Turkey: Thawing, Cooking and Questions

Buying and Thawing a Turkey
Want some tips on how to pick out and how to thaw a turkey?. Don’t be stuck with a turkey that is too small for your gathering or still frozen the morning of your feast! Use these guidelines to avoid those mistakes:

FrozenturkeyHow to Buy a Turkey

Things to think about:

  • Size. Count on 1 to 1 ½ pounds of turkey for each guest, depending on whether you want plenty of leftovers or just a few. You can also choose to buy two medium-sized turkeys rather than one giant one, to cut the cooking time. This also allows you to cut one turkey for serving while the whole bird is displayed on the table.
  • Fresh or Frozen? This depends on your needs. A fresh turkey costs more but doesn’t need thawing. Some butchers also offer “heritage” breeds of turkey. (You should buy it no more than one or two days ahead of time–it’s best to order in advance from your butcher or grocery store meat department). Frozen turkeys are less expensive and available year-round, but must be thawed before cooking.

How to Thaw a Turkey

There are two safe methods for thawing a turkey:

  1. In the refrigerator. This is the preferred method, but can be difficult to arrange with a fully stocked fridge. Clear some space and allow one day for every 5 pounds of meat: a 15-pound turkey will require three days to thaw thoroughly.
  2. Submerged in cold water. Using your sink or a bucket, keep the turkey in its original wrapper and make sure it is completely covered with cold water. You may need to cover the turkey with a plate and place some heavy cans on top of it to keep it totally submerged. It is vital for the sake of safety that you change the cold water every 30 minutes. Using this method, it will take approximately 30 minutes per pound to thaw a turkey.

It is also possible to use a combination of the two methods–use the fridge for the first two days of thawing, and the sink on the day before Thanksgiving, when the refrigerator fills up with other holiday dishes.



Turkey FUNdamentals: Top Questions for Cooking a Turkey

The USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline has been answering consumer questions related to Holiday meals for over 25 years. Of course, we get the usual questions about buying, thawing and roasting a turkey. But we also get some of the same not-so-typical questions each year. You may have had these questions yourself.

How long will it take to cook two turkeys at the same time?

The cooking time is determined by the weight of one bird—not the combined weight. Use the weight of the smaller bird to determine cooking time.  Use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of the smaller bird first and then check the second bird. A whole turkey is safe when cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165 °F as measured with a food thermometer. Check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. When cooking two turkeys at the same time make sure there is enough oven space for proper heat circulation.

How long will it take to cook a turkey weighing over 25 lbs?

To cook a large turkey use the Timetables for Turkey Roasting for an unstuffed turkey, which can be found in Turkey Basics: Safe Cooking. Add 10 minutes per pound for turkeys over 24 pounds. We don’t recommend stuffing a turkey over 24 pounds. Make sure you have a heavy pan large enough to hold the turkey. Be sure to make sure there is enough space in the oven for proper heat circulation.

If a turkey has a “pop-up” temperature indicator do I still need to use a thermometer?

Pop-up temperature indicators are constructed from a food-approved nylon. The indicator pops up when the food has reached the final temperature for safety and doneness. Pop-up temperature indicators have been produced since 1965 and are reliable to within 1 to 2 °F if accurately placed in the product. But it is also suggested that the temperature be checked with a conventional food thermometer in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast to ensure safety.

Is it safe to cook a turkey from the frozen state?

Yes, it is safe to cook a turkey from the frozen state. The cooking time will take at least 50% longer than recommended for a fully thawed turkey. Remember to remove the giblet packages during the cooking time. Remove the packages carefully with tongs or a fork.

Posted by Diane Van, Food Safety Education Staff Deputy Director, USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, on November 2011


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