Roasting a turkey this holiday season? Don’t fowl it up! The responsibility of preparing a delicious and SAFE holiday meal for your family and friends can be overwhelming, whether you’re a seasoned veteran or a first-timer. Roasting a turkey can be especially intimidating; maybe you’ve heard a few horror stories of turkey feasts gone wrong. Certainly foodborne pathogens are at the top of everyone’s ‘Most Unwanted’ list of guests for any holiday celebration. Before fear and panic set in, here are a few general tips that will help you plan and prepare a safe and special holiday meal to be thankful for!
Cleanliness is King
- The first rule of foods safety at home is to make sure everything is clean.
- Always wash hands with soap and water before and after handling foods.
- Wash and sanitize food-contact surfaces, utensils, cutting boards and dishes often.
Let’s Talk Turkey
- If you plan on purchasing a frozen turkey, you can pick it up any time as long as you have the freezer space to accommodate.
- If you’re going to buy a fresh turkey, do not purchase it until 1-2 days before and keep refrigerated.
- Wondering what size turkey to buy? Plan for about 1 pound of turkey per person.
The Great Thaw
- It is best to thaw your frozen turkey in the refrigerator (40°F or below). Allow approximately 24 hours per 4 to 5 pounds of turkey.
- A thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator for 1-2 days.
- If you forget to thaw the turkey or don’t have room in the refrigerator, don’t panic. You can submerge the turkey in cold water and change the water every 30 minutes. Allow about 30 minutes defrosting time per pound of turkey.
To Stuff or Not to Stuff?
- Stuffing can be cooked insid the turkey or in a separate dish. For more even cooking, it is recommended that you cook your stuffing outside the bird in a casserole dish.
- If you prefer to stuff the turkey, do so just before cooking and stuff loosely. The stuffing should be moist because heat will destroy bacteria faster in a moist environment.
- Use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of the stuffing. The center should reach at least 165°F whether cooked inside the bird or in a separate dish.
Get Your Cook On!
- One of the most common questions is, “How long should I cook my turkey?” Use the chart below to get an idea of how long to cook your turkey. These times are based on a 325°F oven and are only estimates. Use a food thermometer to check internal temperature of your turkey and stuffing.
|Size of Turkey||Cook Time – Stuffed||Cook Time – Unstuffed|
|8 to 12 pounds||3 to 3 ½ hours||2 ¾ to 3 hours|
|12 to 14 pounds||3 ½ to 4 hours||3 to 3 ¾ hours|
|14 to 18 pounds||4 to 4 ¼ hours||3 ¾ to 4 ¼ hours|
|18 to 20 pounds||4 ¼ to 4 ¾ hours||4 ¼ to 4 ½ hours|
|20 to 24 pounds||4 ¾ to 5 ¼ hours||4 ½ to 5 hours|
Is it done yet?
- A whole turkey is safe cooked at a minimum internal temperature of 165°F throughout.
- Check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast.
- All turkey meat, including any that remains pink, is safe to eat when all parts have reached at least 165°F.
- Let the cooked turkey stand at room temperature for 20 minutes, it will carve more easily. Remove all stuffing from inside the turkey.
- Refrigerate or freeze all leftovers within 2 hours.
- Cut leftover turkey into small pieces before refrigerating.
- Refrigerate or freeze everything separately in shallow, covered containers.
- Use refrigerated turkey and stuffing within 3 to 4 days. Use gravy within 1 to 2 days.
- If freezing, use leftovers within 2 to 6 months for best quality.
- Reheat turkey, stuffing, and gravy to 165°F.
For more information, click here to download a printable fact sheet published by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).