Best Food Forward: Alternatives to oven-roasting turkey come in abundance

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WAYS TO COOK TURKEY

For each method, the recommended size range is listed, as are the cooking times and other notes.

Oven roasting (8 to 24 pounds) Consult time charts on packaging for stuffed and unstuffed turkeys. Minimum oven temperature 325 degrees. Check appliance manual.

Electric roaster oven (8 to 24 pounds) Generally same times as for oven roasting. Minimum oven temperature 325 degrees. Check appliance manual.

Cooking turkey from frozen (8 to 24 pounds) Add 50% additional cooking time per chart. Do not use oven cooking bag; remove giblets during cooking.

Grilling: covered charcoal or gas grill (8 to 16 pounds) 15 to 18 minutes per pound. DO NOT STUFF. Air in grill must maintain 225 to 300 degrees; use drip pan.

Deep-fat frying (8 to 12 pounds) 3 to 5 minutes per pound. DO NOT STUFF. Oil must maintain 350 degrees.

Smoking (8 to 12 pounds) 20 to 30 minutes per pound. DO NOT STUFF. Air in smoker must maintain 225 to 300 degrees; use drip pan.

Slow cooking (Turkey parts or quarters) 3 to 5 minutes per pound. DO NOT STUFF. Oil must maintain 350 degrees.

Microwaving (8 to 14 pounds) 9 to 10 minutes per pound on medium (50%) power. DO NOT STUFF. Use oven cooking bag. Rotate during cooking.

Pressure cooking (Turkey parts) Times vary by altitude. Follow manufacturers’ directions.

SAFETY NOTE:

Always make sure whole turkeys reach 165 degrees as measured in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast.

Source: USDA

Circumstances can affect how you cook your turkey. An oven may fail at an inopportune time, a power outage may occur, and more than one large food item may need cooking at the same time.

The conventional oven is not the only way to get the big bird cooked safely. Here are some alternative suggestions to give you more room in the oven, or start a new traditional way to cook your turkey.

Whatever cooking method you use, the turkey is done when the food thermometer reaches a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. It is a good idea to check the temperature in a couple of places and not just the same spot each time. Do not rely on visual cues or juices running clear; a food thermometer is your best judge.

After the turkey has reached the desired cooking temperature, remove it from heat source and let it rest for 20 minutes. This allows the juices to set and makes carving it much easier.

• Electric roaster oven.

Generally, the cooking time and oven temperature settings for roasters are the same as for conventional oven cooking.

Preheat the roaster to at least 325 degrees. Place the turkey on the roaster oven rack or other meat rack so the bird is raised out of the juices that collect in the bottom of the oven liner. Leave the lid on throughout cooking, removing it as little as possible to avoid slowing the cooking process.

A cooking bag can be used in the roaster oven as long as the bag does not touch the sides, bottom or lid.

• Grilling a Turkey.

Outdoor cooking of a holiday turkey is becoming popular. A grilled turkey is cooked outdoors by the hot, smoky, steamy air in a covered gas or charcoal grill.

To be safe, grilling should be done only with turkeys that are 16 pounds or less. A larger turkey remains in the “Danger Zone” — between 40 degrees and 140 degrees — for too long.

Do not stuff the turkey. Because cooking is at a low temperature, it can take too long for the temperature of the stuffing to reach 165 degrees.

Estimate 15 to 18 minutes per pound.

Covered charcoal grill: Heat the charcoal until the air temperature reaches 225 to 300 degrees.

Place a pan of water beneath the center of the grilling surface to catch the fat and juices that will drip from the turkey. Carefully distribute the hot coals evenly around the pan. This will create a moist hot steam for cooking. Place the turkey breast-side-up on the grill and cover the grill.

Covered gas grill: When using a grill that has only one large burner, place a pan of water under the grate to create indirect heat. Place the turkey in a roasting pan and place the pan on top of the grill. If the grill has two or three burners, turn off one of them and place the turkey in that area, away from the flame.

• Deep-Fat Frying a Turkey.

A whole turkey can be deep-fat fried, provided the turkey is not stuffed and has been completely thawed. The turkey should weigh 12 pounds or less.

There are safety concerns when working with such a large amount of oil. Select a cooking vessel large enough that the oil can completely cover the turkey by 1 to 2 inches without spilling over. To determine the amount of oil needed, do a preliminary test using water. Place the turkey in the cooking vessel and add water to cover. Then remove the turkey and measure the amount of water. This is the amount of oil needed.

Select a safe location outdoors for deep-fat frying a turkey. Heat the cooking oil to 350 degrees. Monitor the temperature of the oil with a thermometer during cooking. Never leave the hot oil unattended. Allow approximately 3 to 5 minutes per pound cooking time. Remove the turkey from the oil and drain oil from the cavity. Check the temperature of turkey with a food thermometer. Let it rest about 20 minutes before carving.

Let the used oil cool before pouring it into containers for refrigerator storage. It can be reused if it is strained, covered, and used within a month.

• Microwaving a Turkey.

Turkeys can be cooked in a microwave oven — whole, or in parts. Turkey parts can be cooked in a dish with a lid, or on a dish covered with plastic wrap if you vent the top.

Timing can vary because of wattage differences across microwaves.

A 12- to 14- pound turkey is the maximum size most microwaves can accommodate. Microwaves sometimes cook a whole turkey unevenly, so microwaving it in an oven cooking bag will help even out heat distribution. Microwaving a stuffed turkey is not recommended.

Allow 3 inches oven clearance on top and 2 to 3 inches of space around the bird. Rotate the bird during cooking to ensure even cooking.

For more information about cooking your holiday turkey, contact the WSU Extension office at 360-397-6060.

Sandra Brown is the food safety and nutrition expert for the Washington State University Cooperative Extension in Clark, Cowlitz and Wahkiakum counties. Reach her at 360-397-6060, ext. 7712 or browns@wsu.edu. The WSU Cooperative Extension in Clark County is at 11104 N.E. 149th St., Building C-100, Brush Prairie, WA 98606.