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You’ll love the tantalizingly delicious turkey recipes at the end of the turkey cooking guide.
Turkey at a holiday meal is always a favorite, the smell of a turkey roasting in the oven is a memory many have of the holidays. When you are the cook however, it can be downright anxiety-inducing!
You worry if you’re buying the right kind of turkey (because who wants the dry kind?), you wonder if you should be fresh or if it matters? And how long should you freeze it (if at all) and how long to defrost? It can make you want to order pizza!
The truth is, all it takes to cook a delicious turkey is a few simple steps. Follow the turkey guidelines then use any of the recipes below for added flavor.
You can buy a frozen turkey anytime, but make sure you have enough freezer space. Fresh turkeys are bought a day or two before you plan on cooking it.
Buy the size you need:
|What Size Turkey to Purchase|
|Type of Turkey||Pounds to Buy|
|Whole bird||1 pound per person|
|Boneless breast of turkey||1/2 pound per person|
|Breast of turkey||3/4 pound per person|
|Prestuffed frozen turkey||1 1/4 pounds per person – keep frozen until ready to cook|
Thawing the turkey from frozen:
In the refrigerator – Place frozen turkey (still in the package) in the refrigerator. Allow approximately 24 hours per 4 to 5 pounds of turkey. You can store a thawed turkey in the refrigerator for 1-2 days.
|Thawing Time in the Refrigerator|
|Size of Turkey||Number of Days|
|4 to 12 pounds||1 to 3 days|
|12 to 16 pounds||3 to 4 days|
|16 to 20 pounds||4 to 5 days|
|20 to 24 pounds||5 to 6 days|
Thawing in cold water:
If you forget to thaw the turkey or don’t have room in the refrigerator for thawing you can easily thaw it in cold water instead. You can submerge the turkey in cold water and change the water every 30 minutes. Allow about 30 minutes defrosting time per pound of turkey. The following times are suggested for thawing turkey in water. Cook immediately after thawing.
|Thawing Time in Cold Water|
|Size of Turkey||Hours to Defrost|
|4 to 12 pounds||2 to 6 hours|
|12 to 16 pounds||6 to 8 hours|
|16 to 20 pounds||8 to 10 hours|
|20 to 24 pounds||10 to 12 hours|
The day before the big meal:
Check your supplies, as you will need a roasting (large enough for your turkey) and a food thermometer. Do not stuff the turkey until you are ready to cook it.
The day of the big meal:
If you choose to stuff your turkey, stuff loosely. The stuffing should be moist, not dry, since heat destroys bacteria more rapidly in a moist environment. Place a stuffed turkey in oven immediately.
Cooking times for turkeys are listed on the chart below and are for a fresh or thawed turkey in an oven at 325 °F. These times are approximate.
Timetables for Roasting a Whole Turkey
(325 degree F oven temperature)
|Cooking Time Unstuffed|
|Size of Turkey||Hours to Prepare|
|8 to 12 pounds||2 3/4 to 3 hours|
|12 to 14 pounds||3 to 3 3/4 hours|
|14 to 18 pounds||3 3/4 to 4 1/4 hours|
|18 to 20 pounds||4 1/4 to 4 1/2 hours|
|20 to 24 pounds||4 1/2 to 5 hours|
|Cooking Time Stuffed|
|Size of Turkey||Hours to Prepare|
|8 to 12 pounds||3 to 3 1/2 hours|
|12 to 14 pounds||3 1/2 to 4 hours|
|14 to 18 pounds||4 to 4 1/4 hours|
|18 to 20 pounds||4 1/4 to 4 3/4 hours|
|20 to 24 pounds||4 3/4 to 5 1/4 hours|
Use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of the turkey.
A whole turkey is safe cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees F throughout the bird. Check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. All turkey meat, including any that remains pink, is safe to eat as soon as all parts reach at least 165 degrees F. The stuffing should reach 165 degrees F, whether cooked inside the bird or in a separate dish.
When turkey is removed from the oven, let it stand 20 minutes. Remove stuffing and carve turkey.