Christmas is fast approaching. For those who cook the holiday meal, the first decision to make is what the main dish will be.
Turkey and ham are the most popular choices. Other families opt for roast beef or roast pork, both excellent choices. Preparing any of these meats is an easier task when the cook knows a few of the basic facts about proper cooking methods. Here’s a quick review to make your family’s meal the tastiest one yet.
If you plan on cooking a bird of any kind (turkey, chicken, duck or goose) roasting is the traditional preparation. To roast a bird, always start with a completely thawed product. Lightly coat the skin with oil or margarine and season to your liking. For some people, this simply means salt and pepper. For others, it could mean herbs, rubs, spice mixtures or marinade injections. Once seasoned, place the bird on a rack in a baking pan and cook in a pre-heated oven at no less than 325 degrees until the internal temperature of the thigh registers 165 degrees on a food thermometer. For a duck or goose, it is recommended to prick the entire surface of the skin before roasting to allow the excessive fat to render during roasting. Both ducks and geese have a layer of fat just below the skin and this must be allowed to escape during cooking so the meat will be moist but not greasy. Cooking bags are a good choice when cooking these birds to cut down on the splatters in the oven.
Beef is an easy choice for roasting. Choose a cut that comes from the rib or loin section. Cuts from these areas are more tender and will give the highest quality dish for your holiday table. Start with a completely thawed portion of beef, season to suit your taste, and place the meat on a rack in a shallow pan. Cook in a 325 degree oven until the lean part of the meat registers 145oF on a food thermometer. Beef tenderloin, however, is the exception to this rule. Tenderloin is almost always served medium-rare and should be cooked quickly on high heat to seal in the juices. Cook tenderloin at 425 degrees until the internal temperature registers 145 degrees. For a six pound tenderloin (enough for 12 or more people) total cooking time should be 45-60 minutes. Allow all beef to rest at least four minutes before cutting into it. If you choose to cook your cut of beef past 145 degrees for personal preference, there is no problem. Safety benchmarks have been achieved at 145 degrees.
Pork is cooked in much the same manner as beef. For a cut of fresh pork, most people choose pork tenderloin for the holiday table. Season the meat according to your preference (salt and pepper is the standard), place it on a rack in a shallow pan and cook at 325 degrees until the food thermometer registers 145 degrees. Plan on a four pound pork tenderloin taking approximately two hours to cook at 325 degrees. All pork needs to rest at least four minutes before it is sliced.
If you plan to prepare a cut of cured pork that is labeled as ready-to-eat or if you are cooking a canned ham, simply place the meat into a 325 degree oven until the internal temperature reaches 140 degrees on a food thermometer. When cooking a ham, several people like to enhance the pork flavor by basting the meat in cola, orange juice, apple juice or even pineapple juice.
Whether your family prefers turkey, beef or pork at the holiday table, proper preparation will ensure top-notch taste that will undoubtedly wow those waiting with fork in hand.
For more information on food safety or food preparation check out the Clemson University Home and Garden Fact Sheet #3565 Holiday Meats at www.clemson.edu/hgic .