Did You Know …

— Written By Ivy Reid and last updated by Pam Brylowe

 Got Safe Turkey for Thanksgiving?

We all know turkey is the traditional Thanksgiving food but did you know that whether your Thanksgiving dinner settles well with your family and guests depends heavily on how the turkey is handled and prepared! Below are some food safety tips for helping make sure that your Thanksgiving meal is memorable for the right reasons.

If you are cooking a fresh turkey – Allow 1 pound of turkey per person. Buy your turkey only 1 to 2 days before you plan to use it. Keep it stored 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 drip.

If you choose a frozen turkey to cook – Allow 1 pound of turkey per person. Keep frozen until you’re ready to thaw it. Turkeys can be kept frozen in the freezer. Cook within 1 year for best quality.

You can use either the Refrigerator, Cold Water or Microwave method for thawing your frozen turkey.

Refrigerator Thawing Method:

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 the original wrapper. Place it on a tray or in a pan to catch any juices that may drip. 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.

Cold Water Thawing Method:

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.

Microwave Thawing Method:

Check with 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.

Remove all outside wrapping, including any metal or plastic that holds the legs together.

Place turkey on a microwave-safe dish to catch any juices that may drip.

Cook your turkey immediately. Do not refreeze or refrigerate your turkey after thawing in the microwave oven.

When you get ready to cook your turkey, set your oven temperature at no lower than 325 degrees. Use the timetables below to determine how long to cook your unstuffed turkey. These times are approximate.


4 to 8 pounds (breast) 1½ to 3¼ hours

8 to 12 pounds 2••• 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 4¼ to 5 hours

♦ 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, 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 165oF.

♦ A whole turkey is safe when cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165oF 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. Consumers may choose to cook turkey to higher temperatures.

♦ If your turkey has a “pop-up” temperature indicator, 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 165oF for safety.

♦ For quality, let the turkey stand for 20 minutes before carving to allow juices to set. The turkey will carve more easily.

Optional Cooking Hints

1. Tuck wing tips under the shoulders of the bird for more even cooking.

2. Add ½ cup of water to the bottom of the pan.

3. 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 1½ hours. This allows for maximum heat circulation, keeps the turkey moist, and reduced oven spatter. To prevent overbrowning, foil may also be placed over the turkey until it reaches the desired color.

4. If using an oven-proof food thermometer, place it in the turkey at the start of the cooking cycle. It will allow you to check the internal temperature of the turkey while it is cooking. For turkey breasts, place thermometer in the thickest part. For whole turkeys, place in the thickest part of the thigh. Once the thigh has reached 165oF, check the wing and the thickest part of the breast to ensure the turkey has reached a safe minimum internal temperature of 165oF throughout the product.

5. If using an oven cooking bag, follow the manufacturer’s guidelines on the package.

This article was prepared by Ivy Reid, Jones County Family and Consumer Sciences Agent with the Jones County Cooperative Extension Service using materials from the University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension at http://food.unl.edu/web/safety/thanksgiving-food-prep#1.

North Carolina State University and North Carolina A&T State University commit themselves to positive action to secure equal opportunity regardless of race, color, creed, national origin, religion, sex, age, veteran status, or disability. In addition, the two Universities welcome all persons without regard to sexual orientation. North Carolina State University, North Carolina A&T State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and local governments cooperating.

This article will be published in the Jones Post newspaper on November 15, 2012 and was written by Ivy Reid, County Extension Director.