Taking Care of a Dead Turkey
Thanksgiving time is upon us again. To my Canadian friends, I’m sorry this is late (I’m sooooo ethnocentric!)
Anyway… for all of us in the U.S. of A., Thanksgiving is nigh. I love that word – nigh.
Anyway, since we refer to Thanksgiving here in the States as “turkey day”, I’m going to discuss turkeys and not fish, though many people keep fish for pets. I’m also going to mention cats & dogs, as they are pets too. And this may come as a surprise to all of you who love pets… dead turkeys do not make good pets.
Taking Care of a dead turkey
Did you know that a dead turkey requires more care than a living cat and almost as much care as a living dog? Cats are pretty good at almost any temperature that people are OK with — whereas dogs are a little more touchy. Dogs seem to do better when it’s cooler. When it’s hot, dogs can get Tired Tongue Syndrome (TTS) and the panting can especially be annoying when you’re trying to watch something on TV. So, if you’re rich -or smart – have air conditioning installed. That way, both you and the dog will be more comfortable. Cats seem to be comfortable regardless, so they’re cheaper to maintain. You can have cats even if you’re too poor for AC. I’m very familiar with cats – I’ve been an observer of cats for years and I can tell you that they spend most of their lives sleeping on something soft.
This brings me to the dead turkey. Did you know that the most popular kind of dead turkey is a frozen dead turkey? Statistics prove this, but I don’t have those at hand right now; if you’re really interested you can google it. Anyway, dead turkeys are really quite a lot more trouble than a living cat or dog; turkeys require a lot more fuss.
Consider this: Did you know that a frozen dead turkey can quickly become a semi-frozen deadly turkey if you’re not careful? According to the USDA a frozen dead turkey “left thawing on the counter more than 2 hours is not at a safe temperature…” Even though the dead turkey may still seem frozen, says the USDA, the outer skin of the dead creature “is in the “Danger Zone” between 40 and 140 °F — at a temperature where food-borne bacteria multiply rapidly. ”
Dead turkeys require a lot more fussingnover than I thought.
Cats are quite comfortable and safe between 40 and 140 °F. Dogs? They’re pretty comfy between 40 and 80 °F. Anything hotter than that is hard on the tongue. Dead turkeys start to become lumpy biohazards at 40 °F. This is something you need to consider carefully unless you live in an igloo, own a HazMat suit, or plan on feeding it to your in-laws. I’m just kidding about your in-laws.
While cats and dogs can pretty much be kept wherever you have room for them, Turkeys? Not so much. If you’re thinking you’ll just throw your dead turkey in the trunk and forget it, don’t. I’m serious about this. Here’s what the USDA says, and I’m not making this up: “Frozen turkeys should not be left on the back porch, in the car trunk, in the basement, or any place else where temperatures cannot be constantly monitored.”
So forget about keeping your frozen dead turkey on your back porch or tossing it in the basement. Apparently government employees have done this and gotten sick or worse. Cats are comfortable in the basement or the back porch; dogs don’t care much for basements, but do love back porches. Don’t put your cat, dog, or dead turkey in the trunk. I put that last sentence there for PETA members. I don’t like getting hate mail… it scares me.
Despite Ben Franklin’s colonial yearning to make the turkey the national bird, dead turkeys do not make good pets. Dead turkeys are edible though and quite good. If you decide to eat your dead gobbler you must understand that it can, in many circumstances, become a deadly, bacterial time bomb. In the interest of safety and in getting dead turkeys off your potential pets list and onto your table, here are some tips for you on how to thaw your dead frozen turkey so you won’t get sick… or worse.
These tips are doubly important if you’re planning on serving your dead turkey to guests. Guests who become sick from eating your dead turkey may not only create a mess in your home, some will become litigious. If they do become litigious, you may become ill. So follow these guidelines that our government has published – we, here in the U.S. of A pay our government a lot of money do things like this. I think it’s time we got our money’s worth.
Here are the USDA’s Dead Turkey Tips:
“Safe Methods for Thawing:
Immediately after grocery store checkout, take the frozen turkey home and store it in the freezer. Frozen turkeys should not be left on the back porch, in the car trunk, in the basement, or any place else where temperatures cannot be constantly monitored…”
It’s best not to put in the bedroom. It’s especially not good to leave a turkey in a bathroom where showers are taken. The bacterial count is already too high, all those little lusty microbes would feast upon the dead turkey leaving you with a smelly gelatinous mass. It’s best you keep your frozen, dead turkey in a freezer with the rest of the dead and frozen stuff.
Now… a frozen turkey is of no use to anyone. Some things are best eaten frozen – ice cream, Fudgesicles, Popsicles, ice cubes and things like that. So a turkey, unlike, say a Creamsicle, needs to be thawed before use – assuming you’re going to use it for food, of course.
If you’re going to use it as a weapon or to hold down a tarp, then of course it’s best used frozen. Let’s assume for the purposes of this informative article that you’re planning on eating your dead turkey and/or serving it to a bunch of hungry mooches or family members. You need to thaw that turkey, I tells ya!
How to thaw a dead, frozen turkey
Refrigerator Thawing – When thawing a turkey in the refrigerator:
Plan ahead: allow approximately 24 hours for each 4 to 5 pounds in a refrigerator set at 40 °F or below.
Place the turkey in a container to prevent the juices from dripping on other foods.
Refrigerator Thawing Times – Whole turkey:
* 4 to 12 pounds …… 1 to 3 days
* 12 to 16 pounds …… 3 to 4 days
* 16 to 20 pounds …… 4 to 5 days
* 20 to 24 pounds …… 5 to 6 days
A thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator for 1 or 2 days before cooking. Foods thawed in the refrigerator can be refrozen without cooking but there may be some loss of quality.
** I love this. They really think someone is going to stick a turkey in the refrigerator without putting it in a bowl or some other kind of container? Do some people really stick a turkey in the refrigerator and let its bloody juices drip all over the egg salad and salami? Do people really do this?**
Cold Water Thawing – Allow about 30 minutes per pound. First be sure the turkey is in a leak-proof plastic bag to prevent cross-contamination and to prevent the turkey from absorbing water, resulting in a watery product. (Imagine eating a turkey leg and having water squirting all over the place! All over you. All over your guests. All over your cat or dog. So makes sure your bag is really waterproof.)
Submerge the wrapped turkey in cold tap water. Change the water every 30 minutes until the turkey is thawed. Cook the turkey immediately after it is thawed.
Cold Water Thawing Times
* 4 to 12 pounds …… 2 to 6 hours
* 12 to 16 pounds …… 6 to 8 hours
* 16 to 20 pounds …… 8 to 10 hours
* 20 to 24 pounds …… 10 to 12 hours
A turkey thawed by the cold water method should be cooked immediately. After cooking, meat from the turkey can be refrozen.
Microwave Thawing – Follow the microwave oven manufacturer’s instructions when defrosting a turkey. Plan to cook it immediately after thawing because some areas of the food may become warm and begin to cook during microwaving. Holding partially cooked food is not recommended because any bacteria present wouldn’t have been destroyed. A turkey thawed in the microwave must be cooked immediately….”
I kind of like the refrigerator method the best. You have more flexibility since you can thaw and store as opposed to the Microwave method which gives your dead turkey hot spots.
The Cold Water Method: Good, Clean Family Fun
But the cold water method is good clean family fun. I’m sure many wives have recommended the cold water method to their husbands. However, the waterproof bag better be waterproof (and I don’t mean the wife) or you’ll end up with turkey meat that tastes like a sponge full of water.
If you like big pets and your dead turkey weighs 24 pounds for example, you and your family could have fun for up to 12 hours changing the dead turkey’s water. If you have young children, don’t make them lift 24 pounds by themselves – it could cause serious injury – which is a danger even the USDA didn’t think to mention – and they mention stuff like take the baby out of the stroller before folding it (the stroller) up. Or maybe that’s not the USDA. Maybe that’s the FTC or the PTA. Anyway, help your kids change the water and use those 12 hours as quality family time: It can be fun changing a dead turkey’s water!
It’s also interesting to note that dogs and cats do not need their water changed every 30 minutes, which is another good reason they make better pets than dead turkeys.
The good news is that I’ve never known anyone who has died from eating a dead turkey and you don’t either. I’ve never known anyone who has gotten very ill from eating a dead turkey and you probably don’t either. This means our tax dollars have saved many people from an early grave or from becoming very sick – or that turkey-dangers are are way overrated.
Note: That being said, I do know people who’ve gotten sick from eating dead turkey – I think. One Thanksgiving, after our big family dinner, my home was filled with the sound of people being sick – that’s all I’m going to say. And, no, I did not thaw, cook or handle the dead turkey that year.
On the other hand, I have known lots of people who have gotten sleepy from eating dead turkey and ended up lying all over my house, snoring. But truth be told, I’m not sure that they were actually sleeping or just bored to death. I’m not the most sociable fellow, sorry to say.
So, I’m not sure how dangerous bacteria-laden dead turkey is, because, you and I and all of us humans are walking bacteria factories. Inside our body cavities are billions of…. Well, I’m not going there…
The last things you need to do before you stick your dead turkey into the oven are:
1. Chase the dog out of the kitchen – or put him in the basement. Dogs love turkey and you don’t want your dog messing with your bird.
2. Chase your cat out of the kitchen. Cats LOVE turkey and they’ll pester you until you give them a hunk of it. Don’t. Put your cat in the garage until the turkey is safely ensconced in your oven – on its final journey, so to speak.
3.Reminder: Do NOT put your dog, cat, or dead turkey in the trunk of your car.
4. Prepare the stuffing.
I’ll get into stuffing safety next time.