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First time cooking a Thanksgiving turkey? Follow these tips to serve the perfect bird

The most important thing to pay attention to when cooking a turkey is making sure it's cooked properly.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The coronavirus pandemic is causing many families to celebrate Thanksgiving differently this year. For some, that means that people who aren't used to cooking are attempting to cook a turkey, possibly for the first time.

If you're a Thanksgiving newbie, here are some tips from the USDA to help you serve a properly cooked bird. 

(Note: These tips won't ensure the turkey tastes good - that's up to how to season it!)

Thawing takes time

Unless you have a great relationship with a butcher, you will likely be purchasing a frozen turkey. Thawing that bird takes time - a lot of time. 

The best and safest way to thaw your turkey is in the refrigerator, but it will take about 24 hours for every 5 pounds of turkey.

Stuck with a frozen bird on Thanksgiving Day? You can cook a frozen turkey in the oven, but it will take more time to get it cooked all the way through.

RELATED: VERIFY: What not to feed your dog or cat at Thanksgiving

Temperature is key

The most important thing to pay attention to when cooking a turkey is making sure it's cooked properly. An undercooked turkey could mean inviting unwanted guests - like Salmonella - to your Thanksgiving table.

How do you know when your turkey is done? Meredith Carothers, a USDA Food Safety Expert, recommends checking your bird in three places with a food thermometer.

  • The thickest part of the breast
  • The inner part of the wing
  • The inner part of the thigh

Each part you check should be at least 165 degrees. That temperature ensures that all potential bacteria in the meat will be killed off.

Make sure you keep the food thermometer horizontal so you can get a better temperature reading.

Let it rest

While you may be ready to dig in the moment the turkey comes out of the oven, a little extra patience is required. Once you make sure it's thoroughly cooked, allow your bird to rest for at least 20 minutes.

The resting times allows the juices to redistribute throughout the turkey so you don't have any dry spots. Plus, this will make the turkey easier to carve once it's time to sit down and eat.

Here are a few other tips from the USDA:

  • Don't wash your turkey in the sink. The water can splash off the bird and spread bacteria around your kitchen.
  • For optimum safety, cook your stuffing in a casserole dish, not inside your turkey. If you are stuffing your bird, take note that it will take longer to cook all the way through.
  • The pan you roast your turkey in can affect how long it takes to cook. A dark pan will cook faster and the depth and size of your pan can reduce heat circulation.

View more tips and food safety recommendations on the USDA website

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