Table of contents
- Right size turkey
- Safe thawing
- To wash or not to wash?
- To stuff or not to stuff?
- If you must stuff
Turkey provides protein along with other key nutrients. A serving is 3 ounces cooked poultry (about the size of a deck of cards). One serving of roasted, skinless turkey provides:
- 129 calories
- .9 grams saturated fat
- 64 milligrams cholesterol
- 59 milligrams sodium
- 25 grams protein
- 1.5 milligrams iron
Right size turkey
Use the following chart as a helpful guide:
- Whole bird – 1 pound per person
- Boneless turkey breast – ½ pound per person
- Turkey breast – ¾ pound per person
Turkey must be kept at a safe temperature (below 40°F) for the big thaw.
Three safe ways to thaw:
- Refrigerator: Allow 24 hours per five pounds.
- 8 – 12 pounds = 2 to 3 days
- 12 – 16 pounds = 3 to 4 days
- 16 – 20 pounds = 4 to 5 days
Once completely thawed, cook within 1 to 2 days.
- Cold water:
- Place breast down in its unwrapped wrapper in cold water to cover.
- Change water every 30 minutes to keep surface cool.
- Allow 30 minutes per pound.
- 8 – 12 pounds = 4 to 6 hours
- 12 – 16 pounds = 6 to 8 hours
- 16 – 20 pounds = 8 to 10 hours
- 20 – 24 pounds = 10 to 12 hours
Cook immediately after thawing.
- Microwave Oven:
- Check your microwave's instruction book.
- Cook immediately after thawing.
To wash or not to wash?
Review of studies from several universities related to washing meat and poultry indicates that there is no benefit. In fact, washing can allow bacteria on meat and poultry to spread to other ready-to-eat foods. Therefore, the USDA does not recommend washing your turkey before cooking. Cooking to proper temperature will destroy any bacteria present.
If you must wash, you have to clean and sanitize sink surrounding countertops. Wash sink and countertops with hot soapy water using paper towels. Rinse. Then sanitize with a bleach solution of 1 teaspoon of bleach per 1 quart of water. Air dry.
To stuff or not to stuff?
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) stuffing a turkey is an invitation for trouble. You risk the possibility of foodborne illness. The stuffing may not reach the 165°F temperature needed to kill bacteria.
For optimal safety and uniform doneness, cook stuffing separately.
The University of Georgia tested turkeys to determine cooking times and techniques. The study concluded that stuffing should be cooked outside the bird since there is no guarantee that the stuffing will reach 165°F at the same time the turkey reaches this temperature. If the stuffing has not reached 165 °F when the turkey is done, further cooking will be required. Therefore, the meat may be overcooked. For optimal safety and uniform doneness, cook stuffing separately. You can get the same flavor if you precook stuffing to 165°F. Then loosely stuff into the turkey during the last half-hour of cooking.
If you must stuff
Follow these basic rules:
- Prepare the stuffing just before placing in the bird.
- Cook and cool all protein products (i.e. sausage, eggs, giblets and root vegetables like celery and onions) before adding to other stuffing ingredients.
- Stuff turkey loosely — about ¾ cup of stuffing per pound of turkey.
- The stuffing should be moist, rather than dry, since heat destroys bacteria more rapidly in a wet environment.
- Place stuffed turkey immediately in an oven set no lower than 325°F.
- The center of the stuffing must reach 165°F after roasting.
- If you don't use a meat or instant-read thermometer, do not stuff the bird. Without a meat thermometer, there is no way to visually check whether the stuffing has reached the correct temperature.
- Be sure turkey is completely thawed.
- Place turkey breast-side up on a rack in a shallow roasting pan (2-2½ inches deep).
- Lightly coat the skin with oil, shortening or vegetable cooking spray to prevent skin from drying out.
- Internal temperature must reach a minimum of 165°F in the thigh and thickest part of the breast before removing from oven. Turkey breast must reach a minimum of 170°F in the thickest part before removing from oven. (Cooking turkey to higher temperatures (170ºF breast, 180ºF thigh) yields a golden, tender bird.)
- Let bird stand 20 minutes before carving to allow juices to absorb back into the meat.
Turkey are cooking faster than before
Revised timetable for cooking turkey at 325°F.
|Approximate cooking times|
|4 – 6 (breast)||1½ – 2¼|
|6 – 8 (breast)||2¼ – 3¼||2½ – 3½|
|8 – 12||2¾ – 3||3 – 3½|
|12 – 14||3– 3¾||3½ – 4|
|14 – 18||3¾ – 4¼||4 – 4¼|
|18 – 20||4¼ – 4½||4¼ – 4¾|
|20 – 24||4½ – 5||4¾ – 5¼|
Cooking partially thawed or frozen turkey
- Frozen pre-stuffed turkeys – Do not thaw before cooking. Cook according to package directions.
- Remove wrapping before placing in oven.
- Add 50% additional cooking time per above chart.
- After 3½ hours carefully remove giblet package.
Storing leftovers safely
- Refrigerate all leftovers in shallow containers (2-3 inches deep) within two hours of cooking.
- Use leftover turkey, stuffing and gravy within within 3 to 4 days.
- Use frozen turkey, stuffing and gravy within 2 to 6 months for best flavor.
- Reheat leftovers to 165°F or until hot and steaming.
USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline
- (888) 674-6854;
- Monday-Friday: 7 AM - 1 PM.
- Thanksgiving Day: 5 AM - 11 AM
University of Minnesota Extension AnswerLine
- Monday-Friday: 9:00 AM – noon & 1:00 – 4:00 PM
- Butterball Turkey Talk-Line
- Minnesota Turkey Research and Promotion Council
- USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline (888-674-6854)
Reviewed by, 2012.