That time of year is once again upon us. When Americans gather around the table with friends and family members to feast and give gratitude for the annual tradition that is Thanksgiving. But before you come to the table with your turkey platter and gravy, take a moment to read these turkey preparation and safety tips from the United States Department of Agriculture.
When a turkey is frozen, it is safe from bacteria. However, once it begins to thaw, bacteria can start to grow. The good news is there are three relatively easy ways to thaw frozen turkeys — in your refrigerator, in cold water or in the microwave. Whichever method you choose, it's important to note until you are ready to thaw your frozen turkey, it should be immediately placed in your freezer. A frozen turkey should also never be left outside or in your car, where the temperatures vary.
In the refrigerator:
- A thawed turkey can remain in your refrigerator for up to 48 hours before cooking.
- When thawing the turkey in the refrigerator, allow 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds of turkey.
- Place the turkey in a pan or other dish to ensure the juices from the thawed turkey don't drip in your refrigerator.
In cold water:
- If you wish to thaw a turkey in cold water, soak 30 minutes per pound.
- Ensure the turkey is in a waterproof bag to prevent leakage.
- Submerge the entire turkey in cold water and change the water every 30 minutes.
- Once the turkey is completely thawed, cook it immediately.
In the microwave:
- Since microwaves vary in size and power, it's important to refer to the microwave manufacturer's instructions before attempting to thaw your turkey.
- Plan to cook the turkey immediately after it is thawed to prevent bacteria from growing.
Cooking a Turkey
Once you've completely thawed your turkey you're ready to cook it. Note these important tips about cooking:
- Set your oven temperature to 325° F.
- Do not preheat the oven; it's not necessary.
- Insert a food thermometer in the turkey. An internal temperature of 165°F will prevent bacteria from growing.
- Recognize that stuffed turkeys take longer to cook and dark roasting pans cook faster than shiny metals.
- Speed cook by using the lid on the roasting pan or an oven cooking pan.
- Use the following guide for cooking times:
Unstuffed turkeys (time in hours)
- 4 to 6 lbs. breast – 1 1/2 to 2 1/4
- 6 to 8 lbs. breast – 2 1/4 to 3 1/4
- 8 to 12 lbs. – 2 3/4 to 3
- 12 to 14 lbs. – 3 to 3 3/4
- 14 to 18 lbs. – 3 3/4 to 4 1/4
- 18 to 20 lbs. – 4 1/4 to 4 1/2
- 20 to 24 lbs. – 4 1/2 to 5
Stuffed turkeys (time in hours)
- 8 to 12 lbs. – 3 to 3 1/2
- 12 to 14 lbs. – 3 1/2 to 4
- 14 to 18 lbs. – 4 to 4 1/4
- 18 to 20 lbs. – 4 1/4 to 4 3/4
- 20 to 24 lbs. – 4 3/4 to 5 1/4
Once cooked, let the turkey sit for at least 20 minutes before carving.
These are just a few of many safety tips to ensure your turkey feast is safe and delicious. For a comprehensive list, visit the USDA.gov.* You'll be thankful you took the time to read them.
Links marked with * go to a third-party site not operated or endorsed by Arvest Bank, an FDIC-insured institution.