MANHATTAN, Kan. -- Cooking mistakes may add humor to the menu, yet common errors in planning and preparing a holiday meal often can be remedied, said Karen Blakeslee, Kansas State University Research and Extension food scientist.
Blakeslee, who as K-State's Rapid Response Center Coordinator spends her working hours answering about 1,500 food and food safety questions annually, offered tips to avoid five frequent holiday cooking mistakes:
Mistake: Not buying enough turkey.
Blakeslee: Allow about one pound of bone-in turkey per person. This will yield about one-half pound turkey meat per person.
Mistake: Forgetting to thaw the turkey.
Blakeslee: The easiest way to thaw a frozen turkey is in the refrigerator. Thawing time will depend on the size of the turkey.
Allow 24 hours of thawing time in the refrigerator for each five pounds of turkey. For example, transfer a 14-pound turkey from the freezer to the refrigerator three to four days prior to the holiday; or, for a 20-pound turkey, four to five days prior to the holiday.
To thaw, place a frozen turkey (in its store wrapper) in a shallow pan with a lip (to catch juices that may leak) on a lower shelf in the refrigerator.
If a turkey is still a little frozen early in the day the meal is planned, empty the sink, and place the partially frozen turkey in cold water (in the sink). Change the water every 30 minutes until the turkey is thawed for cooking.
Thawing a smaller turkey in a microwave oven is an option. Read the manufacturer's appliance instructions. Thawing food in a microwave oven begins the cooking process, which must then be continued in the microwave, oven or roaster.
A frozen turkey can be cooked from a frozen state, but cooking time will be about 50 percent longer. Also, giblets, neck and gizzard packed in the turkey cavities will need to be removed as the turkey thaws during roasting.
Thawing the turkey at room temperature (on the kitchen counter, for example) is not recommended. At room temperature, raw poultry is subject to bacterial growth.
Mistake: Cooking dressing (or stuffing) within the cavity of the turkey.
Blakeslee: While Grandma likely stuffed the turkey and lived to tell about it, food safety professionals now cite the turkey cavity as an attractive area for food-borne bacteria, and recommend baking dressing in a casserole dish to prevent illness. The size and depth of the casserole or baking dish will need to be considered in determining cooking time, which usually varies from 30 to 45 minutes. When inserted in the center of the dressing, without touching the bottom of the pan, a food thermometer should read 165 degrees F when stuffing is baked.
Mistake: Underestimating roasting time for the turkey.
Blakeslee: Plan to oven roast a turkey at 325 degrees F for 20-25 minutes per pound plus about 20 minutes for the turkey to stand (covered) before carving.
Placing a turkey in the oven the night before at a low temperature or setting the timer to begin cooking in pre-dawn hours can encourage bacterial growth and is not recommended.
Pop-up timers packaged with the turkey typically have a short (usually 1- to 1-1/2 inch) probe and should not be used to gauge doneness.
Food thermometers are available in kitchen departments in supermarkets and hardware stores and can be purchased for $10 or less, said Blakeslee, who recommended inserting the thermometer probe at an angle near the leg, but not touching the bone. When the internal temperature (for both white and dark meat) reaches 165 degrees F, the turkey is cooked.
Mistake: Failure to maintain foods at proper temperatures.
Blakeslee: Keep hot foods hot (above 140 degrees F) and cold foods cold (below 40 degrees F) to protect food quality and discourage food-borne bacteria.
More information about holiday cooking, food and food safety is available at county and district K-State Research and Extension offices and on Extension Web sites, including: www.ksre.ksu.edu/humannutrition, www.ksre.ksu.edu/foodsafety/ and www.rrc.ksu.edu.
Holiday how-tos also are available on www.holidayfoodsafety.org, a collaborative effort sponsored by the Partnership for Food Safety Education, National Turkey Federation, and the Georgia Pecan Growers.