Thanksgiving Food Preparation and Food SafetyTips

Roast turkey

(Image courtesy of USDA FSIS)

"Heap high the board with plenteous cheer and gather to the feast, And toast
the sturdy Pilgrim band whose courage never ceased."
~Alice W. Brotherton

NOTE: Turkey meat will be safely cooked when the internal temperature reaches 165° F; however, the meat may still be slightly pink. Some people prefer cooking turkey to a higher temperature (whole turkey to 180°F in the innermost part of the thigh; turkey breasts to 170° F in the thickest part) for meat that is more well done. For additional reasons turkey meat can be pink, go to this FSIS-USDA Fact Sheet.

Quick links to specific sections

  1. Planning ahead for Thanksgiving Day
  2. Where to call for help on Thanksgiving Day
  3. How to prepare a turkey
  4. Food safety questions
  5. Carving a turkey
  6. How to make turkey gravy
  7. Stuffing
  8. Pumpkin pie & other desserts (includes egg safety)
  9. Tips for traveling safely with Thanksgiving foods
  10. Recipes for leftover turkey
  11. Preparing meats other than turkey
  12. Holiday Food Hacks
  13. Thanksgiving Pinterest Board

1. Planning Ahead for Thanksgiving Day

Countdown to the Thanksgiving Holiday (source: USDA)

   PDF version | En Español PDF

Plan ahead to ease the countdown tension for your Thanksgiving meal.

Healthier Holiday Meals (source: Lisa Franzen-Castle, PhD, UNL Extension Nutrition Specialist)

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2. Where to Call for Help on Thanksgiving

Toll-free USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline

The hotline will be staffed with food safety specialists on Thanksgiving Day from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Eastern Time to answer your turkey questions.

For food safety questions year round, you may speak with a food safety specialist — in English or Spanish — from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Eastern time on weekdays.

Call the USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline at:
Or send an Email to:
Web page link for Hotline

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3. How to Prepare a Turkey

1.  Let's Talk Turkey—A Consumer Guide to Safely Roasting a Turkey (source: USDA)

Web page link | PDF

Every facet of getting a turkey from the store to the dinner table is included — buying fresh vs. frozen, safe thawing methods, stuffing, roasting, storing leftover turkey, and reheating the leftovers.

Food Safety for Families -Let's Talk Turkey: Purchasing, Thawing, Roasting and Cooking Tips from UNL Extension (1 page PDF)

2. Turkey Basics (Source: USDA)

3. Stuffing and Food Safety (Source: USDA)
Web page link | PDF

Read this before you stuff a turkey!!!

4. Oven Bags (Source: USDA)

A turkey will cook faster in an oven bag with less cleanup afterwards. Directions for specific oven bags are included when you purchase an oven bag. NOTE: A thermometer can be inserted through a hole in the oven bag so you can tell when your turkey reaches 165 degrees.

5. Poultry: Basting, Brining, and Marinating (Source: USDA)
Web page link | PDFEn Español PDF
Don't compromise food safety when looking for new and interesting ways to prepare old standards like chicken and turkey.

6. Turkey: Alternate Routes to the Table - roaster oven, grill, smoker, deep fat fryer, pressure cooker, microwave (source: USDA)
Web page link

Turkey preparation methods other than the traditional method of roasting a turkey in the oven are described: using electric roaster oven, grilling (using a covered charcoal grill and covered gas grill, smoking a turkey, deep fat frying a turkey, microwaving a turkey and cooking turkey in a pressure cooker).

7. How to Cook a Turkey the Day before Serving It
Details and tips for preparing your turkey a day before serving it.

8. Turduckens Require Safe Food Handling
Web page link | PDF |En Español PDF (source: USDA)

"Turducken" — a layered poultry dish especially popular during the holidays — requires safe food handling and thorough cooking to prevent foodborne illness.

9. Deep Fat Frying a Turkey (Source: USDA)

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4. Food Safety Questionsthermometer in turkey

1. Is Pink Turkey Meat Safe? (source: USDA)
Web page link | PDF

Well-done, safely cooked turkey meat may sometimes have a pink color. Learn why here. (source: USDA)

2. No-Show Guests Jeopardize Food (source: USDA)
Web page link

When guests encounter emergencies and the meal must be delayed or cancelled, food must be handled "just right" to remain safe.

3. "Panic Button" Food Safety Questions (source: USDA)
Web page link | PDF | En Español PDF

During the holidays, people are busy and can sometimes forget that unsafe handling and cooking can lead to foodborne illness. Here are some questions callers have asked regarding the safety of their holiday foods.

4. Types of Food Thermometers
Web page link

Learn the difference between different types of food thermometers and how to use them.

5. Brilliant Buffets and Party Platters (source:
Web page link

Tips for setting out food safely at holiday buffets.

6. Ask Karen (source: USDA)
Web page link

Ask Karen provides information for consumers about preventing foodborne illness, safe food handling and storage, and safe preparation of meat, poultry, and egg products.

7. Avoid Guessing about Holiday Food Safety

Before you cook the turkey, set up the buffet, or start making holiday goodies, see how you do on this holiday food safety quiz, based on information from the USDA and the Food and Drug Administration.

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5. Carving a Turkey

Carving the Whole Turkey Brochure (source: NE Dept. of Agriculture Poultry & Egg Division)
PDF | En Español PDF

It may be easier and less intimidating to carve a turkey in the kitchen than at the dining table. This brochure includes step by step instructions for both methods. Several recipes using turkey meat are given.

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6. How to Make Turkey Gravy

If you should end up with some lumps in your gravy, here are some methods to remove them:

  • Try breaking them up by whisking the gravy vigorously with a wire whisk.
  • Pour the gravy through a mesh strainer.
  • As a last resort, try pureeing the gravy in a blender or food processor or dip an immersion blender into the gravy to smooth it.
  • Another possibility is to use an instantized flour, such as Wondra, that has been formulated so it doesn't lump.
  • As a back-up, if you have never made gravy before, you may want to purchase some ready-made gravy in a can or or jar ... just in case.

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7. Stuffing

Stuffing and Food Safety (Source: USDA)
Web page link | PDF

"Dressed" for the Holidays (3 stuffing recipes from the Wheat foods Council)
Web page link

Almond Brown Rice Stuffing (source: USA Rice Federation)
Web page link

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8. Pumpkin Pie & Other Desserts

This pumpkin pie saves 100 calories per slice from the traditional version and tastes identical!

Pumpkin Ice Cream Piepumpkin pie
Web page link

This frozen pie can be made in advance and removed from the freezer on Thanksgiving Day.

Glorious Holiday Goodies (source: USDA)

Recipes for making Chocolate Mocha Mousse, Custard or Cream Pies and Holiday Eggnog Safely with cooked eggs.

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9. Tips for Traveling SAFELY with Thanksgiving Foods

 1.  Traveling with Food to Gatherings of Family and Friends

Web page link

If people are bringing food to a Thanksgiving meal, consider assigning foods based on how far they have to travel.

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10. Leftover Turkeyturkey soup from turkey leftovers

1. "Soup"er Soups from Turkey Leftovers

Give new life to turkey leftovers with these turkey soup recipes. They start with the same basic ingredients of 1 quart (4 cups) low sodium chicken broth and 2 cups of chopped, cooked turkey. Then, they're modified to reflect different flavor profiles.

2. Thanksgiving Recipes (source: National Turkey Federation)
Web page link

Enjoy turkey the day after and beyond by searching for delicious sandwich, entree, soup, salad and appetizer ideas.

3. Turkey Anytime: A Recipe for Turning Leftovers into Planned Overs (includes 10 quick recipes) 
Web page link PDF link

4. Holiday Food Safety for Families- Focus on Buffets and Leftovers from UNL Extension (1 page PDF)

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11. Preparing Meats other than Turkey

1. Roasting Those "Other" Holiday Meats (source: USDA)
Web page link | PDF | En Español PDF

Rather than turkey, some families choose a rib roast; others, a ham; and some will have a butcher arrange a crown roast of lamb. For special holiday meals, the cook wants everything perfect — and perfectly safe.

(Image courtesy of USDA)

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 12. Holiday Food Hacks and More

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