Thanksgiving hotline: How low can you go?
November 23rd, 2011
03:00 PM ET
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We're sharing our time-tested Thanksgiving hosting tips and recipes, as well as plenty from chefs, hospitality experts, celebrities, hosts and home cooks we love. Our goal – sending you into Thanksgiving with a confident smile on your face, and seeing you emerge on the other side with your sanity intact.

This burning question just in from our PBnO-obsessed colleague Jo Parker:

My husband is freaking out over my desire to roast turkey at a lower-than-he-likes temperature. How low can we go? I was thinking 250-275°F. We usually do the Alton Brown method - temperature way hot for 30 minutes, then something lower for the rest of the time.

The reason Alton Brown - and a whole other slew of folks for that matter - crank up that oven temperature at the beginning is to get a crisp-skinned bird.

But just like there's no right way to mash potatoes, oven temperature is all about personal preference. If low-and-slow yields a tastier result in your honorable opinion, then giblets away!

If you do, in fact, decide to go the low-and-slow route while roasting, the USDA recommends you set your oven temperature no lower than 325°F. If you're smoking the bird, the USDA advocates for an internal grill temperature of 225 to 300 °F.

As we mentioned, most smoking calls for a steady 225°F - but to be safe, aim for somewhere between 235°F (30-35 minutes per pound) and 275°F (20-25 minutes per pound). While contrary to USDA recommendations, many swear by the same rule of temperature for roasting.

So what can we agree on? If you go down low (all the way to the floor), please pleaseplease please don't stuff the bird.

Because you're cooking at a low temperature, it will take waaaaaaaay longer for the temperature of the stuffing to reach 165°F. As the turkey cooks, juices with our BFF salmonella could leach into the stuffing. By the time your stuffing gets to temperature, you'd have one seriously overcooked bird.

Again - the most important thing here is getting the internal temperature to reach 165°F at its thickest part, without the meat thermometer touching a bone. Emergency rooms are open on Thanksgiving but that doesn't mean you should take advantage of them.

Got more questions? Leave 'em in the comments below and we'll do our best to help you out.

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Filed under: Food Safety • Holidays • Salmonella • Tainted Food • Thanksgiving


soundoff (50 Responses)
  1. carrieanne

    Try baking the potatoes to mash. They dont get as waterlogged. And for Petes sake, this is Thanksgiving use REAL butter!

    November 24, 2011 at 3:10 pm | Reply
  2. JeepDriver

    I smoke turkeys around 225 or less – it takes hours [24 - 32] for the internal to reach 165, but when it comes out of the smoker the meat is red and so flavorful – almost like pastrami, Usually do this for party's and there is never anything to take home but the carcass for soup

    November 24, 2011 at 1:32 pm | Reply
  3. DaveI

    Nobody here talked about how long they bled/brined their turkey...I've always considered this one of the most important things to not have a strong tasting turkey...I started mine yesterday at 6:30AM (Frozen bird)...I use a large cooler and fill the water line just abouve the bird...I use a lot of salt in the water to draw the blood out...I did this three times yesterday draining and refilling/salthing the water. Then last night the thawed and bled turkey went into the refrigerator in the roaster pan surrounded by plastic bag. This morning it got one more 3 hour bleeding/brining before getting stuffed with onion and sewed up, oil applied to skin and put in a open pan with rack at 325F on it's belly. About 2/3 way through it will get flipped back on it's back. I do the stuffing out of the bird and just add the juices when near fully cooked. Been doing it this way since I watched my Mom do it when I was a kid. Have always found the more you bleed out the better the taste (Less strong)...I don't believe what's on the ButterBall wrapper that the turkey doesn't need this preperation as you should see how much blood in the water comes out and if you don't do that then that's where your strong taste comes (unless you like that)...

    November 24, 2011 at 1:17 pm | Reply
  4. mobetta

    Is McDonald's open on Thanksgiving?

    November 24, 2011 at 10:44 am | Reply
  5. Alvin

    Rhona, it's a fine recipe that I intend to try. And you worry too much. Pretty sure the Republican candidates don't come here, and what do they know about food anyway?

    Happy holidays, Rhona. Keep recommending.

    November 24, 2011 at 10:23 am | Reply
  6. Aaronski

    I have always used a Microwave oven (1.5 cubic feet size) to cook up to a 21 lb turkey. It does a great job of both defrosting and cooking. Cook with stuffing breast side down for 4 min./lb. Turn over, breast side up, for an additional 4 min/lb. Let stand covered for additional 20-30 min.

    November 24, 2011 at 10:23 am | Reply
    • Aaronski

      And be sure to follow the temperature requirements above, internal temp of 160F out of the Microwave and 170F after resting.

      November 24, 2011 at 10:30 am | Reply
  7. Ivan

    My family, we are Russians.

    We use flame thrower on turkey, 2-3 seconds. More, get ash. Less, bird still runs around till it dies.

    Let rest 20 minutes, eat with vodka.

    November 24, 2011 at 9:52 am | Reply
    • krexius

      Made my morning...cheers!

      November 24, 2011 at 10:02 am | Reply
    • Aaronski

      Come on, everyone knows it takes at least 2-3 minutes, not seconds, for a 20 lb turkey with a flame thrower.

      November 24, 2011 at 10:27 am | Reply
    • Ivan

      You use inferior American Western Flame Thrower...2-3 minutes.

      You use Russian People's Flame Thrower, 2-3 seconds.

      Either way, serve with vodka.

      November 24, 2011 at 10:59 am | Reply
  8. Cathy

    My husband once put the turkey on for me as I had to work, and when I came home I took it out of the oven and thought to my self something doesn't look right. He had placed the turkey upside down, but I must say it was the best turkey I had ever tasted. All the juices ran down into the breast meat and it was so moist and tender. My Mom always said put the bird in upside down, cook at 450 deg for a half hour(this helps in sealing the juices in). Flip the bird right side up, lower the heat to 325 deg for 20 minutes per pound. Cover the turkey with a sheet of tinfoil, remove tinfoil for the last hour of cooking (for a nice brown turkey). This is for turkey with dressing.

    November 24, 2011 at 9:26 am | Reply
  9. ithinkthat

    I've been spatchcocking my bird for years. All the skin faces up and you greatly reduce cooking time. It also cooks more evenly. If you want to try a turkey at 250, go for it. But I wouldn't even try it without spatchcocking it. I'd also find a smaller bird.

    November 24, 2011 at 8:52 am | Reply
  10. SixDegrees

    If 225-300F is OK for smoking, it's ALSO OK for roasting. The whole point is to get the meat out of the danger zone of 40-140F within a reasonable amount of time – normally a couple of hours. And temperature – not smoke – is the only factor determining this for any given turkey. Having two ranges is ridiculous and indicates that the USDA is clueless in this regard.

    November 24, 2011 at 7:12 am | Reply
    • IggyWolf

      I see you've gone all out here posting your wonderful wisdom. So just why should anyone ignore scientists and public health professionals and instead adhere to your anonymous postings?! What amazing arrogance. What credentials do you have? (Being a know-it-all doesn't count btw.) Care to share links to your scientific research that supports your claims? Or perhaps you've had papers published in public health journals – please enlighten us.

      November 24, 2011 at 9:43 am | Reply
      • jerry seinfeld

        You should know that the USDA is double dipping , that's why most of what they say is not too credible.

        November 24, 2011 at 10:47 am | Reply
  11. Pattysboi

    Turkey goes stuffed into a roasting bag at about 930 AM, Dinner is at about 3 or so. Simplest way to do it, for me, that is.

    November 24, 2011 at 4:19 am | Reply
    • "Not so Great" Advice...

      Did you leave out the temperature which you set it on or are you trying to get people to burn their bird? Or maybe you want them to cook it "low & slow" at a temperature where it will never cook to the proper temperature regardless of how long they cook it and get them all sick.

      RULE OF THUMB: First timers should NOT use stuffing and just make sure that there is no red or pink juices running out of the bird. No thermometer? No Problem!!! Just stab or slice the bird at the thick part of the thigh and LOOK AT IT.

      Still unsure? Carve out the entire breast once the bird has cooled along with the leg and MICROWAVE IT with foil over the breast. Don't forget to baste it under the skin. When it smells like turkey..."Its ready". Just use your head. Try a piece while the bird is resting for 20 minutes or so. If your not sick by serving time...your serving up a safe bird.

      November 24, 2011 at 7:33 am | Reply
      • Eric

        Certainly hope no one takes the advice to "cover with aluminum foil" and MICROWAVE their turkey. This is dangerous.

        November 24, 2011 at 10:21 am | Reply
  12. itsjustme

    Forget it.

    I'm having lasagna and sausage!:)

    November 24, 2011 at 12:50 am | Reply
  13. susanbellnc

    I used to work with a woman who put her bird in the oven the night before set way low (don't remember the exact temp) and swore by it. Said it always came out juicy and perfect. She'd put it in, then go to bed. Never had to worry about it.

    November 24, 2011 at 12:23 am | Reply
  14. Jack Parker

    For 25 years, I've used the following recipe, given it to over 1,000 people (literally), many of whom tell me they'll never make their turkey any other way. Never had one complaint. This is the juiciest, and prettiest, turkey you'll ever have.

    – Lightly coat chicken in olive oil and season how you like.
    – Pour one can of chicken broth on the bottom of the roasting pan.
    – Bake, uncovered and unstuffed, at 450*F (yes, 450*F) for one hour. The high heat sears the skin and seals in all the juices.
    – After one hour, turn the heat down to 350 for one more hour. If you make homemade gravy, pour one more can of chicken broth on the bottom of the pan. (Not over the bird.)

    After two hours, your turkey will be cooked perfectly. If you have a very large bird (24lbs or so) it may take an extra 15 minutes. That's the longest I've ever had a turkey take to roast. That time savings frees your oven for the dressing, pies, side dishes, etc.,

    November 23, 2011 at 10:53 pm | Reply
    • Lee

      Ohhhhh Jack...

      Most people are cooking ~15-25 lb. TURKEYS...Not a CHICKEN like your recipie says. I am seeing a pattern here to see who can send the most people to the E.R. I have never seen a 20lb. bird cook in 3 hours.

      Should they go to any RESPECTABLE WEBSITE AND FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS?
      or Listen to JACK & your 25 year old recipie listed as follows..."I hope that it was to early before you remembered that MOST PEOPLE CANNOT BOIL WATER PROPERLY.

      Lightly coat chicken in olive oil and season how you like.
      – Bake, uncovered and unstuffed, at 450*F (yes, 450*F) for one hour. The high heat sears the skin and seals in all the juices. Is that a PRE-HEATED oven?
      – After one hour, turn the heat down to 350 for one more hour. If you make homemade gravy, pour one more can of chicken broth on the bottom of the pan. (Not over the bird.)
      After two hours, your turkey will be cooked perfectly. If you have a very large bird (24lbs or so) it may take an extra 15 minutes. Is that an EXTRA 15 MINUTES PER POUND?

      JACK...MOST PEOPLE CANNOT BOIL WATER, EGGS, ETC; PROPERLY AND HERE YOU GO HOSTING AN ONLINE COOKING CLASS.

      I didn't mean to be so critical but listing a website such as:

      http://WWW.BUTTERBALL.COM/NEW_COOKS
      http://www.butterball.com/new_cooks

      November 24, 2011 at 8:04 am | Reply
    • Lee

      Ohhhhh Jack...

      Most people are cooking ~15-25 lb. TURKEYS...Not a CHICKEN like your recipie says. I am seeing a pattern here to see who can send the most people to the E.R. I have never seen a stuffed 20lb. bird cook properly in 3 hours. Not everyone has a new oven so "EVERYONE ERROR TO THE SIDE OF SAFTEY!!!"

      http://www.butterball.com/new_cooks
      or Call Butterball: 1-800-288-8372

      Should they go to any RESPECTABLE WEBSITE AND FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS?
      or Listen to JACK & your 25 year old recipie listed as follows..."I hope that it was to early before you remembered that MOST PEOPLE CANNOT BOIL WATER PROPERLY.

      Lightly coat chicken in olive oil and season how you like.
      – Bake, uncovered and unstuffed, at 450*F (yes, 450*F) for one hour. The high heat sears the skin and seals in all the juices. Is that a PRE-HEATED oven?
      – After one hour, turn the heat down to 350 for one more hour. If you make homemade gravy, pour one more can of chicken broth on the bottom of the pan. (Not over the bird.)
      After two hours, your turkey will be cooked perfectly. If you have a very large bird (24lbs or so) it may take an extra 15 minutes. Is that an EXTRA 15 MINUTES PER POUND?

      JACK...MOST PEOPLE CANNOT BOIL WATER, EGGS, ETC; PROPERLY AND HERE YOU GO HOSTING AN ONLINE COOKING CLASS.

      I didn't mean to be so critical but listing a website such as:

      http://WWW.BUTTERBALL.COM/NEW_COOKS
      http://www.butterball.com/new_cooks

      November 24, 2011 at 8:08 am | Reply
      • Big George

        Lee, I have to beg to differ. Using Joy of Cooking High Heat method, I do every year a 20 lb turkey in well under 3 hours – It's labor intensive as you have to turn it every half hour roasting it at 450 with wing and leg up, but all cooks evenly, and you brown at the end to your hearts content. Yum !

        November 18, 2013 at 1:02 pm | Reply
  15. bill

    The FDA cram the 165....breast meat is worthless over about 155.

    November 23, 2011 at 6:36 pm | Reply
    • Jim

      The 165 is only for dark meat. White meat at 151 should be fine. And you should take the bird out of the oven at 161 F – it will continue to cook while resting.

      November 23, 2011 at 7:03 pm | Reply
    • Lawrence

      I guess we will see you at the ER with food poisoning.

      November 23, 2011 at 10:50 pm | Reply
      • SixDegrees

        Not likely. The bacteria that cause food-borne illnesses are located on the surface of the meat, where temperatures are much higher, and are killed by the time temps reach 140-150F anyway. For white meat, I normally pull it out of the oven around 145F and let it rest for a while as temps continue to climb to around 155F. Dark meat takes higher temperatures and is more forgiving of over-cooking, but pulling at 155-160F is fine. Or you can confit the legs, which guarantees that the temperature throughout the meat will be around 190F over a very long period of time.

        November 24, 2011 at 7:17 am | Reply
    • SIMPLE CHEF

      If you really need a thermometer..."LET SOMEONE ELSE COOK IT" or go online and get a step by step guide which tells you how many hours vs. pounds per bird.

      Call: 1-800-288-8372 or go to
      http://WWW.BUTTERBALL.COM / http://www.butterball.com/new_cooks

      HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!!

      Lets give thanks to those who read the instructions that come with most birds.

      Follow these simple safety guidelines.
      your hands often throughout the cooking process.
      Use separate utensils for each dish to avoid cross contamination and cut raw meat with separate utensils.
      Cook food to proper temperatures. Refrigerate leftovers promptly.

      November 24, 2011 at 8:39 am | Reply
    • TPaine

      Salmonella really isn't that bad. Good way to lose those extra Holiday pounds fast.

      November 24, 2011 at 12:30 pm | Reply
  16. Rick Springfield

    Be careful with ashes in a smoker. A man here in my town burned down his $200,000 house yesterday. He is a retired journalist for our biggest state paper. He said he scoped out the ashes and put them in a bucket and then poured water on it. He then tossed it into his trash can with the household trash. Later that night his lights went out and very soon after that his whole house was an inferno. Well, 40 years of wilderness camping and backpacking I can tell you that coals can be hot on the inside even though you doused with with water. Its better to leave the coals and ashes in the cooker for at least a day. Then dump them into a bucket and fill it level full of water. Leave it there a few days and then pour the whole mixture in your garden.

    November 23, 2011 at 6:23 pm | Reply
    • Lee

      A retired journalist for our biggest state paper?

      This is either one whopper of a story or he could not meet his mortgage payments. One would think that a news "researcher" would know how to find out to do anything properly just by checking his sources.

      I am going to go with "He went from an upside down financial situation to one he could live with" The only other explanation is that he didn't want company over for thanksgiving or just "basted & wasted" himself with some of the fine local spirits in his local Liquor Store.

      Either way...I would never toss an ashtray in my trash regardless how long it was sitting there. I promise you he will research his Insurance Policy 100 times over to ensure that there are no mistakes made and will squeeze them for every dime.

      File under: "Creative Writing" & "Give that man a nomination for the Pulitzer and maybe an offer for a film deal. The book deal is out due to lack of substance (abuse).

      November 24, 2011 at 7:42 am | Reply
  17. Jason

    OK, so I know this isn't your recipe but it sounds great! But I have a question regarding cooking time. It says to slice the potatoes very thin with a mandoline and then cook them in 1 gallon of whole milk like this 'Bring to a simmer, about 35 minutes. Reduce the heat in order to maintain a simmer and cook, uncovered, until the potatoes are fork tender and beginning to fall apart, 25 to 30 minutes.' This seems WAY too long for such thin sliced potatoes. Does that make sense or should it be 3-5 minutes and then lower the heat? HELP!!!!

    November 23, 2011 at 5:01 pm | Reply
    • Relictus

      Isn't it very expensive using a musical instrument to slice taters? I mean, sure, nobody likes the mandolin, but where do you even get one and they can't be free. I use a big knife.

      November 23, 2011 at 8:49 pm | Reply
      • ithinkthat

        Hardy har har.

        November 24, 2011 at 9:00 am | Reply
    • Momo

      I guess that if you are cooking a large amount of potatoes, you would probably want to cook it for the 25-30 minutes it says to cook it. Since you are initially bringing it to a simmer (not a boil), it will definitely take longer to cook.

      November 24, 2011 at 9:06 am | Reply
    • Cathy

      Jason; I have never cooked potatoes in milk before as I thought bringing it to a boil and letting it simmer wasn't great for milk but as for the time, 25-30 min seems long for thinly slice potatoes, I would say 15-20 min. 3 to 5 min isn't long enough. Best way to check though is with a fork.

      November 24, 2011 at 9:17 am | Reply
  18. Peter H

    Any last minute tips for gluten free? My toddler nephew is coming tomorrow and my sis just informed me,!

    November 23, 2011 at 4:07 pm | Reply
    • charlie

      buy a loaf of gf bread for stuffing. use corn starch to make gravy rather than flour. read the packages of everything for wheat. http://celiac.org

      November 23, 2011 at 4:13 pm | Reply
    • T3chsupport

      I don't think turkeys have gluten in them.

      ... sorry, couldn't resist.

      November 23, 2011 at 4:20 pm | Reply
    • Sarah LeTrent

      Hey Peter, Check out this previous Eatocracy post about a gluten-free Thanksgiving meal. It's got tips with recipes to boot:

      http://eatocracy.cnn.com/2010/11/16/55-vanessa-phillips-and-tryg-siverson/

      Hope that helps!

      November 23, 2011 at 5:22 pm | Reply
      • Peter H

        Thank u Sarah! Googled around and discovered my TURKEY has gluten! Found a good link on MNN.com but yours helped filled in the blanks. T-E-A-M-W-O-R-K!
        http://www.mnn.com/health/allergies/blogs/how-to-keep-a-gluten-intolerant-guest-safe-this-thanksgiving

        November 23, 2011 at 6:02 pm | Reply
    • UncleJohn

      Tell your sister to bring special food for her special boy.

      November 23, 2011 at 7:02 pm | Reply
  19. Kathleen

    Jo Parker– Please re-read "The Accidential Tourist". Low & slow is a recipe for food poisoning.

    November 23, 2011 at 3:51 pm | Reply
    • KeithTexas

      Only if you dont' know what you are doing. Low and Slow can work with any food. With Turkey cook at 400 degrees for the first 30 minutes to kill any bacteria. Then depending on how much time you have set your oven down to 200 or lower until your bird reaches about 150 in the center of the breast. Let your bird rest to settle juices and it will continue to cook a bit more after you pull it out of the oven.

      November 23, 2011 at 8:36 pm | Reply
    • SixDegrees

      Well, no. Food poisoning is almost always a result of improper storage – not improper preparation. It is difficult to imagine how bacteria could survive in a low oven environment, which is never below 200F. While the interior of the meat takes a long time to heat up, there aren't any bacteria there unless you're cooking ground meat, and in that case I fully agree that you're making a huge mistake.

      November 24, 2011 at 7:26 am | Reply
      • QueenVelveetaJamimaLaqueetaTelmaColenderDaKeeshaaLaPorsha

        Right on, all good and valid points.

        August 2, 2013 at 9:39 pm | Reply

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