Tips for thawing, cooking turkey

November 19, 2003

Turkey can be thawed in the refrigerator, in cold water or in the microwave. Whole turkey takes about 24 hours per 4 to 5 pounds to thaw in the refrigerator. Turkey takes about 30 minutes per pound to thaw in cold water. The water should be changed every half-hour. Follow package instructions for thawing a bird in the microwave.

Never defrost turkey on the counter.

Once thawed, keep turkey refrigerated at 40 degrees or below until it is ready to be cooked. Turkey thawed in the microwave should be cooked immediately.

- Source: National Turkey Federation at

The National Turkey Federation gives the safety tips to follow when preparing turkey:

  • Never defrost a turkey on the counter.

  • Change the water every 30 minutes if defrosting a turkey in cold water.

  • Stuffing should be prepared and stuffed into the turkey immediately before it's placed in the oven for cooking.

  • If preparing the stuffing ahead of time, wet and dry ingredients should be refrigerated separately and combined right before stuffing the turkey.

  • Use a two-step test for turkey doneness: Insert a meat thermometer into the deepest portion of the thigh, not touching bone, and allow it to come to temperature for an accurate reading. Once the thigh has reached 180 degrees, move the thermometer to the center of the stuffing. Remove the turkey from the oven when the stuffing has reached 160 to 165 degrees.

  • Re-sanitize cutting boards and knives every 30 minutes if carving a large number of turkeys.

  • To keep roasted turkeys that won't be served immediately safe and moist, place the birds in shallow pans, cover them with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

  • Leftovers should be stored in shallow containers and refrigerated or frozen within two hours of cooking.

  • Remove the stuffing from the turkey's cavity, and carve the extra turkey meat from the bones. Use cooked turkey and stuffing within 3 to 4 days and gravy in 1 to 2 days. Cooked turkey keeps for 3 to 4 months in the freezer.

  • When using leftovers, reheat the foods to 165 degrees or until hot and steaming. Bring gravy to a boil before serving.

- Source:

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