How NOT to Cook a Turkey

Unsafe Methods

Roast Turkey. Linda Larsen

Every year methods circulate about unconventional ways to cook a turkey. These are the unsafe methods that you should not use. Of course, nobody can stop you, and if you've used these methods before, you have free will. But be careful: if you're serving someone in a high risk group (the elderly, pregnant women, the very young, those with chronic illnesses and compromised immune systems) you are risking some very unhappy holiday memories.

Please use approved turkey roasting methods. And there are some caveats even with those methods! To be completely safe, don't stuff your turkey, but cook the stuffing mixture in the crockpot or in the oven alongside the bird. And I've recently discovered that even turkey breasts cooked in the crockpot may carry risks. If you feel you should, please pass this information on to family and friends.

So have a safe, healthy, and happy Thanksgiving!

How NOT to Cook a Turkey

  • Turkey in the Crockpot
    Most food experts say that cooking a whole chicken in the slow cooker is unsafe, because the low cooking temperature keeps the cavity at an ideal temperature for breeding bacteria for too long a time. The same holds true for turkey. Note that a slow cooker is not the same as a roaster oven, such as those made by Nesco.
  • Turkey Roasted Overnight
    Lots of us have recipes from our mothers and grandmothers that call for roasting the turkey overnight at a temperature ranging from 200 to 250 degrees F. This is unsafe. The lowest recommended oven temperature for roasting a turkey is 325 degrees F. Once again, the long slow cooking is an ideal breeding ground for bacteria. And if the turkey is stuffed the danger is even greater.
  • Turkey in the Microwave
    The microwave cooks too unevenly, with hot spots and cool spots, to be safe. The largest cut of poultry that I cook in the microwave is boneless skinless chicken breasts. Don't even cook a turkey breast in the microwave oven.
  • Turkey Breast in the Crockpot
    I have many recipes for this method. I've always considered it safe, but in my research I've found that this method is now also considered risky. If you don't have anyone in your family in the high risk group, go ahead. I'll continue to cook my turkey this way unless I'm serving someone at risk. But now I know there is a risk.
  • Deep Frying Turkey
    This method produces a perfectly safe bird, but the method itself can be dangerous and has led to many fires. The Underwriter's Laboratory has decided not to certify any turkey fryers. If you do choose to deep fry your turkey, make sure the container is large enough, and that the frying is done outside away from flammable materials (that includes your house and deck!). Keep kids and pets away and make sure the oil cools down in a safe place before disposing. And have a couple of fire extinguishers ready and waiting.
  • Stuffing Your Turkey the Night Before
    Never never never stuff your turkey until it's ready to go into the oven. Even if the stuffing reaches a safe internal temperature, the bacteria have had plenty of time to produce toxins that are not destroyed by heat and can make you sick.
  • Thawing Turkey at Room Temperature
    Again, this allows bacteria to reach truly dangerous levels. Either thaw the turkey in the refrigerator, under running cold water, or cook it frozen.
  • The Brown Paper Bag Method
    Do not cook turkey in a brown paper bag unless it is one that has been approved for food use. The chemicals used in manufacturing these bags could leach into the turkey and cause health problems, which may not appear for years, but can be significant.
  • The Trash Bag Method
    Do not use a trash bag to brine or marinate the turkey, for the same reason. Oven roasting bags and frozen birds sold in the bags are perfectly safe.
  • Turducken
    Turducken can be perfectly safe, but only if it is prepared quickly and the ingredients that aren't being immediately used are refrigerated. Do not prepare this recipe in advance Also do not bake the turducken at temperatures below 325 degrees F; again, overnight and long slow cooking is dangerous. And be sure that the very interior is cooked to 165 degrees F (some sources say 180 degrees F).