Complete Thanksgiving Turkey FAQ

Preparing a Thanksgiving Turkey is a complex and confusing task. Knowing all the intricate details of how to properly thaw it, safely prepare it and deliciously cook it may seem out of reach. Here, you'll find a list of the most common Thanksgiving Turkey questions and answers. Have a safe and Happy Thanksgiving!

Food Safety

Food safety is always the top priority, especially when cooking for a large group of people. Here are a few Thanksgiving food safety tips:

  • Always properly thaw a turkey. You can't safely cook an improperly thawed turkey.
  • Always use a meat thermometer to ensure the turkey is ready for safe consumption. Internal temperatures should read at least 165 degrees F.
  • Avoid cross contamination; do not mix cutting surfaces or utensils for meat and produce.

Frequently Asked Thanksgiving Questions

Thawing How to Thaw a Turkey

1. What's the difference between a fresh and frozen turkey? A turkey is only labeled as "fresh" if it hasn't been stored below 26 degrees F. Because fresh turkeys are not frozen, they do not require thawing. Fresh turkeys are a great option if you are pressed on time but they should only be stored for 1-2 days in the refrigerator. Frozen turkeys last longer (when stored in a freezer) but require time to thaw.

2. When should I buy my turkey? If you're using a fresh turkey, buy it 1-2 days before cooking. It's safe to store frozen turkeys in a freezer indefinitely, though they should be used within an year of purchase.

3. How much turkey should I buy? On average, 1 pound of turkey per person is sufficient. This amount should be adjusted for very heavy eaters, very light eaters or for more leftovers.

4. Can I cook a frozen turkey without thawing? You can roast a frozen turkey in the oven, however cooking times are approximately 50% longer. Never deep fry a frozen turkey; doing so has the potential to cause severe property damage and personal injury.

5. How long does it take to thaw a frozen turkey? This depends on the size of the turkey but generally takes a few days. Use the Turkey Thaw Time Calculator for a general idea.

6. What are the different ways I can thaw a turkey?

  • refrigerator thawing
  • cold water thawing
  • microwave thawing

Refrigerator thawing is the slowest but easiest method. It takes a few days but no extra work is needed. Cold water thawing takes less time but requires you to change out the water every 30 minutes. Check the owner's manual for more information on microwave thawing. For more specifics on each method, read: How to Thaw a Turkey.

7. How long can I leave a turkey in the refrigerator after thawing? A turkey should stay in the refrigerator for no more than two days after thawing. If you no longer need to cook a turkey after thawing, it should be placed back into the freezer. Frozen turkeys thawed in cold water or the microwave should be cooked immediately after thawing and not refrozen.

Preparation

8. What should I do with the giblets and neck? Remove the giblets and neck from the cavities before cooking. These are used to make a broth or gravy.

9. What do I do with the metal brackets and/or wires on the turkey? Read the packaging instructions for details. Typically, these stay on the turkey to keep it together.

10. When should I stuff the turkey? Stuff the turkey right before you cook it. Do not mix wet and dry ingredients the night before and always use separate utensils and cutting surfaces for meat and produce.

11. How much stuffing should I use? This depends on the size of the turkey. Pack the stuffing loosely.

12. What should I do before putting the turkey in the oven? To end up with a nicely browned turkey, spread oil over the skin with a mixture of herbs, spices, salt or any other combination of flavoring.

Cooking How to Cook a Turkey

13. What temperature should I set the oven at? Preheat the oven to at least 325 degrees F.

14. Do I have to baste the turkey? Basting keeps a turkey moist but not all turkeys require this step. Some turkeys are self basting; they've been injected with butter, oil or broth keeping them moist throughout the cooking process. Check the packaging for directions.

15. How often should I baste the turkey? Every 30-45 minutes.

16. How long should the turkey stay in the oven? This depends on the size of the turkey. Use the Turkey Cook Time Calculator for general guidelines. A meat thermometer is the only way to ensure a turkey is ready for safe consumption (#18).

17. When should I place aluminum foil over the turkey? Place a sheet of aluminum foil over the turkey after it has reached the desired shade of brown. Aluminum foil prevents further browning.

18. How do I know when the turkey is ready? The Turkey Cook Time Calculator gives you a good idea of when the turkey is ready to eat. A meat thermometer is the only way to ensure a turkey is ready for safe consumption. The meat thermometer should read 165 degrees F in ALL of the following locations:

  • the thickest part of the breast
  • innermost part of the thigh (not touching the bone)
  • middle of the stuffing for stuffed turkeys

19. How do I calibrate a meat thermometer? Read more: How do I calibrate a meat thermometer?

20. My turkey is done, now what? Remove the turkey from the oven, wait 20 minutes, and carve.

Leftovers

21. Is it safe to keep leftovers? Properly stored leftovers are safe to eat. Throw away leftovers left at room temperature for longer than 2 hours or longer than 1 hour at 90 degrees F. Divide leftovers into small and shallow containers so they cool more evenly. Larger food containers keep food warm, increasing the risk of food bourne illness.

22. How long are leftovers good for? Turkey leftovers should be used within 3-4 days. Gravy should be used within 1-2 days.

23. How long can I store frozen leftovers? Frozen leftovers should be used within 2-6 months.

24. How do I reheat my Thanksgiving leftovers? Leftovers should be reheated to an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees F. Set the oven to 325 degrees F. Check the owner's manual for microwave times and power levels.