USDALet’s Talk Turkey—A Consumer Guide to Safely Roasting a Turkey You are the last line of defense in protecting your family from food borne bacteria that can sicken your family. Your best tool in food safety is a food thermometer. If you don’t have one Get One, most food markets and department stores will have an assortment for you to choose from.
Fresh Turkey Few people will know where to buy or how to select Fresh Turkey for this years Thanksgiving or Christmas meals. However birds bought from the grower or those that have raised their own birds need to know:
Allow 1 pound of turkey per person.
Buy kill and process your turkey only 1 to 2 days before you plan to cook it.
Keep it stored in the refrigerator at 40 degrees or lower temperature until you’re ready to cook it. Place your bird on a tray or in a pan to catch any juices that may leak.
Do not buy fresh pre-stuffed turkeys. If not handled properly, any harmful bacteria that may be in the stuffing can multiply very quickly and may not be killed when you bake or roast your Big Bird…
REMINDER: Remove the giblets from the turkey cavities after thawing. Cook separately.
Allow 1 pound of turkey per person.
Keep frozen until you’re ready to thaw it for roasting.
Turkeys can be kept frozen in the freezer indefinitely, however, for best quality, cook within 1 year.
Frozen Pre-Stuffed Turkeys
USDA recommends only buying frozen pre-stuffed 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.
Thawing Your TurkeyThaw your turkey in the refrigerator.
Allow approximately 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds
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
Keep the turkey in its original wrapper. Place it on a tray or in a pan to catch any juices that may leak. A thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days. If necessary, a turkey that has been properly thawed in the refrigerator may be refrozen.
In Cold Water
Allow approximately 30 minutes per pound
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
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. Do not refreeze.
Roasting Your Turkey
Set your oven temperature no lower than 325 °F.
Place your turkey or turkey breast on a rack in a shallow roasting pan.
For optimum safety, stuffing a turkey is not recommended. For more even cooking, it is recommended you cook your stuffing outside the bird in a casserole. Use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of the stuffing. The stuffing must reach a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F.
If you choose to stuff your turkey, the ingredients can be prepared ahead of time, however, keep wet and dry ingredients separate. Chill all of the wet ingredients (butter/margarine, cooked celery and onions, broth, etc.). Mix wet and dry ingredients just before filling the turkey cavities. Fill the cavities loosely. Cook the turkey immediately. Use a food thermometer to make sure the center of the stuffing reaches a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F.
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. For reasons of personal preference, consumers may choose to cook turkey to higher temperatures.
Even if your turkey has a “pop-up” temperature indicator, it is recommended that you also 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. The minimum internal temperature should reach 165 °F for safety.
For quality, let the turkey stand for 20 minutes before carving to allow juices to set. The turkey will carve more easily. Remove all stuffing from the turkey cavities.
Timetables for Turkey Roasting (325 °F oven temperature)
Use the timetables below to determine how long to cook your turkey. These times are approximate. Always use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of your turkey and stuffing.
4 to 8 pounds (breast) 1½ to 3¼ hours
8 to 12 pounds 2¾ to 3 hours
12 to 14 pounds 3 to 3¾ hours
14 to 18 pounds 3¾ to 4¼ hours
18 to 20 pounds 4¼ to 4½ hours
20 to 24 pounds 4½ to 5 hours
4 to 6 pounds (breast) Not usually applicable
6 to 8 pounds (breast) 2½ to 3½ hours
8 to 12 pounds 3 to 3½ hours
12 to 14 pounds 3½ to 4 hours
14 to 18 pounds 4 to 4¼ hours
18 to 20 pounds 4¼ to 4¾ hours
20 to 24 pounds 4¾ to 5¼ hours
It is safe to cook a turkey from the frozen state. The cooking time will take at least 50 percent longer than recommended for a fully thawed turkey. Remember to remove the giblet packages during the cooking time.
Optional Cooking Hints
Add 1/2 cup of water to the bottom of the pan.
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 1-1/2 hours. This allows for maximum heat circulation, keeps the turkey moist, and reduces oven splatter. To prevent over browning, foil may also be placed over the turkey after it reaches the desired color.
For information on other methods for cooking a turkey, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline
Storing Your Leftovers
Discard any turkey, stuffing, and gravy left out at room temperature longer than 2 hours, 1 hour in temperatures above 90 °F.
Divide leftovers into smaller portions. Refrigerate or freeze in covered shallow containers for quicker cooling.
Use refrigerated turkey, stuffing, and gravy within 3 to 4 days.
If freezing leftovers, use within 2 to 6 months.
Reheating Your Turkey
Cooked turkey may be eaten cold or reheated.
In the Oven Set the oven temperature no lower than 325 °F. Reheat turkey to an internal temperature of 165 °F. Use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature. To keep the turkey moist, add a little broth or water and cover.
In the Microwave Oven Cover your food and rotate it for even heating. Allow standing time. Check the internal temperature of your food with a food thermometer to make sure it reaches 165 °F.
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