thermometer_in_turkey_in_panHave questions about safely preparing your holiday meal? Refer to this quick reference for answers to common questions this time of year:

Q. Approximately how long should you allow for thawing a frozen turkey in the refrigerator?

A. 24 hours per each 4 – 5 pounds of turkey. In it’s original wrapper, place the frozen bird in the refrigerator (40˚F or below). To prevent cross contamination, be sure to place the turkey in a container.  A thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator for 1 – 2 days.


Q. How long should I cook the turkey?
Size of Turkey        Estimated Time to Reach 165˚F
8 – 12 pounds          2 ¾ – 3 hours
12 – 14 pounds        3 – 3¾ hours
14 – 18 pounds       3 ¾ – 4 ¼ hours
18 – 20 pounds       4 ¼ – 4 ½ hours
20 – 24 pounds       4 ½ – 5 hours

Size of Turkey      Estimated Time to Reach 165˚F
8 – 12 pounds        3 – 3 ½ hours
12 – 14 pounds      3 ½ – 4 hours
14 – 18 pounds     4 – 4 ¼ hours
18 – 20 pounds     4¼ – 4 ¾ hours
20 – 24 pounds     4 ¾ – 5 ¼ hours

Q. What is a safe internal temperature for cooking a whole turkey?
A. 165˚F. Use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of the turkey. Insert the thermometer in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast, making sure not to touch the bone.  All turkey meat, including any that remains pink, is safe to eat as soon as all parts reach at least 165˚F. Let the turkey stand 20 minutes after removing from the oven. Remove any stuffing and carve the turkey.

Q. What is the recommended temperature for stuffing?
A. 165˚F. The stuffing should reach 165˚F whether cooked inside the bird or in a separate dish.

Q. I want to stuff the turkey. How do I do this safely?
1. Cook any raw meat, poultry, or shellfish you plan to use before stuffing the turkey. Do not mix wet and dry ingredients until just before stuffing the turkey cavity; wet ingredients can be prepared ahead of time and refrigerated.
2. Spoon stuffing directly into the cavity right after preparation. Stuff loosely – plan for ¾ cup of stuffing per pound. The stuffing should be moist, not dry – bacteria is destroyed more quickly by heat in a moist environment. Do NOT stuff turkeys to be grilled, smoked, fried, or microwaved.
3. Cook the turkey immediately in an oven no lower than 325˚F.
4. Use a food thermometer to make sure the temperature of the turkey AND the center of the stuffing have reached a safe minimum internal temperature of 165˚F.
5. Let the cooked turkey rest for 20 minutes before removing the stuffing and carving.

Q. How long can I keep leftovers?
A. Refrigerate all leftovers within two hours after cooking. Divide cooked foods into shallow containers; this allows the center of the food to cool more quickly and evenly. Use within 3-4 days or freeze for longer storage. Be sure to reheat hot foods to at least 165˚F; sauces, soups, and gravies should be heated to a rolling boil.

For more information about holiday foods and food safety (in English and Spanish), call: USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline, 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854)

Source: Avoid Guessing About Holiday Food Safety, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension.