Holiday Turkey Talk

Holiday Turkey

When selecting the turkey for the holiday meal one needs to consider the following items: Size of turkey to purchase, fresh or frozen turkey, length of time to thaw if frozen, and food safety guidelines and method of preparation.

Amount per person and size of turkey to purchase: According to the U.S.D.A. Meat and Poultry Hotline when individuals are purchasing their holiday turkey they should allow 1 pound of turkey per person for both fresh or frozen.

Fresh Turkey
Frozen Turkey

Fresh or frozen turkey:

  • For Fresh: Buy your turkey 1 to 2 days before you plan to cook it. Store it in the refrigerator on the lower shelf in a pan to catch any juices until you are ready to cook it. For food safety reasons do not buy a fresh pre-stuffed turkey.
  • For Frozen: Can buy any time. Keep it frozen until you are ready to thaw it. For best quality, frozen turkeys should be cooked within 1 year for best quality.

Thawing Methods and Times:

  1. Refrigerator: Allow approximately 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds. Keep the turkey in the original wrapper placed in a pan to catch juices. Once the turkey is thawed it will keep in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days. A turkey that has been properly thawed in the refrigerator may be refrozen. Below is the number of days you will need to allow for a turkey to thaw based on pounds.
    • 4 to 12 pounds 1 to 3 days
    • 12 to 16 pounds 3 to 4 days
    • 16 to 20 pounds 4 to 5 days
    • 20 to 24 pounds 5 to 6 days
  1. In Cold Water: Allow approximately 30 minutes per pound. Keep the turkey in its original wrapper and submerge wrapped turkey in cold tap water. Change the water every 30 minutes. Once the turkey is thawed cook it immediately and do not refreeze. Below is the amount of time to thaw in cold tap water based on pounds.
    • 4 to 12 pounds 2 to 6 hours
    • 12 to 16 pounds 6 to 8 hours
    • 16 to 20 pounds 8 to 10 hours
    • 20 to 24 pounds 10 to 12 hours

NOTE: Remove the giblets from the turkey cavities after thawing and cook separately.


Cook turkey to a minimum internal temperature of 165°F. Also reheated all leftover turkey to an internal temperature of 165°F before eating.

Internal Temperature: A whole turkey is safe to eat when cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165 °F. Measure internal temperature in the innermost part of the wing or thigh and the thickest part of the breast with a food thermometer. If your turkey has stuffing in it our you’ve made stuffing make sure the center of the stuffing reaches a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F. Once your turkey is done let it stand for 20 minutes before carving to allow the juices to set and for easier carving. Remove all stuffing from the turkey cavities once done and place them in a bowl to serve.

Leftovers and Reheating:

All leftover turkey should be reheated to an internal temperature of 165°F. Reheat leftover turkey by adding broth or water to the pan, to keep the meat moist, cover, and reheat at an oven temperature no lower than 325°. In the microwave make sure the turkey is covered and rotates for even heating. Reheat to an internal temperature of 165 °F.

Follow all food safety guidelines with cooking and preparing food items. Be sure to Always wash hands, utensils, the sink, and anything else that comes in contact with raw turkey and its juices with soap and water. For more information contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Office. In Alachua County call 352-955-2402 or email for Martha Maddox, FCS CEA IV.

References: USDA (United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service)





Posted: November 10, 2020

Category: Food Safety, Health & Nutrition, UF/IFAS Extension
Tags: Food, Food Safety, Health And Wellness, Healthy Eating, Nutrition, Turkey, UF/IFAS Extension

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