Tips on cooking those special holiday meats

Your holiday meats should be perfect in every way, including perfectly safe.

No doubt about it, turkey is a favorite meat for the holidays. However, there are other traditional meats for holiday gatherings.

            For small get-togethers, a smaller bird such as capon, duck, goose or Cornish hen - or a small cut of meat like a pork tenderloin or veal roast may be more ideal and certainly just as special and tasty. If a hunter’s in the family, then wild game like venison, duck or pheasant may be on the menu.

            Whatever you choose, use a food thermometer to determine when the meat has reached a safe internal temperature for that meat. Another benefit of using a thermometer is that you won’t overcook the meat and make it tough and dry.

            Roast meat in a 325ºF oven to keep meat tender and minimize shrinkage. Cooking temperatures lower than 325ºF may keep the meat too long in the temperature danger zone, 40º to 140ºF. Bacteria that might be present on meat multiply rapidly in the temperature danger zone.

            Michigan State Universtiy Extension offers tips about other holiday meats:

  • Lamb: Leg and loin lamb meat has a similar fat content to lean beef and pork loin when trimmed of visible fat. The fell is a paper-like covering on lamb and is usually removed from steaks and chops when processed. Leave the fell on a leg roast to help retain its shape. Cook lamb to 145ºF.
  • Pork: Today’s pork cooks faster and can dry out when overcooked. Cook pork to 145ºF.
  • Wild Game: To remove the “gamey” flavor, soak wild meat or poultry in a solution of either 1 tablespoon salt or 1 cup vinegar per quart of cold water. Use enough solution to cover the game completely and soak it overnight in the refrigerator. Discard the soaking solution before cooking.

Wild game is leaner than its domestically raised counterpart, but trim any visible fat because that’s where a gamey flavor can reside. Roast tender cuts of venison and game birds, if skinned, with oil-soaked cheesecloth or strips of bacon to prevent the meat from drying out. Set them on a rack in a shallow pan and roast in the oven at 325ºF. Cook venison to 160ºFand game birds to 165ºF.

  • Duck and Goose: Domestic ducklings have a great deal of fat. While it helps them float when swimming, fat is undesirable in a cooked duck. Therefore, it’s recommended to prick or score the skin of a whole duck before cooking so much of the fat will run out.  Domestic geese are larger than ducks, but they are cooked in the same manner. Oven cooking bags are helpful for cooking these birds because they hold the fat for easy disposal and keep the oven spatter-free. Cook all poultry including duck and geese to 165ºF.
  • Capons and Cornish Hens: These specialty birds are chickens. Cornish hens are small broiler-fryers weighing 1 to 2 pounds. Capons are male chickens which are surgically unsexed; weighing about 4 to 7 pounds. Roast them as you would any chicken and cook then to 165ºF.

During the holidays, people tend to spend more money on all foods but especially the meat. So make sure your meat comes out safe, tender and juicy.

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