Cooking a Thanksgiving Turkey

The holidays are fast approaching.  It is a time when family and friends gather looking forward to sharing traditional holiday fare of turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and pie.

Family traditions often dictate how a turkey is cooked.  Roasting the turkey is a top favorite although the details may differ from family to family.  Maybe it is soaked in brine overnight, it might be a spice mix rubbed in the skin or the frequency of basting with butter during the roasting time.  However, it is prepared, there is no doubting that the Thanksgiving turkey is the star of the festive table.

If you buy a frozen turkey, the USDA website has some easy to follow guidelines for the safe thawing of your Thanksgiving turkey.  It’s important to check that the turkey does not reach the food danger zone of 40 and 140 °F.  This is the temperature zone where foodborne bacteria multiply rapidly.  It’s not always easy to know the correct temperature of the turkey during thawing, especially when the outer may have thawed but the inside remains frozen.  It is always best to check with a pocket digital thermometer to make sure safe food temperatures are maintained.

USDA recommends that the safest methods of defrosting a turkey are in the refrigerator, in cold water or in the microwave oven.

Recommended times for refrigerator and cold water thawing of a whole turkey are below:

Defrosting Your Thanksgiving Turkey

Refrigerator Thawing Times 

  • 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

Cold Water Thawing Times 

  • 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

With the turkey safely thawed, it’s time to cook.  Basic guidelines for roasting a whole bird are:

Cooking Your Thanksgiving Turkey

This method is a rough guideline only and works best for a turkey between 12 to 16 pounds in weight.

  • Allow 13 minutes of cooking time for every pound of turkey if roasting the bird empty and 15 minutes per pound if the turkey is stuffed.

  • Heat the oven to 450°F to preheat and then drop the temperature to 350°F when putting the turkey into the oven.

  • The turkey is done when it registers a minimum of 165°F in the thickest part of the thigh. Use a meat thermometer to measure the temperature accurately.

  • Rest the turkey for at least 15 minutes before carving.

It can be daunting cooking for a large crowd but following a few simple tips means your turkey can be cooked to perfection and the main worry will be who wins the football!


Related Article: How to Defrost Chicken Safely