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Cooking and Thawing a Turkey

November 20, 2010

I remember cooking my first turkey several years ago. Eight people joined me in my tiny New York apartment for Thanksgiving Dinner. The table looked amazing with autumn colors. A marvelous pie compliments of Martha Stewart had been made the day before. And the turkey in the oven awaited to provide the main crowning glory to the feast; but it never delivered. The turkey must have weighed in the medium range, so I knew it would take several hours to cook; this is were I misjudged the cooking time. By five o’clock that evening the Pilgrims and Indians had grown restless with hunger after a two hour delay. That Thanksgiving I ended up serving just side dishes and a great tasting pie. The turkey never made it to the table that night, but the next week I had turkey sandwiches both day and night.

So, I thought it might be a good time to address HOW TO THAW AND COOK A TURKEY before the big day arrives.


Make sure to buy in advance. If you decide to buy a fresh turkey, then most butchers and grocery stores require you ordering in advance. If you buy a frozen one, then store in your freezer until time to start thawing. Usually a pound to 1  1/2 pound serving per person is good.


You should never thaw a turkey at room temperature. This invites bacteria to grow and it can grow at a very fast pace in this condition. There are three ways to thaw a turkey. The safest method is in your refrigerator.

In the Refrigerator
Place the turkey, in it’s original wrapping, on a serving tin or pan at the bottom of the fridge. Depending on the weight of the turkey, it might take several days to thaw in the refrigerator. So, make sure to prepare before time. It generally requires 1 day to thaw 5 pounds.
Example – A twenty pound turkey might take between 4-5 days.

In the Microwave
Make sure your microwave is big enough to accommodate the size of your turkey, especially if a rotating microwave. Follow manufacture’s guide lines for cooking a turkey. It should done with the wrapping off, in a pan to collect the juice and cooked immediately after thawing.

In Cold Water
This process can be difficult if the water is not changed continually. The turkey should be totally submerged in a cold water bath with its original wrapping on. Allow 30 minutes per pound. The water should also be changed every 30 minutes to ensure the bath stays cold and prevents bacteria to form.


1. The turkey should be cooked at 325 degrees.

2. Make sure the turkey is completely thawed. Thoroughly wash in cold water both the cavity and outside of the turkey.

3. If stuffing the turkey, it will take longer to cook.  Check the instructions found on the wrapping.

4. Place in a roasting pan with breast side up on a wired rack. Tie legs together and tuck back the wings under the shoulder of the turkey. If you are not stuffing the turkey, legs can be left loose.

5. Put a shallow amount of water in the pan – 1/2 to 1 cup depending on pan size.

6. Lightly butter or oil the skin all over. Add salt and pepper.

7. Put aluminum foil over the turkey until the last 30 minutes so the turkey can brown. You could also use a roasting bag to decrease the cooking time.  Check again on package instructions.

8. To make sure the turkey is done use a meat thermometer. The thigh area should reach 180 degrees, breast 160 degrees and if stuffed; the stuffing 170 degrees. You can usually tell the turkey is done when you move the legs and it comes apart from the main body of the turkey. COOKING TIMES ARE BELOW FOR BOTH STUFFED AND UNSTUFFED TURKEYS.

9. When done, take out of oven and let cool for at least 20 minutes to let the juices distribute evenly in the bird.

Here is the USDA’s cooking times and website, if you have any further questions about cooking a turkey.

4 to 8 pounds (breast) 1½ to 3¼ hours
8 to 12 pounds 2¾ to 3 hours
12 to 14 pounds 3 to 3¾ hours
14 to 18 pounds 3¾ to 4¼ hours
18 to 20 pounds 4¼ to 4½ hours
20 to 24 pounds 4½ to 5 hours
4 to 6 pounds (breast) Not usually applicable
6 to 8 pounds (breast) 2½ to 3½ hours
8 to 12 pounds 3 to 3½ hours
12 to 14 pounds 3½ to 4 hours
14 to 18 pounds 4 to 4¼ hours
18 to 20 pounds 4¼ to 4¾ hours
20 to 24 pounds 4¾ to 5¼ hours
One Comment leave one →
  1. December 20, 2010 4:15 PM

    You certainly deserve a round of applause for your post and more specifically, your blog in general. Very high quality material.

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