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Taking the stress out of preparing the perfect turkey

By Carla Haley-Hadley 
The Cooperative Extension Service
U of A System Division of Agriculture 

Fast Facts:

  • Plan ahead for thawing time if using a frozen bird
  • Resist the urge to open the oven before the bird is done
  • Heat all areas of the bird to 165°F

(669 words) 

TEXARKANA, Ark. – As Thanksgiving approaches, we want the star of the show to be the turkey. With just a little know-how, you can prepare a stress-free turkey.

One of the first decisions to make is whether to use a fresh or frozen bird. If you choose a frozen bird, you may purchase it at any time — assuming, of course, that you have adequate storage space in your freezer. Remember to take thawing times into account as Thanksgiving Day approaches: it takes approximately 24 hours per 5 pounds of turkey to fully defrost. The safest method is to thaw turkey in the refrigerator.

If buying a fresh turkey, purchase only 1-2 days before cooking, and never buy a pre-stuffed fresh bird: it allows bacteria to spread easily from the bird to the stuffing. Instead, buy a fresh turkey and stuff it yourself.

Cooking times will differ depending upon fresh or frozen. In a 325° oven, plan on 20 minutes per for a defrosted turkey and 10-15 minutes per pound for a fresh turkey.

Before you begin roasting, coat the outside of the turkey with vegetable or olive oil, season with salt and pepper and tightly cover the breast with aluminum foil to prevent over-browning. Once you get the turkey in the oven, resist the temptation to open the oven door. When the oven temperature fluctuates, you're only increasing the likelihood of a dry bird. About 45 minutes before the turkey is done, remove the foil from the breast to allow it to brown.

Using a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of the turkey will also help ensure a moist bird. A whole turkey is safe when cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165°F throughout. Check the temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and 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.

When the turkey is removed from the oven, let it stand 20 minutes. I know this might be hard, but it will allow the juices to seep back into the bird, yielding a moist bird. Take this time to finish up the meal.

Storing leftovers properly is just as important as cooking the bird. Cut your turkey into small pieces and place in shallow containers within two hours of cooking. Use or freeze leftover turkey within 3-4 days and gravy within 1-2 days. Reheat thoroughly to a temperature of 165°F or until hot and steaming.

Here is my grandmothers’ recipe for Perfect Roast Turkey. Hers came out perfect every time and was always delicious.

Grandma’s Perfect Roast Turkey

1 whole turkey
One half cup unsalted butter, softened
Salt and pepper to taste
One and one half quarts turkey or chicken stock

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place rack in lowest position in the oven. Remove turkey neck and giblets and set aside for gravy. Place the turkey, breast side up, on a rack in the roasting pan. Rub the skin with softened butter and season with salt and pepper. Make a tent over the bird with aluminum foil. Place in oven and pour 2 cups stock in the bottom of roasting pan.

Baste all over every 30 minutes with the juices from the bottom of the pan. As dripping evaporates, add more stock, 1 cup at a time. After two and one half hours, remove foil. Roast until meat thermometer inserted in thickest part of thigh, away from the bone, registers 165 degrees on meat thermometer. Transfer to large serving platter and let stand for at least 20 minutes before carving.

Tried and True Tip:

Remember to carve your turkey with a very sharp or electric knife.

If you would like to receive more information, contact the University of Arkansas Division of AG in Miller County at 400 Laurel Suite 215 in Texarkana, call 870-779-3609, or e-mail me at You can also get great recipes and tips at or twitter @MillerCountyFCS.



The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.  

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Media Contact: Mary Hightower
Dir. of Communication Services
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
(501) 671-2126

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