| About Us |  Partners |  Contact Us |  Get Involved |
Home Safe Food Handling Safety in All Seasons

Talking Turkey

Let's Talk Turkey—A Consumer Guide to Safely Roasting a Turkey

Fresh or Frozen?

Fresh Turkeys

  • Allow 1 pound of turkey per person.
  • Buy your turkey only 1 to 2 days before you plan to cook 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 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.

Frozen Turkeys

  • Allow 1 pound of turkey per person.
  • Keep frozen until you're ready to thaw it.
  • See "Thawing Your Turkey" for thawing instructions.

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.
  • DO NOT THAW before cooking. Cook from the frozen state. Follow package directions for proper handling and cooking.
  • Allow 1¼ pounds of turkey per person.


Thawing Your Turkey

There are three ways to thaw your turkey safely — in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave oven.

In the Refrigerator (40 °F or below)
Allow approximately 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds

4 to 12 pounds

1 to 3 day

12 to 16 pounds

3 to 4 days

16 to 20 pounds

4 to 5 days

20 to 24 pounds

5 to 6 day

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. Thawing your turkey in the refrigerator is the safest method and will result in the best finished product.

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.

In the Microwave Oven

  • 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.
  • Remove all outside wrapping.
  • Place on a microwave-safe dish to catch any juices that may leak.
  • Cook your turkey immediately. Do not refreeze or refrigerate your turkey after thawing in the microwave oven.

REMINDER: Remove the giblets from the turkey cavities after thawing. Cook separately.

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, about ¾ cup of stuffing per pound. 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. DO NOT stuff turkeys to be grilled, smoked, fried, or microwaved.
  • 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.
  • 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.

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.

Unstuffed

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

Stuffed

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


If you forgot to thaw, 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. Remove carefully with tongs or a fork.

REMEMBER! Always wash hands, utensils, the sink, and anything else that comes in contact with raw turkey and its juices with soap and water.

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 and stuffing within 3 to 4 days. Use gravy within 1 to 2 days.
  • If freezing leftovers, use within 2 to 6 months for best quality.

Reheating Your Turkey

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.
  • Consult your microwave oven owner's manual for recommended times and power levels.

Print a Talking Turkey Flyer


Resources

If you have more questions or concerns about food safety, contact:

  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854). TTY 1-800-256-7072.
  • The Fight BAC!® Web site at www.fightbac.org.
  • Gateway to Government Food Safety Information at www.foodsafety.gov
The Partnership for Food Safety Education is a non-profit organization and creator and steward of the Fight BAC!® consumer education program. The Partnership is dedicated to providing the public with science-based, actionable recommendations for the prevention of foodborne illness.
 

woman_girl_salad_photo_with_border
BECOME A BAC FIGHTER!

Join our email list to get weekly updates on what you can do to fight harmful BAC (bacteria)!

Are you a BAC Fighter? Find out now!


 Read about BAC Fighters on our Field Reports Blog

BAC Fighter Field Report:

Franken BAC at Frys Food & Drug Stores (A Kroger Co.)

Frys Food & Drug Stores used Halloween drawing contest to teach kids food safety.   

Franken_BAC_body_image

Read more! 

Food Safe Families

BAC Fighter Poll

Will you attend the Food Safety Education Conference hosted by the Partnership for Food Safety Education in Arlington, VA on December 4th and 5th of 2014?


Visit our other websites:

ecards
ecards
ecards

Follow Us


icon_facebookicon_twittericon_rssemailbuttonYoutubeButton_smallfinal_blog_button