Whether you’re cooking a turkey for the first or 40th time, it never hurts to brush up on how to do it safely. Our last post discussed basic food safety and storage, so today we will focus on November’s main event: the turkey!
Thawing Your Turkey
To minimize risk of food borne illness, keep your turkey frozen until you are ready to thaw. If you decide to get ahead on next year’s meal and buy two birds, you can safely store your second turkey in the freezer for an indefinite amount of time (although the quality of the
meat starts to decrease after one year.) The USDA advises against purchasing frozen, pre-stuffed turkeys unless they have a USDA symbol indicating the turkey has been processed under safe conditions. Check for the seal to the right when you buy your turkey!
There are 3 ways to thaw a turkey: in the microwave, in the refrigerator or in cold water. Please refer to the suggested thawing times in the charts below.
|Refrigerator (40⁰ or below)||Time to thaw*|
|4-12 lb||1-3 days|
|12-16 lb||3-4 days|
|16-20 lb||4-5 days|
|20-24 lb||5-6 days|
*Estimate 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds of turkey
|Cold water (40⁰ or below)||Time to thaw**|
|4-12 lb||2-6 hours|
|12-16 lb||6-8 hours|
|16-20 lb||8-10 hours|
|20-24 lb||10-12 hours|
**Estimate 30 minutes of soaking in cold water for every pound of turkey
Tip: If thawing in cold water, make sure the turkey is in a sealed plastic bag to ensure against cross contamination and to prevent the turkey from absorbing water. Cook the turkey just after thawing.
Microwave – As long as your turkey is small enough to fit inside, you can thaw it in the microwave. Before settling on this method, be sure to review your microwave’s owner’s manual. Your manual will outline specific recommended turkey sizes, thaw times and power levels (temperature), which differ for each device. In the microwave, turkeys should be thawed without wrapping and on microwave-safe dish to catch drippings. Most importantly, a turkey prepped in the microwave should be cooked immediately after thawing.
Cooking Your Turkey
First, after your turkey is thawed, remember to remove the giblets from the inside of the turkey. Be sure to cook giblets separately from the rest of the bird. After separating the giblets, set your oven temperature at no less than 325⁰F and place the turkey (or turkey breast) on a rack in a roasting pan. If you use a roasting pan, it should be 1-3 inch deep to catch the juices.
|Weight of Unstuffed Turkey||Roasting Time|
|4-8 lb||1hr 30 min- 3 hr 15 min|
|8-12 lb||2 hr 45 min-3 hr|
|12-14 lb||3 hr- 3 hr 45 min|
|14-18 lb||3 hr 45 min- 4 hr 15 min|
|18-20 lb||4 hr 15 min- 4 hr 30 min|
|20-24 lb||4 hr 30 min- 5 hr|
Tip: the internal temperature of the turkey should reach at least 165⁰F when it is fully cooked. Anticipate that your turkey may take longer than you think to reach this temperature, and allow for extra roasting time if necessary!
Worried about your turkey’s cooked color? Sometimes fully-cooked turkey meat will look pink due to the presence of myoglobin, a protein involved in oxygen storage. If your bird was young, active, or a smoker (just joking – if it was a smoked meat), it may have more pink-colored meat. As long as the food thermometer reads 165⁰F, you can enjoy your meal worry-free!
Stuffing your turkey? The USDA does not recommend stuffing your turkey due to risk of bacterial growth. Often, stuffing fails to reach the safe internal threshold of 165⁰F. If you do choose to stuff your turkey, use a food thermometer. You can also cook your stuffing outside the bird. Also, refer to the recommended roasting times here.
Cooking a frozen turkey without thawing? It CAN be safely done; however, this method will take 50% longer than a cooking a pre-thawed turkey. So if you have a 14-18 lb frozen turkey, you will need approximately 5 hr 37 min- 6 hr 17 min to reach an internal temperature of 165⁰F. Plan accordingly!
And, once again, remember that if you have any questions on turkey day, the Toll-free USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline is there to help! Reach food safety specialists from 7am-1pm (CT) at 1-888-674-6854.
HAVE A HAPPY, HEALTHY AND SAFE THANKSGIVING!!