Turkey may not be the most exciting part of a Thanksgiving meal (we see you, marshmallow-topped yams), but it’s undeniably the most time-consuming. Between the thawing and cooking, preparing the perfect bird can take days. What’s worse is that even a minor misstep along the way can mean the difference between a fun holiday and food poisoning. Get that bird just a few degrees warmer than you wanted and you’re wading into dangerous territory.
Think your flawless technique means you’re not at risk? According to research published in Epidemiology & Infection, poultry was the largest contributor to food-borne illness in the United States from 1998 to 2012. The good news? Keeping yourself safe is easier than you think.
According to Justin Williams, butcher at Manhattan’s Harlem Shambles, one of the biggest mistakes amateur chefs make is defrosting their bird on the counter all day. “By the time you go to check it, your turkey may have gotten over the recommended temperature,” says Williams. “Between 32 and 40 degrees is the temperature you’re looking to achieve.” So how do you get your bird to the right temperature without waiting forever? “The quickest and safest way to thaw a turkey is to put it in a bowl with a small stream of cold running water running over it,” says Williams. “This will quickly bring it up to temperature but won’t make it too warm.”
When in doubt, give yourself some extra time. Williams says that thawing your bird a day early is always your best bet—at the very least, it will give you a chance to pick up another turkey if this one’s temperature is in the danger zone. Fortunately, when Thanksgiving is over, you can easily bounce back from that Turkey Day binge: adding the 29 Best-Ever Proteins to Weight Loss to your holiday recovery plan will have you back in your skinny jeans by the weekend.