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Turkey Tips from UT Extension

Turkey Tips – From How Big Do You Need to Storing Leftovers

Happy Thanksgiving! As you prepare for the big meal ahead, consider the following turkey tips from UT Extension:

What size turkey do I need to buy?

When purchasing a whole turkey, purchase at least one pound of uncooked turkey per person. You’ll have enough for the feast and for leftovers too.

When should I buy it?

Keep in mind that a whole turkey takes about 24 hours per four to five pounds to thaw in the refrigerator. (For example: A 15-pound frozen bird will take 3 to 4 full days to thaw in the refrigerator.) Ideally, purchase your frozen turkey as far in advance as necessary to safely thaw it in the refrigerator. If buying a fresh turkey, purchase it only 1 to 2 days before the meal and keep it refrigerated.

How do I thaw a frozen turkey?

Turkey can be thawed in the refrigerator or in cold water. Never thaw by leaving it on the counter for hours. The refrigerator method is the safest and will result in the best finished product. Leave the bird in the original packaging and place in a shallow pan and allow refrigerator thawing time at a rate of 4 to 5 pounds per 24 hours. To thaw in cold water, keep turkey in the original packaging, place in a clean and sanitized sink or pan and submerge in cold water. Change the cold water every 30 minutes. The turkey will take about 30 minutes per pound to thaw. Cook the turkey immediately after it is thawed. Do not refreeze.

Safe Handling

Always wash hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after handling the raw turkey. Also, wash all counters, utensils and cutting boards after contact with raw turkey.

How long do I cook a turkey?

There are several methods for cooking your turkey. The single most important thing to know, no matter the cooking method, is that the turkey must be cooked to the proper internal temperature of 165 degrees. A stuffed turkey will take additional time to cook, Stuff the turkey loosely, about 3/4 cup stuffing per pound of turkey. Bake any extra stuffing in a greased casserole dish. Cooked inside or outside the bird. All stuffing and dressing recipes must be cooked to a minimum temperature of 165 °F. (For optimum safety and more even cooking, it’s recommended to cook your stuffing in a casserole dish.) When cooking turkey, set the oven to no lower than 325°. Preheating is not necessary. Make sure the turkey is completely thawed.

Here is a handy turkey roasting chart.

Is the turkey done? Determining the safe temperature for turkey:

Insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh, not touching bone. Cook to a minimum internal temperature of 165 °F as measured with a food thermometer. Check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. For reasons of personal preference, cook turkey to higher temperatures but not to exceed 170 °F in the breast and 180 °F in the thigh. (If the turkey is done and the stuffing is not yet 165 °F, remove the stuffing from the turkey and place it in a greased casserole dish to continue cooking to temperature.)

It’s best to let the turkey rest for 20 minutes before carving to allow the juices to set, so the turkey will carve more easily. Do not leave any extra turkey, stuffing or other leftovers out for more than two hours.

Where to place a turkey thermometer

Proper placement of a thermometer in the thigh of a turkey.

Can I use my slow cooker (Crock Pot) to cook turkey breast?

Yes, the turkey breast must fit the size of the slow cooker with a 1-inch clearance on top and sides. Make sure the turkey is thawed completely. For boneless turkey breast, add ½ cup water and cook on low for 7 ½ hours or until meat registers 165°. For bone-in turkey, add ¼ cup water and cook for 1 hour on high. Reduce to low and cook 6-7 hours until meat registers 165°.

How do I store leftovers safely?

Remove the stuffing and carve the extra turkey meat from the bones. Within two hours, store leftover turkey in shallow containers and put in the refrigerator or the freezer. Use cooked leftover turkey, stuffing and gravy within 3-4 days. Cooked turkey keeps for 3-4 months in the freezer. When using leftovers, reheat the foods thoroughly to 165 °F or until hot and steaming; bring gravy to a boil before serving.

Live help is available on the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line® by calling 1-800-BUTTERBALL (1-800-288-8372).

For more information on cooking turkey, visit or

For more Food Safety Tips you may contact Linda Hyder with UT Extension at (865) 453-3695 or [email protected].


Photo Credit: Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS)

About UT Extension - Sevier County

UT Extension provides a gateway to the University of Tennessee as the outreach unit of the Institute of Agriculture. It is a statewide educational organization, funded by federal, state and local governments, that brings research-based information about agriculture, family and consumer sciences, and resource development to the people of Tennessee where they live and work. Sevier News Messenger distributes UT Extension news as a courtesy. UT Extension – Sevier County can be found at