Turkey: Safe Thawing and Cooking

Food safety tips for handling, thawing, roasting, storing, and reheating turkey.

Minnesota Department of Health Consumer Fact Sheet
Revised August, 2011

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Turkey: Safe Thawing and Cooking (PDF: KB/2 pages)

Handle Food Safely

  • Always wash your hands before and after handling food.
  • Keep the kitchen, dishes and utensils clean.
  • Always serve food on clean plates.
  • Do not use the same platter and utensils for raw and cooked meat/poultry.

Fresh Turkey

  • Buy the turkey only 1 or 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 pan to catch any juices that may leak.
  • Do not buy fresh pre-stuffed turkeys. If not handled properly, harmful bacteria that may be in the stuffing can multiply rapidly.

Frozen Turkey

  • Keep frozen until you’re ready to thaw it.
  • Turkeys can be kept in the freezer indefinitely. However, cook turkeys within 1 year for the best quality.

Thawing Your Turkey

There are three ways to thaw your turkey safely:
  • Thawing in the Microwave Oven:
    • Check your owner’s manual for the minutes per pound and the power level to use for thawing.
    • Remove all outside wrapping.
    • Place on a microwave-safe dish to catch any juices that might leak.
    • Cook your turkey immediately after thawing in the microwave.
    • Do not refreeze.

  • Thawing in the Refrigerator:
    • Keep the turkey in its original wrapper.
    • Place it on a tray 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 in the refrigerator Time to thaw (allow 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds)
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

 

  • Thawing in Cold Water:
    • Wrap your turkey securely, making sure water is not able to leak through the wrapping.
    • Submerge the wrapped turkey in cold tap water.
    • Change the water every 30 minutes.
    • Cook the turkey immediately after it is thawed.
    • Do not refreeze.
Thawing in cold water Time to thaw (allow 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

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 the turkey on a rack in a shallow roasting pan.
  • For more even cooking, it is recommended that you cook your stuffing outside the bird in a casserole dish. Use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of the stuffing. The center should reach at least 165°F.
  • If you choose to stuff your turkey, fill the cavity just before cooking. Fill the cavities loosely. Use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of the stuffing. The center should reach at least 165°F.
  • To check the doneness of a whole turkey, insert a food thermometer in the thickest part of the inner thigh without touching the bone. A whole turkey should be cooked to 165°F.
  • To check the doneness of a turkey breast, insert a food thermometer in the thickest part of the breast. A turkey breast should be cooked to 165°F.
  • If your turkey has a pop-up temperature indicator, it is recommended that you also check the internal temperature of the turkey and the stuffing.
  • Let the turkey stand for 20 minutes after cooking. It will carve more easily.
  • Remove all stuffing from the turkey cavities.

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


Timetables for Turkey Roasting (325°F oven temperature):

These times are estimates. Always use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of your turkey and stuffing (165°F).

Unstuffed Turkey Time to cook
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 Turkey Time to cook
4 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

Storing Leftover Turkey

  • Throw away turkey, stuffing, and gravy left out at room temperature longer than 2 hours (1 hour in temperatures above 90 °F).
  • Divide leftovers into small 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, use leftovers within 2 to 6 months for best quality.

Reheating Leftovers

  • Reheat turkey, stuffing, and gravy to 165°F.





Updated Thursday, February 20, 2014 at 02:13PM