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Extension > Food > Food Safety > Preserving and Preparing > Meat and Fish > Turkey Basics

turkey

Meat and Fish

Turkey Basics

Suzanne Driessen, Extension Educator — Food Safety

Reviewed by Kathy Brandt, Extension Educator — Food Safety.

Nutrition

Turkey provides protein along with other key nutrients. A serving is 3 ounces cooked poultry (about the size of a deck of cards). One serving of roasted, skinless turkey provides:

Right Size Turkey

Use the following chart as a helpful guide:

Safe Thawing

Turkey must be kept at a safe temperature (below 40°F) for the big thaw.

Three safe ways to thaw:

  1. Refrigerator: Allow 24 hours per five pounds.
    • 8 12 pounds = 2 to 3 days
    • 12 16 pounds = 3 to 4 days
    • 16 20 pounds = 4 to 5 days

    Once completely thawed, cook within 1 to 2 days.

  2. Cold water:
    • Place breast down in its unwrapped wrapper in cold water to cover.
    • Change water every 30 minutes to keep surface cool.
    • Allow 30 minutes per pound.
      • 8 12 pounds = 4 to 6 hours
      • 12 16 pounds = 6 to 8 hours
      • 16 20 pounds = 8 to 10 hours
      • 20 24 pounds = 10 to 12 hours

    Cook immediately after thawing.

  3. Microwave Oven:
    • Check your microwave's instruction book.
    • Cook immediately after thawing.

To Wash or Not to Wash?

Review of studies from several universities related to washing meat and poultry indicates that there is no benefit. In fact, washing can allow bacteria on meat and poultry to spread to other ready-to-eat foods. Therefore, the USDA does not recommend washing your turkey before cooking. Cooking to proper temperature will destroy any bacteria present.

If you must wash, you have to clean and sanitize sink surrounding countertops. Wash sink and countertops with hot soapy water using paper towels. Rinse. Then sanitize with a bleach solution of 1 teaspoon of bleach per 1 quart of water. Air dry.

To Stuff or Not to Stuff?

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) stuffing a turkey is an invitation for trouble. You risk the possibility of foodborne illness. The stuffing may not reach the 165°F temperature needed to kill bacteria.

For optimal safety and
uniform doneness, cook
stuffing separately.

The University of Georgia tested turkeys to determine cooking times and techniques. The study concluded that stuffing should be cooked outside the bird since there is no guarantee that the stuffing will reach 165°F at the same time the turkey reaches this temperature. If the stuffing has not reached 165 °F when the turkey is done, further cooking will be required. Therefore, the meat may be overcooked. For optimal safety and uniform doneness, cook stuffing separately. You can get the same flavor if you precook stuffing to 165°F. Then loosely stuff into the turkey during the last half-hour of cooking.

If You Must Stuff

Follow these basic rules:

Roasting Tips

Turkeys Are Cooking Faster Than Before

Revised timetable for cooking turkey at 325°F.

Approximate cooking times
Weight
(pounds)
Unstuffed
(hours)
Stuffed
(hours)
4 – 6 (breast) 1½ – 2¼  
6 – 8 (breast) 2¼ – 3¼ 2½ – 3½
8 – 12 2¾ – 3 3 – 3½
12 – 14 3– 3¾ 3½ – 4
14 – 18 3¾ – 4¼ 4 – 4¼
18 – 20 4¼ – 4½ 4¼ – 4¾
20 – 24 4½ – 5 4¾ – 5¼

Cooking Partially Thawed or Frozen Turkey

Storing Leftovers Safely

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Related Resources

Other Recommended Resources

USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline

University of Minnesota Extension AnswerLine

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