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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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.
- 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.
- 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 TurkeyThere 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.
- Reheat turkey, stuffing, and gravy to 165°F.