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Beware of unsafe ways to cook turkey

Turkey on platter.

Turkey is the base of many meals. If you enjoy trying something new or different, keep in mind that some of the “new” ways of preparing traditional meals may not be safe.

Brown paper bag method

This method involves placing a turkey in a large brown paper grocery bag and cooking the bird at a very low temperature.

Why it's unsafe: Brown paper bags were never intended for use as cooking utensils. The glue, ink, chemicals and other materials used in recycling the grocery bags are unsanitary and some bags may even contain tiny metal shavings.

Make it safe: To make this method safe, replace the brown bag with a turkey-sized oven-cooking bag. Cooking turkey at temperatures below 325 degrees F is unsafe so be sure to the oven temperature to 325 F or higher. Use a food thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh and breast to check the internal temperature which should read 165 degrees or higher.

Trash bag method

This method is sometimes known as the “Mississippi Trash Bag Method.” A whole turkey is placed in a large trash bag and marinated in salt brine, herbs and spices for several hours at room temperature.

Why it's unsafe: This is an unsafe method because of using of trash bags and marinating at room temperature. Do not use non-food grade materials to hold food because chemicals and non-food colors may leach into the food.

Make it safe: To make this method safe, replace the trash bag with a large oven-cooking bag. Refrigerate the turkey during the marinating process.

Slow-cooking overnight method

Why it's unsafe: This method is unsafe because it involves cooking the turkey at 190 to 200 F overnight for 12 to 13 hours. A low oven temperature means the turkey will take longer to heat and will increase the risk of harmful bacteria growth and the chance that toxins will be produced and not be destroyed with further cooking.

Make it safe: To make your turkey safe, do not cook it at temperatures lower than 325 F.


A turducken is a partially boned turkey layered with a boned duck, then with a boned chicken and spread with layers of stuffing between each bird. The entire collection is rolled, tied and roasted at 190 F for 12 to 13 hours.

Why it's unsafe: Although this recipe has been around for many years, it can be very unsafe if not handled properly.

Make it safe:

  • To make this method safer, keep the birds chilled until ready to put together.
  • While boning each bird, keep the others refrigerated.
  • After all three birds have been boned and the stuffing prepared, assemble the turducken ingredients and quickly get it into a preheated oven set at 325 F or higher.
  • Use a food thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the bundle and make sure the stuffing and birds reach 165 F or higher. Be sure to check the temperature in several locations.

Suzanne Driessen, Extension educator and Carol Ann Burtness

Reviewed in 2021

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