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Don't Stress While Preparing Your Turkey

Thanksgiving is only a week away and for many, preparing the main dish, the turkey, can bring stress. What size should be purchased? What do you do with it when you get it home? There are so many questions.

If you are purchasing a whole bird, you will need to figure on 1 pound per person, boneless turkey breast one half pound per person, and bone in turkey breast three fourth pound per person.

When it comes time to thaw your turkey, remember that a frozen turkey takes time and patience. The safest method is to thaw it in the refrigerator. Be sure to plan ahead, it takes approximately 24 hours for every 4 pounds of turkey to fully defrost in the refrigerator. Keep the turkey in its original wrapper. Place it on a tray or in a pan 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.

If you forgot to thaw your turkey, or don’t have room to thaw in the refrigerator, don’t stress. Wrap your turkey securely; making sure the water is not able to leak through the wrapping. Submerge wrapped turkey in cold tap water, never warm or hot. Change the water every 30 minutes. Cook the turkey immediately after it is thawed. Do not refreeze.

Remember, always wash hands, utensils, sink, and anything else that comes in contact with raw turkey and its juices with soap and water.

Regardless of the thawing method you choose, avoid a holiday blunder and remove the giblets from the turkey cavities after thawing. Cook those separately.

Now time to cook the star of the show, set your oven temperature no lower than 325 °F. Place your turkey or turkey breast on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. Tuck wing tips under the shoulders of the bird for more even cooking. This is referred to as "akimbo."

If your roasting pan does not have a lid, you may place a tent of heavy-duty aluminum foil over the turkey for the first 1 to 1 ½ hours. This allows for maximum heat circulation, keeps the turkey moist, and reduces oven splatter. To prevent overbrowning, foil may also be placed over the turkey after it reaches the desired color.

For optimum safety, stuffing a turkey is not recommended. For more even cooking, it is recommended you cook your stuffing outside the bird in a casserole. Use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of the stuffing. The stuffing must reach a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F. If you choose to stuff your turkey, the ingredients can be prepared ahead of time; however, keep wet and dry ingredients separate. Chill all of the wet ingredients (butter/margarine, cooked celery and onions, broth, etc.). Mix wet and dry ingredients just before filling the turkey cavities. Fill the cavities loosely. Cook the turkey immediately. Use a food thermometer to make sure the center of the stuffing reaches a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F.

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. For reasons of personal preference, consumers may choose to cook turkey to higher temperatures.

If your turkey has a "pop-up" temperature indicator, it is recommended that you also check the internal temperature of the turkey in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast with a food thermometer. The minimum internal temperature should reach 165 °F for safety.

For quality, let the turkey stand for 20 minutes before carving to allow juices to set. The turkey will carve more easily. If you cooked the turkey with stuffing, remove all stuffing from the turkey cavities.

Preparing your Thanksgiving bird, can be stress free, if you follow the tips mentioned above. Click for your free copy of Let’s Talk Turkey, featuring thawing methods, cooking times, recipes and more, contact our office at the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture in Miller County. Call 870-779-3609, visit us in the Miller County Courthouse, or email me at

By Carla Haley Hadley M.S.
County Extension Agent
Family & Consumer Sciences
The Cooperative Extension Service
U of A System Division of Agriculture

Media Contact: Carla Haley Hadley M.S.
County Extension Agent
Family & Consumer Sciences
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service