Q: Do you have any advice for a movable feast? Meaning, I'd like to offer to cook and bring the turkey to this year's celebration at our son's home, but we have a 45-minute to 1-hour drive to his place, and although I like to cook I've rarely done a turkey. I plan to buy a fresh, "green" bird and not stuff it. I'd be cooking a bird to feed nine adults and two young children.
—Barbara Dufford, Chicago
A: What a nice mom you are to be willing to cook the Thanksgiving turkey for your son even though you rarely do the big bird. My advice? Have your son buy the turkey and have it waiting for you in his refrigerator. Reimburse him for the cost.
I say all this because turkeys raw, cooked or somewhere in between don't travel well, in my opinion. For safety sake, perishable food items like turkeys need to be kept really cold or really hot. It's those in-between "room" temperatures that allow bacteria to grow that can make you and your son's guests sick. Remember, too, there will two young children; better to be extra careful.
For example, you should buy a raw turkey only one or two days before you plan to cook it and keep it stored in the refrigerator until you're ready to cook it, according to the United States Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service. I suppose you could pack the raw turkey in ice and take it for the ride to your son's house but you've got to have a big enough container to hold the bird and you've got to make sure the turkey stays cold. What happens if there's a traffic jam or you get a flat tire or you just simple show up later than expected?
That's why I say you should let your son buy the turkey and hold for you.
But you want to cook the turkey at your house. Even so, the clock is still ticking.
Heed the USDA's advice on about leftovers — which essentially is what your fully cooked, joy-riding turkey would be. "Discard any turkey, stuffing and gravy left out at room temperature longer than 2 hours; 1 hour in temperatures above 90 degrees," the USDA declares.
You say your drive is an hour max but, again, you can't always count on that. And do you want a hot, greasy bird the size of a bowling ball rolling around in your car? Not me. (Some government and university Web pages say the easiest way to travel with a cooked bird is to cut it into parts, chill, pack the parts in ice, refrigerate upon arrival and reheat right before serving.)
I think the easier alternative is for you to show up early on T-Day and make the turkey at your son's house. That will give you plenty of together time while the bird is roasting.
Just check with him to make sure he has the roasting pan and other equipment you'll need for the turkey. If he doesn't, bring yours. Or, better yet, create for him a turkey roasting kit complete with a new roast pan, rack, baster, fat separator, large gravy-stirring spoon. It will be a useful gift he'll long remember.
Have other turkey safety questions? Call the USDA's Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-674-6854. Or send an email to: email@example.com. The hotline answers questions about safe food storage, handling, preparation and more.
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