies, drained

1 tablespoon dried minced onion

1 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro or parsley

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon dried oregano

6 tablespoon fat-free sour cream


In a large saucepan, combine the first 10 ingredients. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 25 – 30 minutes or until heated through. Garnish with sour cream. Yield: 6 servings.

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