Myth: Always wash the turkey thoroughly
Experts say scrubbing down your bird is not only unnecessary, it could actually be harmful. You could splash disease-causing germs around your sink, countertop, utensils, and other food you may be preparing. The USDA says it's "virtually impossible" to wash bacteria off a raw turkey; instead, the group advises cooks to wash their hands for 20 seconds after handling it. (Related: These are other food poisoning myths you could safely ignore.)
Myth: You don't have to thaw a turkey completely
Actually, a properly thawed turkey is key to making sure the bird is fully cooked; one that's partially frozen when it goes in the oven means the outside will cook but the inside will remain raw. Butterball advises you place the unopened turkey breast-side up on a tray in the fridge and allow 24 hours of thawing for every four pounds of turkey. Never try to cook a frozen turkey overnight at a low temperature in the hopes of keeping it tender and moist; low and long is exactly what harmful bacteria needs to thrive. "We call that temperature between 41 and 135 degrees the danger zone. That's the temperature pathogens can grow at," Ben Chapman, food safety specialist, told livescience.com. The USDA recommends setting your oven no lower than 325 degrees to decrease the risk of bacteria growth. (Looking for a stress-free Thanksgiving? Get our FREE guide for an unforgettable Thanksgiving. You'll get easy recipes, kid-friendly crafts and games, inspiring traditions, and more ideas for the best holiday yet.)
Myth: A stuffed turkey won't cook through
Don't fall for grandma's warning that roasting the stuffing in the bird will give the whole family food poisoning. Forbes.com says you can reduce the risk by heating the dressing up to at least 130 degrees before placing it in the turkey. Also, check the temperature of both the stuffing and turkey meat before serving. Stuffing should be about 165 degrees, whether it's cooked inside the bird or separately, according to FoodSafety.gov.
Myth: Basting frequently keeps meat moist
Some chefs swear basting is flavor-enhancing, others say it's a waste of time. For a less hectic cooking schedule, skip the basting. Contrary to popular belief, experts say basting doesn't actually flavor the meat that much because most of the liquid runs off the skin and back into the pan. And opening and shutting the oven every 30 minutes can cool an oven quickly, adding to overall roasting time. (Related: Check out these hilarious real calls to the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line.)
Myth: You can tell the bird is done by its thigh temperature
If the thigh is 165 degrees and juices run clear, is the bird is finished roasting? Food experts at Gourmet magazine recommended using the four-spot test to check for doneness: prick both thighs, the thickest part of the breast on each side, and each wing. The bird isn't cooked enough until all pricks register 165 degrees, which is the USDA recommendation. Butterball advises waiting until the thighs reach 180 degrees and breast is at 170. Here's how that pop-up turkey timer actually works.
Myth: Don't eat the skin
Turkey skin is high in fat—the skin on a 3.5-ounce piece has about four grams of fat, and is between 30 and 40 calories—but it's the good kind of fat. "There is more monounsaturated fat than saturated fat in poultry skin," says Lilian Cheung, of Harvard's School of Public Health, on CNN.com. Monounsaturated fats help balance cholesterol levels, which could lower your risk of heart disease, and it may improve insulin and blood sugar levels. Don't make it your main meal, but feel free to enjoy a portion guilt-free. Here are the best and worst Thanksgiving foods for your waistline.
Myth: Leftovers can sit out until the end of the meal
Harmful bacteria can grow quickly, especially if your dining room temperature is warm. Butterball suggests refrigerating leftovers within two hours of eating, and then either eat them or freeze them within three days.