About the Turkey

About the Turkey

If this year´s Thanksgiving Dinner will be at your house, whether you´re planning a quiet meal for the two of you, the four of you, or a large feast with lots of friends and relatives, chances are you´ll be having turkey as the main course.

According to the National Turkey Federation, Americans consume over 45 million turkeys on Thanksgiving Day. That's the most turkeys eaten on any single day of the year, twice as many as on Christmas Day.

Here's what you need to know about turkey buying, thawing, roasting and making the gravy.

Buying the Turkey
If you want a fresh turkey, order it ahead of time. Expect to pay a slightly higher price for fresh compared to frozen. Before storing a fresh turkey, remove the giblets and refrigerate separately.

The only difference between a Hen Turkey and a Tom Turkey is the size. The quality and tenderness of the meat will be the same. Hen´s weigh under 12 to 14 lbs, and, depending on the brand, Tom´s will weigh 15 to 16 lbs. or more. Both are processed when they are a few weeks old.

A "self-basting" turkey has been injected or marinated with a solution that contains butter or another edible fat, seasonings, plus broth, stock or water.

To estimate the size of the turkey you´ll need, figure about one pound per person, to as much as 2 pounds if you want leftovers. The chart below is a whole turkey buying guide.

Size of Turkey (In Pounds)Serves
8 to 12 lbs.Up to 4 people
12 to 16 lbs.5 to 7 people
16 to 20 lbs.8 to 10 people
20 to 24 lbs.10 to 15 people

Thawing the Turkey

Never thaw a turkey on the counter at room temperature.

The best way to thaw a frozen turkey is in its original wrapper in the refrigerator.

The times given in the chart on the right are approximate.

Roast the turkey immediately after it's thawed or keep it refrigerated at 40° or lower until roasting.

Turkey Thawing Time in the Refrigerator
Turkey WeightThawing Time
8 to 12 lbs.1 to 2 days
12 to 16 lbs.2 to 3 days
16 to 20 lbs.3 to 4 days
20 to 25 lbs.4 to 5 days
To hasten thawing, you can thaw a turkey in cold water.

Leave it in the original wrapping.

Change the water every 30 minutes.

Allow about 30 minutes per pound thawing time, or follow the approximate times given in the chart on the right.

Do not re-freeze an uncooked turkey.

Turkey Thawing Time in Cold Water
Turkey WeightThawing Time
8 to 12 lbs.4 to 6 hours
12 to 16 lbs.6 to 8 hours
16 to 20 lbs.8 to 10 hours
20 to 25 lbs.10 to 12 hours

Roasting the Turkey

  • Line a sturdy roasting pan, with a long sheet of wide, heavy aluminum foil, enough to wrap around the turkey.

  • Preheat oven to 325°.

  • Remove the neck and giblet packs. Rinse the turkey inside and out and pat dry.

  • Prepare the body cavity...
    To stuff the turkey - Spoon the prepared stuffing into the and body and neck cavities, about 3/4 cup stuffing per pound of turkey. Bake any extra stuffing in a separate casserole dish. Do not stuff a turkey more than 2 hours before roasting it. Click Here for more about the Turkey stuffing and Stuffing Recipes.

    When not using stuffing - Rub the inside of the body and neck cavities with salt. Place quartered onions and a few ribs of celery inside the body cavity for added flavor.

  • Pull the neck skin to the back and fasten it with a large toothpick.

  • If a band of skin crosses the tail, tuck the drumsticks under the band. If there is no band, tie the ends of the drumsticks to the tail with a string.

  • Twist the wing tips under the back.

  • Place the turkey, breast side up, in the foil lined roasting pan.
  • Brush the turkey's skin with melted butter.

  • Make a foil tent by bringing the foil up and over the turkey, leaving a 1" space between the turkey and the foil for heat circulation. Crimp the foil together to hold it in place.

  • For approximate roasting times, use this chart....

    Turkey Roasting Timetable - at 325°

    Weight of Turkey

    Roasting Time - Unstuffed

    Roasting Time - Stuffed

    8 to 12 pounds

    2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours

    3 to 4 hours

    12 to 16 pounds

    3 to 4 1/2 hours

    3 1/2 to 5 hours

    16 to 20 pounds

    4 to 5 hours

    4 1/2 to 5 1/2 hours

    20 to 24 pounds

    4 1/2 to 6 hours

    5 to 6 1/2 hours

    24 to 28 pounds

    5 1/2 to 7 hours

    5 1/2 to 7 1/2 hours

    Weight of Turkey Breast

    Roasting Time - Unstuffed

    Roasting Time - Stuffed

    4 to 6 pounds

    1 1/2 to 2 1/4 hours


    6 to 8 pounds

    2 1/2 to 3 1/4 hours

    3 to 3 1/2 hours

  • Always wash preparation utensils, work surfaces and your hands in hot, soapy water following contact with uncooked turkey and juices.

  • For nicely browned skin, roll down the foil and uncover the turkey for about the last 45 minutes of roasting time. Cut the band of skin or string between the drumsticks.

  • Continue roasting until an instant-read meat thermometer registers 180...
    Place the tip of the thermometer in the thigh muscle pointing towards the body... not touching the bone.
    If the turkey is stuffed, place the thermometer in the center of stuffing, it must reach 165°.

  • If not using a thermometer, roast until the drumsticks move easily in their sockets and the juices run clear.

  • When the turkey and the stuffing are done, remove the turkey from the oven, and spoon the stuffing into a serving bowl; cover to keep warm. Place the turkey on a carving board or platter. For easier slicing, cover the turkey loosely with foil, and let it stand at room temperature for 20 minutes before carving.

    For faster roasting, use a Turkey-size Oven Roasting Bag
    Using a roasting bag shortens the oven time and produces a very juicy turkey, but with a lighter brown, less crispy skin.

  • Preheat the oven to 350º.
  • Shake one tablespoon of flour inside the bag.
  • Place the cleaned and seasoned turkey inside the bag.
  • Brush the skin with melted butter.
  • Place quartered onions and celery in the body cavity for added flavor.
  • Close the bag with the nylon tie. (provided with the bag)
  • Place breast-side up in a shallow roasting pan. Cut a few 1/2" long slits in the top of the bag to allow the steam to escape.
  • Approximate roasting times for an unstuffed turkey are to the right. Stuffed turkeys will need an additional half hour or more roasting time. Test for doneness as directed above.
  • Turkey Roasting Timetable
    (in an Oven Roasting Bag)
    Weight of TurkeyRoasting Time
    8 to 12 lbs1 1/2 to 2 hours
    12 to 16 lbs2 to 2 1/2 hours
    16 to 20 lbs2 1/2 to 3 hours
    20 to 24 lbs3 to 3 1/2 hours

    The Turkey Gravy
    Follow this recipe for extra-tasty, fool-proof gravy....

    • 1/4 cup cornstarch
    • 1/4 cup water
    • 2 cups canned chicken broth
    • 2 cups turkey broth from pan juices (strained)
    • salt and pepper to taste

    Preparation -
    Blend cornstarch and water until smooth. In a large saucepan, over medium heat, bring chicken broth and pan juices to a boil. Add the cornstarch/water mixture slowly. Whisk and continue to stir until the gravy is thickened. Add salt and pepper to taste.

    ~ printer friendly recipe ~

    More about the Stuffing....
    Stuffing can be baked inside the turkey or in a separate casserole dish. Because there's an increased risk of food borne illness when stuffing is baked in a turkey, see The Turkey Stuffing for some things to remember if you still prefer stuffing made the traditional way. Stuffing recipes included!

    Click Here for turkey recipes.

    Click Here for other ways to prepare a turkey + last minute turkey tips.

    Click Here for turkey stuffing recipes.

    Turkey Links

    Deep Fry a Turkey

    Smoke A Turkey

    Turkey Carving

    For the turkey and gravy....

    Taylor Digital Instant Read Thermometer
    Taylor Digital Instant Read Thermometer
    Made by Taylor, the leading thermometer manufacturer - this "rapid response", easy-to-read, digital Thermometer reveals accurate internal food temperatures instantly. Stores away in its protective plastic case when not in use.

    Calphalon 16x13 Contemporary Nonstick Nonstick Roasting Pan Set
    Calphalon 16x13 Contemporary Nonstick Roasting Pan Set
    From Calphalon’s Contemporary Nonstick line, this roaster heats evenly and quickly and comes with a removable, nonstick rack that holds up to a 25-lb. turkey. Purchase this roasting pan now and receive these bonus tools: a baster, injection needle and set of poultry lifters... everything you need to prepare your holiday turkey.

  • You Should Also Read:
    The Home Cooking Recipe Index and Site Map
    Holiday Cookbooks
    Your Home Cooked Thanksgiving Feast

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    This content was written by Sandy Moyer. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Allyson Elizabeth D´Angelo for details.