Cooking a Turkey!

You're hosting the family Thanksgiving dinner this year!  You already know what side dishes you will make, but you've never had to cook a big turkey before.  Here are some great tips to keep your Thanksgiving turkey safe for all!

First, decide if you're going ot make a fresh or frozen turkey.  Either one is a good choice, but you will need to take special steps once you decide.


Fresh Turkeys

  • Fresh turkeys should not be bought more than 1-2 days before you cook it.  Keep it in the refrigerator until you are ready to cook it and keep it on a large tray or pan to catch any raw juices that may leak.  It is best to store on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator to limit any juices from getting into your other food.
  • NEVER buy fresh turkeys that are pre-stuffed.  Harmful bacteria can live in the stuffing and could make you and your family sick.
  • Plan for about 1 pound of turkey per person.

Frozen Turkeys

  • Keep the turkey frozen until you are ready to thaw it.  Turkeys can be kept frozen in the freezer for a long time; use it within one year for the best quality.
  • Allow 1 pound of turkey per person.

Thawing Your Turkey

  • Thaw your turkey in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave. 
  • Allow 24 hours for every 4-5 pounds of turkey if you are thawing the refrigerator.  A 4-12 pound turkey will take 1-3 days to thaw; a 12-20 pound turkey will take 3-4 days to thaw.  Keep the turkey in its original wrapper.  Keep it on a large tray or pan to catch any raw juices that may leak.
  • Allow 30 minutes per pound of turkey if you are thawing it in running water.  Wrap your turkey well so that 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 right after it is thawed.
  • Use your owner's manual to see what size turkey you can thaw in your microwave and how many minutes per pound it will take.  Remove all outside wrapping and put the turkey on a microwave-safe dish to catch any juices that may leak.  Cook your turkey right after you have thawed it in the microwave.

Roasting Your Turkey

  •  Turn your oven to 325 degrees.  Put your turkey on a rack in a shallow roasting pan.
  • Cook your stuffing outside of the bird; do not stuff your turkey. 
  • Use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of the whole turkey, at the thickest part of the turkey breast.
  • Your turkey must reach 165 degrees before serving.
  • If your turkey has a pop-up thermometer, you should still check the internal temperature, which should be at least 165 degrees. 
  • Let the turkey stand for 20 minutes before carving it to let the juices set and carve more easily.


(Adapted from "Let's Talk Turkey:  A Consumer Guide to Safely Roasting a Turkey" by U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service, April, 2010)
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© Eat Smart, Be Fit Maryland!Maira Gall