Thanksgiving Turkey Tips

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No need to wash or rinse the turkey before cooking. Washing the turkey in the sink can splash bacteria on clean cooking surfaces and countertops up to 3 feet away!

If you need to thaw your turkey, you can do so in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave. Do not thaw the turkey at room temperature. This may result in the turkey staying in the temperature danger zone (40-140°F) for too long.

Refrigerator – The best and safest way to thaw a turkey is in the refrigerator. Allow 24 hours of thawing time for every 5 lbs.

Cold Water – Place frozen turkey in its packaging under cold running tap water.

Microwave – Thawing times will depend on your specific microwave. Check packaging directions on your turkey.


Set the cooking temperature to at least 325°F. Cooking times can range from 2.75 to 5 hours depending on the size. Stuffed turkeys take about 30 minutes longer.

If stuffing your turkey, stuff it loosely and make sure the stuffing is moist. It is safer to cook the stuffing separately.

Use a meat thermometer to check that your turkey is done cooking and has reached a safe internal temperature of 165°F. Stick the meat thermometer in the innermost part of the thigh, the innermost part of the wing, and the thickest part of the breast. The temperature should read at least 165°F in all three places. Note: the turkey juice may not be clear at 165°. That is ok. Often, the juice is clear when the turkey is overcooked, so always check the temperature rather than the juice. If you cook stuffing in your turkey, make sure the center of the stuffing also reaches 165°F.


Keep leftovers for only 4 days. If you want to keep some leftovers for longer, store them in freezer bags or an airtight container in the freezer for up to 4 months. Make sure to refrigerate your leftovers less than 2 hours after they are done cooking. Keep leftovers safe by cooling them faster by cutting the turkey into pieces, line the pieces in a single layer on a pan and let cool before refrigerating.

Reheat leftovers easily in the microwave. Leftovers should reach 165°F or steaming hot.

If you would like even more information on food safety and turkey advice, check out the USDA website links. You can even call the Meat and Poultry Hotline on Thanksgiving if you run into any cooking issues at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854).