Thaw the turkey in its original wrap on a tray placed in the bottom section of the refrigerator.
Allow about 24 hours of defrost time for every 5 pounds of turkey. Example: a 20 pound turkey will take 4 to 5 days to thaw.
Do not thaw on the counter. Thawing at room temperature increases the risk of bacteria growth.
At room temperature, bacteria on the turkey can grow rapidly when the outside portion of the bird begins to thaw. These bacteria can multiply to dangerously high levels producing toxins that cooking may not destroy.
In cold water
Thawing in cold water is safe too. Submerge the bird in its wrapper in a deep sink of cold water and change the water every 30 minutes to keep it cold.
Allow 30 minutes per pound to defrost a turkey in cold water. Do not use warm or hot water.
Microwave thawing is another option. Make sure your microwave oven is large enough to hold the turkey especially if the oven has a rotating tray.
Check manufacturer's instructions for the size turkey that will fit into your oven.
Caution: Microwave defrosting is irregular, creating hot spots, which may encourage bacterial growth. Cook the turkey immediately after defrosting. Do not store in the refrigerator for cooking later.
Never stuff the turkey in advance in an effort to save time.
Once you have decided on a stuffing recipe, mix ingredients quickly and lightly stuff the washed cavity just before placing the bird in the oven.
Chopping vegetable ingredients and bread preparation can be done in advance, but liquids and/or moist ingredients should not be added to dry ingredients until just before stuffing the turkey .
Allow 1/2 to 3/4 cup stuffing per pound of turkey .
Stuffing needs room to expand during cooking, do not over-stuff.
The stuffing recipe may be more than your turkey can hold. Place extra stuffing in a greased pan or casserole dish and bake separately.
Stuffing contains potentially hazardous ingredients, such as broth, eggs and meat, etc. That means these ingredients could cause illness if not properly cooked and stored.
Stuffing must be cooked to a minimum temperature of 165°F to be safe.
Stuffing should be removed from the cavity of the bird to a separate dish before carving the turkey
Do not leave stuffing and other leftovers out for more than 2 hours. Refrigerate leftovers immediately following the meal.
Store leftover stuffing in the refrigerator and use within 1 to 2 days.
Reheat leftover stuffing to 165 degrees F before serving.
Decide how much turkey you will need before you shop. Buy one pound per person or 1 1/2 pounds per person if you have hearty eaters or want ample leftovers.
Buy and use a meat thermometer (see Using a Thermometer). Dark meat takes longer to cook so always insert the thermometer in the thickest part of the turkey thigh. It will register 180°F when the turkey is done.
Make sure you have a roasting pan large enough for the turkey .
Allow an adequate number of days to refrigerator-defrost a frozen turkey
Wash hands, sinks, counters, utensils and platters thoroughly with soap and hot water before and after working with raw turkey
Remember to remove the giblet bag from inside the turkey
Stuff just before roasting or cook stuffing separate from the turkey
Allow the cooked turkey to sit for at least 20 minutes before carving. During this time juices will be redistributed and the turkey will be easier to carve.
After the meal, cover and store leftovers in the refrigerator as soon as possible.
Remember the safest margin is 2 hours from the time you take the bird out of the oven.
Leftover turkey will keep in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days.
If the turkey is done ahead of schedule, it is safe to hold it in the oven at a reduced temperature, 200°F.
Leave the thermometer in the turkey and make sure that the temperature of the turkey does not drop below 140°F during holding time.
Keep the turkey covered so it does not dry out.
Plan ahead, clean out the refrigerator and make room for leftovers several days before the holiday feast.
Leftovers should be stored in the refrigerator within 2 hours after cooking is completed. Why just 2 hours? Because bacteria that cause food poisoning can multiply to undesirable levels on perishable foods left at room temperature for longer than that.
Large quantities should be divided into smaller portions and stored in several shallow containers. Food in small amounts will chill faster keeping it safer and fresher.
If a large amount of turkey is left, consider freezing some for later use. Do not wait until the turkey has been in the refrigerator for 4 days to freeze it. Freezing will not improve the quality of the turkey . If the turkey is frozen while it is fresh the quality will be better upon defrosting.
Using a Thermometer
Meat thermometers can be found in the housewares section of most grocery stores, in department stores and in specialty stores. Buy a thermometer, it is a sound investment in food safety.
An instant read thermometer can be digital or dial gauge and it comes in a storage case. Read the information on the package. Instant read thermometers have plastic heads and cannot go into the oven while the turkey is cooking. However, it will register the temperature of food within 15 seconds when the metal tip is inserted up to the dimple on the stem, thus the name "instant read." Always clean the tip before returning it to the case.
Standard meat thermometers are metal and designed to withstand oven temperatures. The sensing area is from the tip to a half-inch past the dimple. This area registers the temperature of the food. Examine the thermometer and familiarize yourself with the dial settings.
Positioning the thermometer in the turkey is not difficult. Always place the thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh because the dark meat of turkey thigh takes longer to cook than any other part.
Place the thermometer tip in the thick part of the thigh away from the bone. The thigh area closest to the body of the turkey is the thickest part. While you are washing the untrussed turkey , look for a spot to position the thermometer.
Gently spin the head or dial of the meat thermometer around so you can easily see the reading without removing the turkey from the oven. As the turkey roasts, the thermometer may move out of position, don't worry, simply reposition the thermometer. The turkey is done when the temperature reads 180°F.
Oven thermometers read the temperature of the air inside of the oven. They are also useful for monitoring the temperature under the lid of a grill. If the oven thermometer registers a higher or lower temperature than the setting, adjust the oven temperature.
Check the accuracy of the thermometer (especially an old one) by placing it in a large cup of 50/50 ice and water slush for 10 minutes. It should read 32°F. Thermometers are considered accurate if they are within two degrees on the plus or minus side.
To correct the temperature, use a small wrench to turn the calibration nut until the thermometer reads 32°F. For a digital thermometer, simply change the battery.
TURKEY SAFETY FAQs Is pink turkey meat safe? Numerous callers to the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline report being alarmed when seeing "pink". To them, it means "unsafe" or "under-done".
"I cooked my turkey until done according to the directions, but when I sliced the breast meat, it was still pink near the bone," said an Oklahoma caller. "Is it safe?"
The color of cooked meat and poultry is not always a sure sign of its degree of doneness. Only by using a meat thermometer can one accurately determine that a meat has reached a safe temperature. Turkey, fresh pork, ground beef or veal can remain pink even after cooking to temperatures of 160°F. and higher. The meat of smoked turkey is always pink.
I didn't realize I was not supposed to leave the turkey on the counter to thaw. Will it be okay to use? Next time, thaw the turkey in the refrigerator so that it stays safe. In your case, if the turkey is still cold to the touch and smells okay, it should be fine. Be sure to cook it properly and use a meat thermometer to check for doneness.
Can turkeys be roasted overnight at a low temperature? The turkey industry does not recommend roasting a turkey at a temperature lower then 325ºF., where harmful bacteria thrive.
Can I partially roast my whole turkey the day before and complete the roasting just before the meal? From a food safety standpoint, the National Turkey Federation does not recommend partially roasting a whole turkey. Partially cooked meat and stuffing are ideal mediums for bacteria growth.
We forgot to put the turkey away after dinner and it has been sitting out all night. Can we still eat it? No. Hazardous bacterial growth may have developed at room temperature after that long of a time.
You hear so much about salmonella poisoning these days. How can I be sure my family will not get it? First, raw poultry should always be refrigerated at 40º F. or below. Second, it should be cooked properly to internal temperatures of 170º F. in the breast and 180º F. in the thigh. Wash all counters, utensils, and surfaces that come in contact with the raw turkey and its juices with hot, soapy water.
Our turkey is done and we are not planning to eat it for a while. What should we do? Remove the turkey from the oven, leaving the stuffing in it. Cover with foil and clean towels to hold in the heat. If it will be a few hours before you will be eating the turkey, remove the turkey from the oven and cool the oven down to 150-200º F. Cover the turkey with aluminum foil and keep it in the warm oven until you are ready to eat it. It will be less juicy than if it had been served on time, but it will be safe to eat.
Video News Releases (Multimedia) - Includes "Food Safety for Holiday Buffets" (December 2001; English and Spanish); "Turkey Basics from USDA Hotline" (November 2001), "Sending Perishable Food By Mail" (November 2000) and "USDA Says Use 'Thermy™' For Turkey Safety and Quality" (November 2000)