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ANNUAL THANKSGIVING HANDBOOK | THE ULTIMATE BIRD

Turkey Express

November 24, 1996

You can teach an old turkey new tricks. Since we introduced the Ultimate Turkey in 1992, we've persuaded more and more people that there is a better way to make the Thanksgiving bird. It's a method that turns out amazingly moist meat in radically shorter time.

Here's the basic idea: Stuffing is placed under the skin on the turkey's breast, rather than in the body cavity, and the turkey is roasted at a slightly higher than normal oven temperature. The stuffing keeps the breast meat moist while the dark meat cooks thoroughly.

With a roasting temperature of 350 degrees, you can have your turkey cooked in just seven to nine minutes per pound, instead of the usual 15 to 20. A 12-pound turkey, with stuffing, could be done in less than two hours.

We also reduce the internal meat temperature normally used to determine when turkey is safely cooked. The old U.S. Department of Agriculture standard of 185 degrees--now 180 degrees--gave cooks an extra cushion of safety--and, usually, dried-out meat. Harmful bacteria are killed at 160 degrees; the higher recommended temperatures were designed to ensure all parts of the bird were at least 160 degrees. In past years, we recommended taking turkey out of the oven when the internal temperature of the meat reaches 155 degrees to 160 degrees. This took into account the "push" in temperature, usually 10 degrees or more, that comes when a turkey is taken from the oven and allowed to sit for 20 minutes while the juices set--the meat, in effect, keeps cooking during the push.

Now, however, in providing our own margin safety, we're recommending the meat be 160 degrees when it's taken from the oven. And we encourage you to test the bird in several spots with a thermometer--both in the thigh, nearest the bone, and in the breast. You can, of course, be extra safe and remove the turkey at 170 (assuming a 10-degree push to 180) or even 180 degrees. You'll still find that the turkey is done much faster with the stuffing under the skin and not in the cavity of the bird.

Remember, with such brief cooking times, there are a couple of caveats to avoid embarrassing undercooked spots: First, the turkey must be completely thawed before going in the oven. And don't truss the bird or tuck under the wings--you need to expose the entire surface of the meat to the heat of the oven when cooking times are short.

If you still find a few red spots at the joints when you begin to carve the turkey, don't panic. Remove the leg quarters, place them in a pan and tent with foil. Return to 350-degree oven for about 10 minutes to finish cooking while you carve the breast meat.

ULTIMATE TURKEY

1 (12- to 13-pound) turkey

Salt, pepper

4 cups stuffing, about

1 stalk celery, cut into thirds

1 carrot, cut into thirds

1 small onion

Melted butter

* Thaw turkey thoroughly. Even fresh turkeys normally have icy sections and must be thawed.

* Rinse turkey inside and out. Pat dry. Season whole bird inside and out with salt and pepper.

* Run fingers carefully between skin and flesh of turkey, loosening skin. Working slowly, push stuffing in thin layer under breast and thigh of turkey. (Excess stuffing can be baked in lightly greased casserole until heated through, 45 minutes to 1 hour.) Put celery, carrot and onion into body cavity of turkey.

* Put turkey in large roasting pan, breast-side up. Do not truss bird and do not tuck wings under bird. Brush turkey with melted butter to taste. Roast at 350 degrees until turkey registers 160 degrees when thermometer is placed deep into thigh, about 7 to 10 minutes per pound.

* Remove from oven. Let stand 20 minutes before carving; retained heat will push temperature to 170 degrees.

Makes 12 to 14 servings.

Each of 12 servings contains about:

416 calories; 223 mg sodium; 189 mg cholesterol; 21 grams fat; 1 gram carbohydrates; 52 grams protein; 0.13 gram fiber.

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