The New Thanksgiving: Real-Life Questions Answered

by Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN on November 19, 2010 · 0 comments

Turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, cranberries and Mom or Grandma in the kitchen preparing all the goodies. That is the classic picture most of us have of Thanksgiving. But, in reality most Thanksgiving dinners today look quite different. Here are some questions that have popped up recently:

My sister-in-law says she is making turducken this Thanksgiving. What is it?

Turducken is a deboned chicken stuffed inside a deboned duck stuffed inside a partially deboned turkey. Another popular option is to debone all three poultry types and rolled them to form a boneless stuffed roast. The name is a combination of the three words – turkey, duck and chicken. The boneless roasted turducken is sliced crosswise so the servings consist of all three layers of poultry plus stuffing. Turduckens originated in Louisiana in the 1980’s and Herbert’s Specialty Meats of Maurice, Louisiana still produces thousands for Thanksgiving. A large turducken—14 to 16 pounds—costs about $80. The roast is considered a true delicacy by many.

Why is the breast of a turkey white and the legs dark meat?

Myoglobin, a protein found in muscles, gives meat its color. Myoglobin stores oxygen until it is needed by your body. The parts of the turkey that are exercised more need more oxygen and therefore contain more myoglobin. Turkeys stand and walk but do little flying, so the leg and thigh meat is darker, containing more myoglobin than the breast and wing meat, which has far less. Cooked turkey can appear pink or red near the bones. This is a reaction between the myoglobin and the heat used to cook the turkey. As long as the oven thermometer reads a minimum of 165o F the meat is perfectly safe to eat.

My daughter and her family are vegetarians and have invited us to share tofurkey this Thanksgiving. What can we expect?

Tofurkey, produced by Turtle Island Foods, is just one of many meatless turkey options available. A Tofurky Roast is a pre-cooked vegetarian dish made from a tofu-wheat blend. It is incredibly turkey-like in texture and flavor. The company also produces gravy and side dishes to complete the vegetarian Thanksgiving meal. You might be pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable a turkey-less dinner can be.

I’m hosting my first Thanksgiving dinner, but I’m having the turkey prepared and delivered the day before. How do I reheat it for guests?

Reheating a whole turkey is not recommended. It is almost impossible to get the entire carcass to 165o F without overheating and drying out some of the meat. Instead, carve the bird. Legs and wings can be left whole and reheated, covered in the oven. The breast can be sliced, covered and reheated in the microwave. If your turkey is delivered whole on Thanksgiving, you could cover it with foil and keep it warm for up to 2 hours in an oven set at a low temperature (325o F).

Your goal is to keep the turkey meat at 140o F or slightly higher. Check the turkey periodically with a food thermometer. If the turkey is delivered in the morning but you won’t be serving it till later in the day, carve, refrigerate, and reheat it before dinner. It is important to handle precooked, warm poultry safely as bacteria can easily multiply at room temperature. The last thing you want is to make your guests sick.

A word about stuffing and gravy — If your precooked turkey comes stuffed, remove the stuffing from the bird and put it in a covered casserole dish. Refrigerate it if it will be held more than 2 hours and reheat in the microwave, being sure the center of the stuffing is hot. Stirring and rotating the dish a few times helps to ensure even reheating. Keep in mind that bacteria can survive in stuffing that has not been reheated to 165o F.

Before serving the gravy that was delivered with the turkey, reheat it on the stove to a rolling boil. It should be hot and steaming to ensure that it is safe to eat. If you reheat gravy in the microwave, cover it, rotate the dish, and check it with a meat thermometer to be sure it has reached 165o F.

I have guests traveling from all over. What do I do if they are late and I have to hold dinner?

Most dishes can be held, covered in a warm oven for up to 2 hours. Hopefully you won’t have to wait longer than that. If you do, use the same precautions suggested above for a cooked turkey that is delivered. It is often safer to carve, refrigerate and reheat than it is to keep aside a cooked turkey.

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