NDSU Extension - Burleigh County


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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. Please refer to this publication Food Storage Guide Answers the Question...How long can I store FN579 for answers to your questions for how long you can save your uncooked food and leftovers.


Don't thaw poultry - or any frozen protein 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 cold water, and change the water at least every 30 minutes. Cook immediately after thawing in cold water.



    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.


• Don’t thaw poultry or any frozen food at room temperature.

• Use separate utensils and equipment for raw and cooked foods.


  • If you decide to stuff the turkey, mix the stuffing ingredients right before placing them in the bird. Be sure to stuff the bird loosely to allow for proper heating. Remove all of the stuffing after baking. However, for optimal safety, cook the stuffing in a separate dish. Be sure the stuffing reaches an internal temperature of 165 F.
  • Roast the turkey in an oven set at 325 F. Measure the temperature of the turkey in the thickest part of the breast and also the inner thigh. Using a food thermometer, check to ensure the internal temperature reads of at least 165 F; however, many people enjoy the doneness of birds roasted to 180 F, the former temperature recommendation. Allow about four hours to cook a 14- to 18-pound turkey. Keep in mind that adding stuffing may increase the cooking time.  
  • 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 to 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.

  • Alternatively, with proper equipment, you can grill, smoke or deep-fry turkeys, too. Follow the manufacturer’s directions when using special equipment.


• 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.
•If preferred, freeze leftover turkey in recipe-sized amounts in freezer containers, freezer bags or freezer wrap. Frozen food stays safe as long as it is solidly frozen. For best quality, use frozen turkey within six 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

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