NDSU Extension Service - Ramsey County


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Time to Cook the Turkey

Time to Cook the Turkey


          According to the National Turkey Federation, the average weight of turkeys purchased for Thanksgiving is 15 pounds and approximately 690 million pounds of turkey are consumed in the U.S. during each Thanksgiving season.  If it is your turn to cook this year’s Thanksgiving turkey, it might be time to brush up on your turkey basics.

          If cooking a fresh turkey, allow 1 pound of turkey per person.

Buy your turkey only 1 to 2 days before you plan to cook and store in the refrigerator until you're ready to cook it. Place it on a tray or in a pan to catch any juices that may leak.

          For frozen turkeys, allow 1 pound of turkey per person. Turkeys can be kept frozen in the freezer indefinitely; however, cook within 1 year for best quality.  If purchasing a frozen pre-stuffed turkey, allow 1 ¼ pounds per person and purchase only turkeys that display the USDA or State mark of inspection on the packaging. These turkeys are safe because they have been processed under controlled conditions.  Pre-stuffed turkeys are the only turkeys we do not thaw before cooking. Cook from the frozen state and follow package directions for proper handling and cooking.

          There are three ways to thaw your turkey safely — in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave oven.  Keep the turkey in its original wrapper. Place it on a tray or in a pan to catch any juices that may leak. Allow approximately 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds of turkey. A thawed turkey can safely remain in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days.  If necessary, a turkey that has been properly thawed in the refrigerator may be refrozen.

          To thaw in cold water, allow approximately 30 minutes per pound.  Wrap your turkey securely; making sure the water is not able to leak through the wrapping. Submerge your wrapped turkey in cold tap water. Change the water every 30 minutes. Cook the turkey immediately after it is thawed and do not refreeze.

          For microwave thawing, check your owner's manual for the size turkey that will fit in your microwave oven, the minutes per pound and power level to use for thawing.  After microwave thawing, cook your turkey immediately. Do not refreeze or refrigerate your turkey.  

          Roast turkeys at an oven temperature no lower than 325 °F. For optimum safety, stuffing a turkey is not recommended.  A whole turkey is safe when cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165 °F as measured with a food thermometer. Check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast.  If your turkey has a "pop-up" temperature indicator, it is recommended that you still check the internal temperature of the turkey in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast with a food thermometer.

          A typical 14-18 pound turkey will require 3 ¾-4 ¼ hours of roasting time. If your roasting pan does not have a lid, you may place a tent of heavy-duty aluminum foil over the turkey for the first 1 to 1 ½ hours. This allows for maximum heat circulation, keeps the turkey moist, and reduces oven splatter. To prevent overbrowning, foil may also be placed over the turkey after it reaches the desired color. For quality, let the turkey stand for 20 minutes before carving to allow juices to set. The turkey will carve more easily!



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