Whether this is your first bird or your annual tradition, it’s best to be sure you’ve done all you can to keep your guests healthy when preparing a Thanksgiving turkey. 

  • Make room in your refrigerator before purchasing the turkey. You’ll want to buy at least one pound of uncooked turkey per person. 
  • Fresh turkeys have a shorter shelf life. Frozen turkeys need to be thawed. Either one will taste good. Buying frozen allows you to take advantage of sales.
  • Buy a fresh turkey one to two days before Thanksgiving. Buy a frozen turkey at least three to four days in advance. 
  • It takes 24 hours per 4 to 5 pounds of bird for a frozen turkey to thaw in the refrigerator. Give yourself plenty of time. 
  • Never defrost a turkey on the counter. Leave the frozen bird in its packaging and place it in a shallow pan to thaw in the refrigerator. 
  • Remove neck and giblets.
  • Refrigerate bird and parts at 40°F until it’s ready to go in the oven.
  • It’s best to cook stuffing in a separate pan.
  • If you prefer to stuff your bird, however, prepare the stuffing and stuff it into your turkey immediately before it goes into the oven. 
  • Mix the wet and dry ingredients separately and combine just before using. 
  • Stuff the turkey loosely, about 3/4 cup stuffing per pound of turkey.
  • Cook stuffing to a minimum temperature of 165°F.
  • Get a food thermometer. You’ll need it to ensure your turkey is cooked to the proper temperature.
  • Stuffed turkeys take longer to cook. 
  • Here are general guidelines for turkeys in a conventional oven at 325°F:
Unstuffed Turkey
8 to 12 pounds 
12 to 14 pounds 
14 to 18 pounds 
18 to 20 pounds 
20 to 24 pounds
        2-3/4 to 3 hours 
3 to 3-3/4 hours 
3-3/4 to 4-1/4 hours 
4-1/4 to 4-1/2 hours 
4-1/2 to 5 hours
Stuffed Turkey
8 to 12 pounds 
12 to 14 pounds 
14 to 18 pounds 
18 to 20 pounds 
20 to 24 pounds
        3 to 3-1/2 hours 
3-1/2 to 4 hours 
4 to 4-1/4 hours 
4-1/4 to 4-3/4 hours 
4-3/4 to 5-1/4 hours
  • To check the bird’s temperature, insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh, being sure not to touch bone. 
  • Cook to a minimum internal temperature of 165°F. Do not exceed 170°F in the breast or 180°F in the thigh.
  • Let the turkey sit for 20 minutes before carving.
  • Remove all stuffing from inside the bird. 
  • Use a clean cutting board with a well to catch the juices.
  • Use a sharp, clean knife.
Store and eat, again
  • Do not let extra turkey, stuffing or other food sit out for more than two hours.
  • Carve extra meat from the turkey’s bones. Store in shallow containers in the refrigerator or freezer. 
  • Eat cooked leftover turkey, stuffing and gravy within 3-4 days. Cooked turkey will keep for 3-4 months in the freezer.  
  • Cook leftovers to 165°F or until hot and steaming. 
  • If using a microwave to reheat food, cover the food, stir and rotate it to avoid cold pockets where bacteria can survive. 
One more tip
  • Wash hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after handling food.
Source: holidayfoodsafety.org