Talking Turkey: Healthy Holiday Protein

November 16, 2010

Turkey is a very good source of protein.

Turkey is a very good source of protein. A four ounce serving provides 65.1% of the daily value for protein, along with 11.9% of the daily value for saturated fat, about half the amount of saturated fat found in red meat.

In fact, Shape Up America! found a savings of 6,408 calories a year or almost 2 pounds (1.8 pounds) in excess weight if Americans substituted lean turkey for another meat protein one time a week at alternating meal occasions from week to week. This scenario netted an average reduction in the total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol consumed by 59 percent, 71 percent and 28 percent, respectively.

So now that you know how healthy turkey can be – how do you select the best bird for your holiday celebration?

Look for whole turkeys that have a solid shape, look plump and have a rounded breast. Whether purchasing a whole turkey or turkey parts, the bird should feel pliable when gently pressed, and it should not have an "off" smell. If turkey has skin on it, it should be white in color and unblemished, without cuts or bruises. Do not buy turkey if the sell-by date on the label has already expired.

If purchasing frozen turkey, make sure that it is frozen solid and does not have any ice deposits or freezer burn. Additionally, avoid frozen turkey that has frozen liquid in the package as this may indicate that it has been defrosted and refrozen.

There are many turkeys to select from including humanely-raised, natural, free range, cage-free, kosher or organic turkeys. Read the labels carefully to insure what you are buying. Kosher turkeys are slaughtered and processing according to the kosher laws and are treated with salt. Usually these taste great without any further brining.

Self basting or basted turkeys are those which have been injected with a solution to make it more tender and flavorful. Read the ingredients label carefully as many of these solutions contain high amounts of sodium and some are loaded with artificial flavors.

So how are you preparing your turkey this year? A new Butterball® survey reveals generational differences in cooking methods, activities and flavors. While all generations agreed that a traditional roasted turkey is tops, Millennials (ages 18-30) and Gen Xers (ages 31-44) said they are also looking to try different turkey cooking methods. One in seven Millennials and Gen Xers reported deep frying, smoking or grilling their turkeys on Thanksgiving.

Regardless of your cooking method, good food safety practices should always be followed.

Thawing a frozen turkey can take days. If you want to thaw your turkey in the refrigerator, you need to start days before cooking. Keep the turkey in its original wrapping and put it in a pan to catch the moisture. Allow 24 hours of thawing time for every 5 pounds of turkey. One of the good things about using the refrigerator method is that you can keep the defrosted turkey in the refrigerator for a day until it's time to roast. 
If you need to thaw your turkey faster, use the cold water method. Immerse your packaged turkey (make sure there are no tears in the packaging) in ice-cold water. You need to change the water every 30 minutes to keep it cold and allow about 30 minutes of thawing time per pound of turkey.
If you use the cold water method, you should cook your turkey as soon as it is thawed.

The microwave method works for small turkeys and turkey parts. The best guide for how long it will take is your microwave owner's manual, but it could take about 60 to 90 minutes on the defrost cycle. Once you've thawed the turkey, you will need to cook it right away.

Be very careful when handling raw turkey that it does not come in contact with other foods, especially those that will be served uncooked. Wash the cutting board, utensils and your hands very well with hot soapy water after handling the turkey.

If your recipe requires marinating, you should always do so in the refrigerator as turkey is very sensitive to heat, which can increase the chances of spoilage. When defrosting a frozen turkey, do so in the refrigerator and not at room temperature. Put the turkey on a plate to collect any liquid drippings.

When cooking, the U.S Department of Agriculture recommends a moderate 325 degrees F oven temperature. While most fresh and frozen turkeys come equipped with a pop-up device that lets you know the bird is done, you should also use a thermometer to double-check the final roasting temperature.

For simple temperature testing use an ovenproof thermometer, keeping it inserted in the turkey breast throughout cooking. This gadget is widely available in supermarkets for under $10. Make sure the thermometer doesn't touch a bone, which can give an inaccurate reading. Insert the thermometer about 2 ½ inches into the thickest portion of the breast to check doneness – it should read 170 degrees. To test the thigh, the temperature reading should be 180 degrees.

For more help this holiday, the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line (1-800-BUTTERBALL or is armed with experts at the ready. Butterball has expanded its army of advisors this year to social media. Find them at Throughout November Butterball bloggers will be hosting one hour chats on Facebook to answer pressing Thanksgiving-related questions.