5@5 – Food science writer Harold McGee
November 3rd, 2010
05:00 PM ET
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5@5 is a daily, food-related list from chefs, writers, political pundits, musicians, actors, and all manner of opinionated people from around the globe.

So – you thought we forgot alllll about Thanksgiving today, didn’t you? Nope. Sorry. Ain't gonna happen. And this time, we're getting scientists involved.

Harold McGee is the New York Times columnist and author behind the culinary creed, On Food & Cooking: The Science & Lore of the Kitchen.

McGee has been named one of Time magazine's 100 Most Influential People, Bon Appétit's Writer of the Year and to James Beard Foundation's "Who's Who in American Food." Let’s just say he’s got more food science knowledge than you can shake a meat thermometer at.

And just in time for the November release of his new book, Keys to Good Cooking - McGee has dropped by to bust some common folklore about that Turkey Day spread.

Five Myths About Thanksgiving Dinner: Harold McGee

1. Myth: To get the best turkey, soak it in brine before you cook it.

Fact: Brining gives you a moister turkey, but the pan juices are too salty for making a good gravy - and the bird itself can be too salty for some tastes. To get a good turkey without brine, take the bird out of the refrigerator a couple of hours ahead to warm up, but put ice packs on the breast to keep it cold. That way the delicate breast will heat up slower than the tougher legs. Then during the roasting, check the doneness early and often to avoid overcooking.

2. Myth: You can make a wonderful stuffed turkey by cooking it in a very low oven overnight

Fact: Very low cooking temperatures and long cooking times are friendly to bacteria and can produce a toxic turkey. For the best results, cook stuffing separately and roast the bird at temperatures above 300 degrees.

3. Myth: To get a perfectly cooked turkey, follow a chart that gives you the cooking time according to the weight of your turkey

Fact: No chart can predict exactly how long it will take to cook a large roast, because there are many more variables than the weight. Use the chart as a general guide, but there's no substitute for checking the doneness yourself with a good digital thermometer.

4. Myth: To make a turkey safe to eat, you have to cook it until the breast meat is 170 degrees and dry

Fact: Breast meat at an inner temperature of 150 to 160 degrees is much moister and safe. Leg meat is tougher, and better at 160 to 170 degrees.

5. Myth: It's fine to put the leftovers away at the very end of the evening, just before staggering off to bed

Fact: Harmful microbes can survive cooking and at warm room temperatures can double their numbers several times an hour. Refrigerate leftovers as soon as the main meal is over, especially any meats, meat or cream sauces and starchy vegetables.

Is there another Thanksgiving myth you'd like debunked? Let us know in the comments and we'll do our darndest to help you out.

Is there someone you'd like to see in the hot seat? Let us know in the comments below and if we agree, we'll do our best to chase 'em down.

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Filed under: 5@5 • Holidays • Thanksgiving • Think

soundoff (338 Responses)
  1. Rodney King

    Can't we all just get along?

    November 5, 2010 at 4:49 pm |
  2. TurkeyEater

    If you can choke your chicken, can you throttle your turkey?

    November 5, 2010 at 11:13 am |
    • FelishaFetish

      No,but I can spank that monkey!

      November 5, 2010 at 11:18 am |
      • Jdizzle McHammerpants

        One may also slap the salami.

        November 5, 2010 at 11:35 am |
  3. Tradition Police

    Something's missing from this 5@5 blog. Oh, I know what it is:

    I'd hit it.

    November 5, 2010 at 10:23 am |
  4. minimom

    I have never read comments before but this morning was very entertaining. Everything from all the mis-spelling to incorrect "quotes". I guess I'm like all the rest of you......nothing better to do than hang around the computer trying to be smart. And getting hungry for turkey, dressing and gravy.

    November 5, 2010 at 10:07 am |
  5. jrod

    I just cooked a turkey breast the other night, delicious. Reminded of the great feast that is about to come. I can't wait.

    November 5, 2010 at 9:19 am |
  6. Largo Barbara

    There are as many comments on this turkey as the election. I actually cook stuffing inside and outside the bird. Stuffing is only good if it is crunchy. Then you have guests who like the opposite – soft stuffing. I also use the slice bacon on the outside for a moist bird. It works.

    November 5, 2010 at 6:39 am |
  7. rick spring

    We make a secret recipe oyster dressing that is like a spoon full of heaven on earth. Only the grandmas know the recipe although since I am the grocery shopper I bet I could make it some day. As for regular dressing we have two schools of though. One is the dry school the other is the moist school. The same for mac and cheese which there are three schools on Thanksgiving at our table. School 1 is the cheddar school with sea shell mac, school 2 is the Velveeta school with elbow mac, and school 3 is an inlaw who insists on the Kraft box mac with the powder cheese. The kids like option 3 and us adults mix 1 and 2. I personally prefer cheddar and mac but making it at home I learned its how you ruin a glass dish. I also make it for backpacking trips and used to pack in wax wrapped cheddar. But i learned that Velveeta has an unlimited shelf life so I pack it instead because you can clean the billy can with water.
    For backpacking meals, I'm considered the Wolfgang Puck of the trail. My curry beef noodles are to die for.

    November 4, 2010 at 7:14 pm |
    • Macncheese

      For school 4 try penne pasta with a combination of white cheddar, Gruyere and smoked Gouda. Dice a small sweet onion and some ham to add to it. Save about 1/2 cup or more small cubes of the smoked Gouda to throw in at the end and just start melting.

      November 4, 2010 at 11:29 pm |
  8. Veganistic

    As shown in my name, i dont cook a lot of birds, but when i was in culinary arts college we would make the best turkey by cranking the heat up to 500 degrees or more for 30-45 minutes before you turn the heat down to a more reasonable level for the remaining time. This seals in the juices and ensures a nice color on the outside and the cook time is cut in half if done properly.

    November 4, 2010 at 5:45 pm |
  9. carol901

    I season my turkey with herbs, salt & pepper and stuff with aromatics the night before. I lift the skin and rub crushed herbs and olive oil on the breast. I roast it covered and then uncover the last hour or so. My test for doneness is to check the joint between the thigh and drumstick. If it moves freely and the juices are clear, the turkey is done. Using a covered roaster or a foil tent keeps the breast moist.

    I make dressing so I don't have concerns about bacteria. This is the way my mother taught me and I've been cooking Thanksgiving dinner since I was 13...35 years and never an illness or a dry bird.

    November 4, 2010 at 4:49 pm |
    • Chef Fizzles

      i wouldnt recommend salting the bird until you are ready to roast it. Salting it overnight can extract moisture from the bird leaving you a turkey wallet.

      November 4, 2010 at 5:09 pm |
  10. Shadowflash

    my RA in college made us a pre-Thanksgiving meal (with turkey!) and he is an amazing cook! this one's from him:

    cover the turkey with a few slices of bacon while it cooks. Keeps the bird from drying out and gives the skin an extra dash of flavor, not to mention another tasty treat after it comes out of the oven.

    November 4, 2010 at 4:43 pm |
  11. 4U Mister

    Bird-a-palooza? The one I made was pre-done, all I had to do was cook it. It was greasy and did not have enough "oomph" = it needed spice/seasoning/something. The turkey was ok, but there was pork sausage in the stuffing, and that, combined with fat that cooked into the other birds from the duck–greasy. Wouldn't buy it again.

    November 4, 2010 at 4:12 pm |
  12. Joyce

    I live in a cold climate, and if it's cold enough I can leave the de-stuffed, mostly picked clean turkey carcass in the roasting pan in the garage....with plans to pull the last bits off, and make stock from the bones.

    I forgot the last part last thanksgiving, and found the roasting pan in the summer with the bones mostly....well, decayed would be a nice word. It looked like something you'd see on CSI.

    Needless to say, I threw the whole mess out, including the pan.

    November 4, 2010 at 4:10 pm |
  13. Meathead

    Please debunk the cooking breast side down myth!

    November 4, 2010 at 3:59 pm |
  14. Kate

    Noboy has mentioned the ultimate in stuffed turkeys...the tur-duck-en. Turkey stuffed with duck stuffed with chicken stuffed with cornbread dressing. Any opinions on this bird-a-palooza?

    November 4, 2010 at 3:50 pm |
    • Meathead

      By the time the center is cooked and safe, everything else is overcooked. Ad what a waste of a duck breast which should be cooked to only 130 max.

      November 4, 2010 at 4:01 pm |
    • Meathead

      Read this article about turducken http://www.amazingribs.com/recipes/chicken_turkey_duck/turducken.html

      November 4, 2010 at 4:04 pm |
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