Turkey Talk!

The Turkey

Purchasing the Turkey

Be prepared!Before purchasing your turkey, make ample space in your refrigerator, moving shelves if necessary.
Fresh or frozen?There is no quality difference between a fresh or frozen turkey although fresh turkeys have shorter shelf lives. By purchasing a frozen turkey, you can get the turkey in advance and take advantage of special sales. Fresh turkeys provide convenience because they do not require thawing.
What size turkey do I need to buy?When purchasing a whole turkey, purchase at least one pound of uncooked turkey per person. You'll have enough for the feast and for leftovers too. 

When should I buy it? Keep in mind that a whole turkey takes about 24 hours per four to five pounds to thaw in the refrigerator. (For example: A 15-pound frozen bird will take 3 to 4 full days to thaw in the refrigerator.) Ideally, purchase your frozen turkey as far in advance as necessary to safely thaw it in the refrigerator. If buying a fresh turkey, purchase it only 1 to 2 days before the meal and keep it refrigerated.

Thawing and Handling 
Always wash hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after handling the turkey.

Never defrost turkey on the counter! Turkey can be thawed in the refrigerator or in cold water. The refrigerator method is the safest and will result in the best finished product. Leave the bird in the original packaging and place in a shallow pan and allow refrigerator thawing time at a rate of 4 to 5 pounds per 24 hours. To thaw in cold water, keep turkey in the original packaging, place in a clean and sanitized sink or pan and submerge in cold water. Change the cold water every 30 minutes. The turkey will take about 30 minutes per pound to thaw. Cook the turkey immediately after it is thawed. Do not refreeze.

Now what? Once thawed, remove neck and giblets from the body cavities and keep bird and parts (if using) refrigerated at 40 °F or below until it is ready to be cooked.


Cooking Time and Temperature

Time to cook. There are several methods for cooking your turkey. The single most important thing to know, no matter the cooking method, is that the turkey must be cooked to the proper internal temperature as measured with a food thermometer. A stuffed turkey will take additional time to cook.

Stuff safely. Stuffing should be prepared and stuffed into the turkey immediately before it's placed in the oven. Mix the wet and dry ingredients for the stuffing separately and combine just before using. Stuff the turkey loosely, about 3/4 cup stuffing per pound of turkey. Bake any extra stuffing in a greased casserole dish. Cooked inside or outside the bird, all stuffing and dressing recipes must be cooked to a minimum temperature of 165 °F. (For optimum safety and more even cooking, it’s recommended to cook your stuffing in a casserole dish.)

Take the temperature! ! Insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh, not touching bone. Cook to a minimum internal temperature of 165 °F as measured with a food thermometer. Check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. For reasons of personal preference, cook turkey to higher temperatures but not to exceed 170 °F in the breast and 180 °F in the thigh. (If the turkey is done and the stuffing is not yet 165 °F, remove the stuffing from the turkey and place it in a greased casserole dish to continue cooking to temperature.) Use the timetable below to estimate approximate cooking time.

Thermal/Conventional Oven Open Pan Method Timetable for Roasting a Turkey at 325 °F.

Unstuffed Turkey

8 to 12 pounds 
12 to 14 pounds 
14 to 18 pounds 
18 to 20 pounds 
20 to 24 pounds
        2-3/4 to 3 hours 
3 to 3-3/4 hours 
3-3/4 to 4-1/4 hours 
4-1/4 to 4-1/2 hours 
4-1/2 to 5 hours

Stuffed Turkey

8 to 12 pounds 
12 to 14 pounds 
14 to 18 pounds 
18 to 20 pounds 
20 to 24 pounds
        3 to 3-1/2 hours 
3-1/2 to 4 hours 
4 to 4-1/4 hours 
4-1/4 to 4-3/4 hours 
4-3/4 to 5-1/4 hours


Convection Oven Open Pan Method Roasting Guidelines for a Fresh/Thawed Turkey at 300 °F.

Unstuffed Turkey

14 to 18 pounds
18 to 22 pounds
        2-1/2 to 3-1/4 hours
3-1/4 to 3-1/2 hours

Stuffed Turkey

14 to 18 pounds 
18 to 22 pounds
        3 to 3-1/4 hours 
3-1/4 to 3-3/4 hours


Roasting a Frozen Turkey

It’s okay and actually safer to cook the turkey from a frozen state. A frozen turkey will not have juices spread around the kitchen, will not waste water as you try to thaw it, and will produce an excellent and juicy product. It is critical that the final temperature of the deep portions of the turkey reach 165°F minimum for food safety purposes. The Turkey Federation recommends that for quality purposes, the temperature reach 175° to 180°F in the leg/thigh portion. What about the giblets? These can be removed from the center cavity after about 3 hours of cooking. If they are in a paper bag, they can be left until the turkey is done. Here are the directions for cooking a frozen turkey.

  • a food thermometer (bimetallic quick read or digital quick read);
  • a large shallow baking pan and rack;
  • aluminum foil;
  • a turkey 12-15 lbs;
  • oven pre-heated to 325°F.

Time:Will depend upon size and temperature. Plan on 5 – 5½ hours for a 12-14 lb turkey and measure temperature.
End temperature: A minimum of 165°F at deepest part of breast or thigh. Desirable 175° - 180°F not for food safety but for quality.

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 325°F making sure that the shelving will fit the turkey (middle shelf).
  2. Line the shallow baking pan with aluminum foil and place the rack in the pan.
  3. On a clean surface, unwrap the frozen turkey and place the turkey on the rack.
  4. Put the turkey into the oven and bake.
  5. At 3 hours, determine if you can remove the giblets package.
  6. At 4 to 5 hours, measure temperature at deepest point in breast. Minimum temperature should be 165°F before removing from oven. If not at 165°F, leave in oven. 
  7. When 165°F is reached in the breast, remove the turkey from oven and place a foil tent over it. Let it rest for 20-30 minutes before carving.
  8. Refrigerate leftovers as promptly as is possible.

Safe carving and serving. It’s best to let the turkey rest for 20 minutes before carving to allow the juices to set, so the turkey will carve more easily. Use a clean cutting board that has a well to catch juices. Remove all stuffing from the turkey cavity. Make sure your knife is sharp before you start carving. Do not leave any extra turkey, stuffing or other leftovers out for more than two hours.

Storing leftovers safely. Remove the stuffing and carve the extra turkey meat from the bones. Within two hours, store leftover turkey in shallow containers and put in the refrigerator or the freezer. Use cooked leftover turkey, stuffing and gravy within 3-4 days. Cooked turkey keeps for 3-4 months in the freezer. When using leftovers, reheat the foods thoroughly to 165 °F or until hot and steaming; bring gravy to a boil before serving

Frequently Asked Thanksgiving Food Questions –

I left the giblets inside the turkey cavity while it was in the oven. Is it safe to eat?
If giblets were left in the cavity during roasting, even though this is not recommended, the turkey and giblets are probably safe to use.  However, if the packaging containing the giblets has changed shape or melted in any way during cooking, do not use the giblets or the turkey because harmful chemicals from the packaging may have penetrated the surrounding meat.
Do pumpkin pies have to be kept refrigerated?  Grocery stores don’t have them refrigerated.
Pumpkin Pie may be left at room temperature for up to two hours after baking. Once cooled (cooling process normally takes about two hours), cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 2-3 days. If warm pie is preferred it can be warmed in the microwave. Keep in mind that pumpkin pie is at its very best when served the day it’s baked. Remember, pumpkin pie is a custard-type pie, so freezing is not recommended.
Are there cautions I need to observe when preparing “stuffing” in the slow cooker? Yes. Follow these tips:

  • Use well beaten pasteurized eggs or 1/2 cup pasteurized egg product like Egg Beaters
  • Never mix wet and dry ingredients until you are ready to cook the dressing.
  • Do not fill the cooker less than 1/2 or more than 2/3 full.
  • Stir once or twice if desired or the dressing may get crusty on the side.
  • Check the final temperature with an accurate food thermometer. End temperature should be 165°F.

These questions (and others that arise in managing a home) can be answered by AnswerLine, a joint project between Iowa State University Extension and Minnesota University Extension.  Since March 1975, AnswerLine has been responding to over 20,000 questions a year with reliable research based information to help you make sound decisions. Help is just a phone call away – 1-800-262-3804.

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