WASHINGTON - Poke a Thanksgiving turkey labeled "fresh" and the surface might give a little. Underneath it'll feel hard, but that doesn't mean it's frozen.
Labe ling laws say "fresh" can apply to raw poultry that's never been below 26 degrees. So, fresh birds might be between 26 and 40 degrees when purchased.
While 26 degrees is more chilly than what most folks consider freezing, 32 degrees that freezes water doesn't do the trick on everything. Not when salt, fat and protein are part of the mix.
"They all have their own specific freezing temperatures," says the Director of the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line Mary Clingman who says fresh birds are considered "very deeply chilled."
So, if you have a 26-degree or 28-degree bird that's hard enough to land with a clunk on your counter, it's not as hard as you think.
"You could take a skewer and go right through it," Clingman says.
If a rock solid frozen bird on your shopping list you'll want to de frost if safely before Thursday.
For refrigerator defrosting, plan 24 hours for each 4- to 5 pounds of turkey. With cold water defrosting, plan about 30 minutes a pound. And, you should change the water about every 30 minutes.
A thawed or fresh turkey can stay in the fridge one or two days safely before cooking.
But get this. You don't have to defrost a bird before baking it. The U.S. Department of Agriculture "Turkey Talk - A Consumer Guide to Safety Roasting a Turkey" says it is safe to cook a turkey from the fr ozen state. It'll just take at least 50 percent longer. That guide recommends removing giblet packages during the cooking time using tongs or a long fork.
To make your life easier Thursday you'll want to keep r oasting times in mind. An 8- to 12-pound bird will take about three hours. Turkeys that weigh 18- to 20 pounds will take about 4 1/2 hours.
Those times are approximate. The USDA recommends using a thermometer to check internal turkey and stuffing temperatures. They should be at least 165 degrees.
Once your bird is out of the oven let it stand 20 minutes to "rest" and less juice will run out of the meat when you carve it.
If you do cut your hand or finger apply direct pressure with a clean cloth. Minor cuts should stop bleeding on their own. If the bleeding doesn't stop after 15 minutes, experts recommend you go to a doctor.
Still deciding how big a bird to buy to feed your guests? Most folks allow a pound to a pound and a half per person. More if you want generous leftovers.
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