NDSU Extension Service - Burleigh County


| Share

Let's Talk Turkey

Make sure the turkey you serve this holiday season produces ONLY compliments. Follow these simple steps for a safe and delicious Thanksgiving meal.

Thawing Turkey1. THAWING  

Place the frozen bird in its original wrapper in the refrigerator (40 F or below).    Allow approximately 24 hours per 4-5 pounds of turkey.  A thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator for 1-2 days.

    THAWING TIME IN THE REFRIGERATOR                           

        Size of Turkey             Number of Days       

         4-12 pounds                       1-3 days

         12-16 pounds                     3-4 days

         16-20 pounds                     4-5 days

         20-24 pounds                     5-6 days


Wash your hands with warm, soapy water before preparing food and after your hands have come in contact with raw turkey.
• Use clean utensils and work surfaces.
• Clean dishes and work surfaces after thawing or preparing raw poultry.
• Remove plastic wrapping and parts inside the cavity.

3. SEPARATE - Don't Cross-Contaminate 

• Don’t thaw poultry or any frozen food at room temperature. You can thaw a frozen turkey in the refrigerator for up to four days.
Place your thawing turkey on a tray in the refrigerator to prevent its juices from dripping on other foods. Or thaw it in water that’s
70 degrees Fahrenheit or colder (change the water at least every 30 minutes).
• Check the “use-by” date on the package if you’ve purchased a fresh turkey.
• Use separate utensils and equipment for raw and cooked foods.


• It’s safest to cook your dressing in a separate container and not inside the bird. In place of dressing in the bird, you can stuff the cavity with onions, apples or a combination of both. If you choose to stuff your turkey the traditional way, prepare your dressing and stuff your bird loosely right before you cook it. As a rule of thumb, you’ll need about ¾ cup of dressing
per pound of turkey.
• Cook breast up at an oven temperature of 325 °F or hotter.
• Place foil over the breast to prevent overcooking, and remove it near the end of cooking to complete browning.
• Add a dab of butter or oil, if desired, to prevent the skin from drying and to provide a golden color. Season to your liking.
• When the skin begins to turn golden brown, the turkey is about two-thirds done.

Roasting Guidelines

• Measure the temperature by inserting the meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh muscle. Make sure the thermometer is not touching the bone. Check the temperature about 30 minutes before “done” time, according to the roasting guidelines, and again before serving. The temperature of the thigh muscle should reach 165 F and the juices should run clear, not pink. The stuffing temperature should reach 165 F.


                           COOKING TIME (Hours)

      Weight                      Unstuffed                 Stuffed

     8-12 pounds       ---      2 3/4 to 3      ---      3 to 3 1/2

     12-14 pounds     ---      3 to 3 3/4      ---      3 1/2 to 4

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

     18 - 20 pounds   ---       4 1/4 to 4 1/2 ---    4 1/4 to 4 3/4

     20-24 pounds     ---       4 1/2 to 5        ---    4 3/4 to 5 1/4   


• Let turkey stand for about 15 minutes for easier carving. Serve hot and finish serving within 2 hours.


• Remove stuffing and debone turkey before chilling. Store in shallow containers.
• Refrigerate immediately after meal and within 2 hours of cooking.
• Serve leftover turkey within four days. Serve leftover stuffing and gravy within two days, reheating to at least 165 F.
• For best quality, freeze plain cooked turkey at 0 F or below for up to four months.


More great info can be found at Turkey for the Holidays from the University of Illinois Extension


1) Butterball Turkey at www.butterball.com
2) USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service at www.fsis.usda.gov
3) USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline: 1-800-535-4555.

FN1443 - Let's Talk Turkey

Prepared by
Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist
Dean Hulse, Information Specialist
Shanna Stromsodt, Program Assistant

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/JPDaigle

Creative Commons License
Feel free to use and share this content, but please do so under the conditions of our Creative Commons license and our Rules for Use. Thanks.