Countdown to the Thanksgiving Holiday  

As Thanksgiving approaches, cooking the traditional turkey dinner gives rise to anxieties and questions. A few simple steps will not only ease your holiday fears, but will ensure a delicious and a safe meal for you, your family, and your friends. The following information may help you prepare your special Thanksgiving meal and help you countdown to the holiday.

Plan Ahead. Plan your menu several weeks before the holiday. Shopping early will ease the countdown tension for your Thanksgiving meal. Ask these questions to help plan your meal.

Do I want to purchase fresh or frozen turkey? If you choose to buy a frozen bird you may do so at any time, but make sure you have adequate storage space in your freezer. If you buy a fresh turkey, be sure you purchase it only 1-2 days before cooking.

How much turkey do I need to purchase?

Type of Turkey Pounds to Buy
Whole bird 1 pound per person
Boneless breast of turkey ½ pound per person
Breast of turkey (bone in)  ¾ pound per person
Pre-stuffed frozen turkey 
Do not buy a pre-stuffed fresh turkey
1 ¼ pounds per person -keep frozen until ready to cook

How and when do I thaw frozen turkey?  The options to safely thaw frozen turkey include thawing in the refrigerator, in cold water or in the microwave.

To thaw the turkey in the refrigerator place frozen turkey as originally wrapped in the refrigerator (40 °F or below). Allow approximately 24 hours per 4 to 5 pounds of turkey. A thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator for 1-2 days.

To thaw the turkey in cold water submerge the turkey in cold water and change the water every 30 minutes. Allow about 30 minutes defrosting time per pound of turkey. Cook immediately after thawing.

Microwave thawing is safe it the turkey is not too large. Check the manufacturer’s instructions for the size turkey that will fit into your oven, the minutes per pound, and the power level to sue for thawing. Cook immediately after thawing.

Size of Turkey Number of Days to Thaw
in the Refrigerator
Number of Hours to Thaw in
Cold Water
4 to 12 pounds 1 to 3 days 2 to 6 hours
12 to 16 pounds  3 to 4 days 6 to 8 hours
16 to 20 pounds 4 to 5 days 8 to 10 hours
20 to 24 pounds 5 to 6 days 10 to 12 hours

The day before Thanksgiving Day, make sure you have all the ingredients you need to prepare your holiday meal. Check to make sure you have all the equipment you will need such as a roasting pan large enough for the turkey and a food thermometer. Wet and dry stuffing ingredients can be prepared and refrigerated separately.

On Thanksgiving Day, if you choose to stuff your turkey, stuff loosely. The stuffing should be moist, not dry, since head destroys bacteria ore rapidly in a moist environment. Place the turkey in the oven immediately after placing the stuffing in the cavity of the turkey. You may choose to cook your stuffing outside the bird in a casserole dish. The approximate times listed are for a fresh or thawed turkey in an oven at 325°F.

Timetable for Turkey Roasting - (325°F oven temperature)

Cooking Time  Unstuffed Turkey Number of Hours to Thaw in
Cold Water
8 to 12 pounds 2 ¾ to 3 hours 3 to 3 ½ hours
12 to 14 pounds 3 to 3 ¾ hours 3 ½ to 4 hours
14 to 18 pounds 3 ¾ to 4 ¼ hours 4 to 4 ¼ hours
18 to 20 pounds 4 ¼ to 4 ½ hours 4 ½ to 4 ¾ hours
20 to 24 pounds 4 ½ to 5 hours 4 ¾ to 5 ¼ hours

Use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of the turkey. A whole turkey is safe cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165°F throughout the bird. Check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh, wing, and the thickest part of the breast. All turkey meat, including any that remains pink, is safe to eat as soon as all parts reach at least 165°F. Do not serve pink any parts that are pink unless the turkey meat temperature was checked with a thermometer. The stuffing should reach 165°F, whether cooked inside the bird or in a separate dish.

After removing the turkey from the oven, let it stand 20 minutes before removing the stuffing and carving.

To Store leftover turkey and dressing, cut the turkey into small pieces; refrigerate stuffing and turkey separately in shallow containers within 2 hours of cooking. Use refrigerated leftover turkey and dressing within 3 to 4 days. Unlike microorganisms that cause food to spoil, harmful or pathogenic bacteria cannot be smelled or tasted therefore, reheat thoroughly to a temperature of 165°F or until hot and steaming.

More information about food safety can be found at: