By Melanie Fincher
Advertisement

Quit these mistakes cold turkey.

For all the Thanksgiving praise we give turkeys, they sure can be sensitive. Both easy to undercook and overcook, these large birds require careful thought from the moment you choose one all the way to the final reveal on the carving board.

And anytime you're dealing with raw meat, you have to take precautions to prevent the spread of bacteria. Whether you're preparing to cook your first turkey, or you have decades of experience, make sure you're not making one of these common raw turkey mistakes this Thanksgiving.

Photo by Getty Images

1. You purchase your turkey too early.

Most turkeys you find in the supermarket are frozen and can be bought up to two weeks in advance and stored in the freezer. If you choose to buy a fresh turkey at the supermarket, picking it up too far ahead of time can cause it to go bad before you can even use it. Vacuum-packed fresh turkeys only last about three days in the fridge. In the rush to get a turkey before they're gone, you may be getting a turkey that will be unsafe to use by the time you need to cook it.

Solution: Call your supermarket two weeks in advance to reserve a fresh turkey. Pick it up about two days before you plan to cook it, and keep it stored in the fridge.

2. You thaw your turkey on the counter.

Turkeys can take up to four days to thaw in the fridge, requiring 24 hours of thaw time for every 5 pounds of turkey. So if you forgot to pull yours out of the freezer in time, you may be tempted to speed up the process by letting your turkey thaw at room temperature. But this can actually lead to bacteria growth and could cause foodborne illness in you and your holiday guests. That's not the makings for a good Thanksgiving.

Solution: While thawing your turkey in the fridge ahead of time is best, there are some safe alternatives if it's too late. A turkey can actually be thawed in cold water or in a microwave the day of. Read here for details on how to safely thaw a frozen turkey.

3. You rinse your turkey.

While you may think that rinsing a turkey will help wash away any bacteria, it actually does more harm than good. When you rinse raw meat, water can splash from the bird onto the countertop, faucet, your clothes, and any surrounding objects, leading to cross contamination.

Solution: To avoid spreading bacteria, skip the rinsing step altogether — take the turkey from the package to the pan. There is one exception though: This is the ONLY time you should wash a turkey.

4. You don't dry the turkey.

A turkey with wet or moist skin is going to create a soggy exterior. The secret to perfectly browned, crisp skin is in drying the skin.

Solution: To get crisp, caramelized skin, use a paper towel to pat the turkey dry once you take it out of the package. Make sure to pat the inside cavity as well.

5. You're not properly sanitizing your kitchen surfaces.

When you're dealing with a bird the size of a turkey, it's difficult to avoid things coming into contact with the raw meat. You may even be tempted to reuse cutting boards or other surfaces when you're short on dishes. But even if you give your cutting board a quick hand wash in between uses, some bacteria may still remain. Whether it's your countertops, utensils, sink, or your hands, sanitizing anything that touched raw turkey is important to prevent cross-contamination.

Solution: Sanitize any surfaces that come into contact with the turkey, and wash your hands after each time you handle it. Use a clean towel to dry your hands, as a dirty one may be harboring bacteria from your countertops or other kitchen surfaces. Prep raw turkey on a separate surface (like a cutting board) from other foods. Any tools used to handle the raw turkey should be washed in a high-temperature wash, like a dishwasher.