Q: Is it safe to cook turkey in a brown paper bag?
A: If the cooking method includes placing the turkey in a large grocery-store type brown paper bag and cooking the bird at a very low temperature, this is unsafe. Experts agree that brown paper bags were never intended for use as cooking utensils. The glue, ink, chemicals and other materials used in recycling grocery bags are unsanitary, and some bags may even contain tiny metal shavings. Don't use them for making caramel popcorn, either.
Cooking turkey at a temperature below 325 degrees is also unsafe. It is dangerous to use the "slow-cooking overnight method" which involves cooking the turkey at 190 to 200 degrees overnight or for 12 to 13 hours. A low oven temperature means the turkey will take longer to heat, increasing the risk of harmful bacteria growth and the production of toxins that may not be destroyed with further cooking.
To make this method safe, replace the brown bag with a turkey-size oven-cooking bag. In this technique, a large heat-tempered plastic cooking bag especially designed for oven temperatures is used. When using an oven-cooking bag, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. To prevent bursting, a tablespoon of dry flour is shaken around to coat the empty bag and slits are cut in the bag to allow steam to escape. The pan holding the turkey in the bag must be large enough so the bag does not hang over the sides. Allow ample space for the bag to expand during cooking so that it does not touch the top or sides of the oven or it will melt.
This method produces a moist-heat cooking environment. Some people do not prefer cooking the turkey in an oven cooking bag because they trap the juices so that the lower half of your bird gets boiled, not roasted.
A whole turkey is safe when cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees as measured with a food thermometer. Check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast.
Since we're talking about bags, the method known as the "Mississippi Trash Bag Method" also is unacceptable. In this method, a whole turkey is placed in a large trash bag and marinated in salt brine, herbs and spices for several hours at room temperature. The unsafe part of the method is the use of a trash bag and no refrigeration during marinating.
Never use nonfood-grade materials as holding vessels for food. Chemicals and non-food colors may leach into the food. Also, refrigerate the turkey during the marinating process.
Q: I know the recommendations are to let the cooked turkey stand for 20 to 30 minutes before carving to allow the juices to set. Is that really necessary?
A: Yes it is. Resting will allow for the redistribution and reabsorption of the juices in the meat. This will make your turkey moist and flavorful, plus it will give the bird a chance to cool for easier carving. If you skip this step, you may end up with a flood of juices on your carving board - in addition to a dry turkey.
Q: What should I do with all of those turkey leftovers?
A: Within two hours after cooking, cut the meat from the bones and divide it into smaller portions to use for sandwiches and in casseroles. Store in the refrigerator or freezer. Make broth for soup using the turkey carcass.
Q: Why is it necessary to store leftovers in a shallow pan? And, why covered?
A: Placing leftovers in a shallow pan allows fast, uniform cooling. Covering leftovers prevents flavor migration and reduces the risk of cross-contamination.
Q: How quickly should turkey leftovers be used?
A: Three days is the general rule. If leftovers will not be used within three days, they should be wrapped, labeled, and dated before being frozen for a future meal. If well wrapped, cooked turkey generally freezes well for three to four months.
Q: Should leftovers be reheated?
A: Turkey may be eaten cold or hot. Reheating leftovers such as turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy or a cooked vegetable casserole to 165 degrees is recommended.
Q: Should leftover pies be refrigerated?
A: A homemade pumpkin pie should be covered and refrigerated. Leftover fruit or pecan pies can be covered and stored on the counter. For best quality, refrigerate.
Q: I heard that you shared a tasty Green Bean Casserole recipe during your recent Dining with Diabetes class. Could you put it in your column?
A: Sure - it really does taste good. Happy Thanksgiving!
1/3 cup chopped onion
1/3 cup bread crumbs
Nonstick cooking spray
4 slices turkey bacon, extra lean
1 (10 3/4 ounce) can of reduced fat cream of mushroom soup
1/2 cup plain, nonfat yogurt
1/4 teaspoon liquid smoke (or less)
3 (9-ounce) packages frozen French-style green beans, thawed
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, combine onion and breadcrumbs; sprinkle evenly over baking sheet lightly coated with nonstick spray. Bake for about 12 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and set aside.
Cook turkey bacon according to package directions. Dice and set aside. In a large bowl, combine undiluted soup, nonfat yogurt and liquid smoke. Stir in green beans and turkey bacon. Transfer green bean mixture to a 9"-by-11" baking dish lightly coated with cooking spray.
Top with onion mixture. Bake 25-30 minutes or until bubbly. Makes 10 (1/2 cup) servings.
- Susan Krumm is an Extension agent in family and consumer sciences with K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County, 2110 Harper St.