Besides spending time with family and watching football, Thanksgiving is associated with food — lots and lots of food. What should not be a part of Thanksgiving is dry turkey and food poisoning. These tips from Rusty Weatherly, director of hospitality management and culinary arts at Grayson College, will help ensure that the abundance of food is safe and delicious.

Besides spending time with family and watching football, Thanksgiving is associated with food — lots and lots of food. What should not be a part of Thanksgiving is dry turkey and food poisoning. These tips from Rusty Weatherly, director of hospitality management and culinary arts at Grayson College, will help ensure that the abundance of food is safe and delicious.


Safety


A fundamental precaution in cooking is keeping food out of the "temperature danger zone" that bacteria grows best in, which is between 41 degrees and 135 degrees.


Turkeys should be cooked to 165 degrees. Insert a bimetallic thermometer into the thickest part of the turkey to ensure it is the right temperature. Do not rely on the plastic, pop-up timers that come with the turkey, Weatherly said, because they are often faulty.


Do not put hot food in the fridge. Allow the food to cool, or give it an ice bath before refrigerating. Putting hot foods into the fridge will cause them to cool into the temperature danger zone instead of a safe storage temperature. It will also cause the temperature of surrounding food to rise.


The worst mistake that can be made while preparing a turkey is leaving it to thaw or cool off on a counter, Weatherly said. In both of these cases, the turkey could contaminate the surface and its temperature could reach the danger zone. Instead, thaw a frozen turkey by placing it in the sink still in its plastic packaging and allow cool water to run over it. After one and a half hours, the turkey should be ready to cook.


Make sure to clean counter tops while cooking to prevent cross-contamination. Weatherly recommends using a cap-full of bleach mixed into a gallon of water to clean surfaces that have come into contact with raw meat. Also be sure to wash your hands immediately after handling raw meat.


Cooking


Weatherly also shared a few pointers on how to cook a delicious turkey.


To keep a turkey moist, put slivers of butter under its skin and spread some butter over the skin before cooking, Weatherly said. This will eliminate the need to baste the turkey.


Weatherly recommends making an aluminum foil "donut" to set the turkey on top of while it cooks. This will keep the turkey from touching the bottom of the pan where the juices collect. If the turkey cooks in these juices then parts of the meat may become gooey an unappetizing, Weatherly said.


Make gravy by putting a mixture of chopped carrots, onions and celery, also known as mirepoix, into the bottom of the same pan that the turkey is in. Juices from the turkey will drip onto the mirepoix while in the oven. When the turkey is finished cooking, remove the turkey and the mirepoix from the pan. Then, put the mirepoix through a cheese cloth or strainer to separate the vegetables from the liquid. Finally, thicken the liquid by mixing it with flour and butter.


To cut costs on Thanksgiving dinner, Weatherly recommends cooking only enough food for the number of people who will be eating. Instead of preparing a whole turkey, consider preparing just a turkey breast.