Turkey meat can be boiled, grilled, braised, fried, poached, steamed, broiled, pan-fried, deep-fried, stir-fried, sauteed and poached. But most Americans prefer it roasted for Thanksgiving.
The Partnership for Food Safety Education, a nonprofit group that includes federal, consumer and industry organizations, and Noel C. Cullen, president of the American Culinary Federation, suggest these details to remember when preparing that all-important centerpiece of your holiday dinner:
* To prevent bacterial growth, do not stuff the turkey until just before roasting, and fill it only three-quarters full, to allow for expansion during cooking.
* Make sure the turkey is cooked completely before serving so that all bacteria are killed. A general rule for turkey doneness: When the juices run clear and the meat near the bone at the thickest part of the leg is no longer pink, then it is cooked. Drumsticks should twist easily in their sockets. Large turkeys should be tested with a food thermometer in the thigh's thickest part and should register 180 degrees, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, although some chefs suggest instead a temperature of 160-165 degrees.
* Bacteria on raw turkey can contaminate other food, so make sure that surfaces are cleaned after contact with the bird and that turkey juices do not mix with other items in the grocery cart or in the refrigerator.
Use hot, soapy water to thoroughly wash hands, cutting boards and any utensils used in preparation of the turkey. A further safe-handling measure is to rub the cutting board with a paste of salt and vinegar, then rinse in hot, soapy water. Some cooks prefer to use a board that can be run through the dishwasher.
* Never place cooked food on a plate that previously held raw meat, poultry or seafood.
* Consider using paper towels to clean up kitchen surfaces. If you use cloth towels, wash them often in the hot cycle of your clothes washer.
* Fresh turkey is very perishable. When purchased, it should have no off-odor or off-color and should be quite dry. If the turkey is packaged, there should be no accumulated liquid on the tray or in the bag.
Fresh turkey should be used within one or two days of purchase, or frozen immediately.
Refrigerating fresh turkey does not kill organisms that cause food spoilage. It only slows their growth. Spoiled meat will have a definite off-odor and a slimy surface. Discard any meat that is of questionable freshness.
* Never defrost a frozen turkey at room temperature. Thaw food in the refrigerator, under cold running water or in the microwave.
* Refrigerate or freeze leftovers within two hours of the feast or sooner. When ready to eat again, bring sauces, soups and gravy to a boil when reheating. Heat other leftovers thoroughly to at least 165 degrees.
* Divide large amounts of leftovers among small, shallow containers for quick cooling in the refrigerator, and don't pack the refrigerator. Cool air must circulate to keep food safe.