As Thanksgiving approaches, it’s time to think about how you will prepare your bird. Preparing a whole turkey is a complicated endeavor. A whole bird involves at least 10 pounds of meat, skin and bone. Something has to be done with that cavity. A meat thermometer must be procured.

As Thanksgiving approaches, it’s time to think about how you will prepare your bird. Preparing a whole turkey is a complicated endeavor. A whole bird involves at least 10 pounds of meat, skin and bone. Something has to be done with that cavity. A meat thermometer must be procured.

But before you even think about cooking your turkey, consider the size of bird you need. A good rule of thumb is one pound uncooked turkey per person.

There are frozen and fresh whole turkeys on the market, and which kind you buy depends on your needs and circumstances. Frozen is cheaper per pound, which makes it easier on the budget. If you’re purchasing a turkey late (like the day before Thanksgiving), choose fresh because it won’t need any thawing. Frozen turkeys contain MSG as a preservative, so if you’re allergic to MSG, choose a fresh bird.

If one kind of poultry isn't enough for your Thanksgiving table, try a turducken. Turducken, which originated in Louisiana, is a whole, deboned turkey stuffed with a whole, deboned duck and a whole, deboned chicken, separated by layers of stuffing.

At the Hy-Vee grocery store in Macomb, Ill., they're prepared by the meat department’s "Turducken Expert," Bob Boyer.

Boyer, a 24-year Hy-Vee employee starts with a 12-pound turkey, a 7-pound duck and a 4-pound chicken. After the birds are deboned, he spreads a layer of stuffing on the turkey.

Next, Boyer covers the stuffing with the duck, spreads on another layer of stuffing and tops it with the chicken and a final layer of stuffing.

Boyer then, with hands like a surgeon, expertly pins the legs of all three birds together, brings the sides in and ties the whole thing together. The end result looks like a turkey.

By the time Boyer's turducken is finished, it weighs about 15 pounds. Boyer said the birds lose 1/3 of their weight after they are deboned.

Turduckens are cooked just like a regular turkey, about 30 minutes per pound at 325 degrees.
Boyers says using a cooking bag can significantly reduce the amount of cooking time.

By the time the turducken is finished cooking, Boyer said, the skin has cooked so completely “that you won’t even know it’s there.”

Turkey tips

Scott Vogler, meat manager at Hy-Vee grocery store, says the biggest mistake people make when preparing a turkey is in the thawing process.

“You can’t leave it on the counter to thaw,” Vogler said.

The proper way to thaw a turkey is to place it in its original wrapping on a tray in your refrigerator, allowing five hours per pound defrosting time. So if you purchase a 10-pound frozen turkey, it will take 50 hours of thawing time, or about two days.

The second biggest mistake, according to Vogler, is overcooking the bird.

“You can’t put it in the oven the night before and cook it overnight,” Vogler said. “Have you seen ‘Christmas Vacation?’ That’s what happens.”

To prevent a disastrous dinner scene with a dry, tough turkey, follow the following roasting guidelines from the Hy-Vee 2009 Turkey Guide:

- Brush the turkey with vegetable oil to prevent drying. No additional basting is necessary.

- Insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the inner thigh, not touching the bone.

- Cover the turkey loosely with a tent of aluminum foil to prevent splattering and over-browning. For additional browning, uncover the turkey for the last 30-60 minutes of roasting.

- Roast at 325 degrees. The turkey is cooked when the meat thermometer reads 180 to 185 degrees at the thigh, 170 to 175 degrees at the breast, and 165 degrees in the stuffing. The drumstick should twist easily in its socket and the juice should run clear. The pop-up timer included in most turkeys is a good guideline, Vogler said, but they are not entirely dependable. For a perfectly cooked turkey, you need a meat thermometer.

Roasting times

- 10-18 pound turkey: 3 to 3 1/2 hours unstuffed, 3 3/4 to 4 1/2 hours stuffed

- 18-22 pound turkey: 3 1/2 to 4 hours unstuffed, 4 1/2 to 5 hours stuffed

- 22-25 pound turkey: 4 to 4 1/2 unstuffed, 5 to 5 1/2 hours stuffed

- 24-30 pound turkey: 4 1/2 hours to 5 hours unstuffed, 5 1/2 to 6 1/2 hours stuffed

Got a recipe you would like to see published? Send it to news2@McDonoughVoice or mail it to 203 N. Randolph St., Macomb, IL 61455.