LITTLE ROCK – As Thanksgiving quickly approaches, cooking the traditional turkey dinner may give rise to anxieties and questions. A few simple steps will not only ease your holiday fears, but will ensure a delicious and safe meal for you, your family, and your friends. The following information may help you prepare your special Thanksgiving meal and help you countdown to the holiday.

Plan Ahead: Ask these questions to help you plan your meal and to avoid the spread of foodborne illness.

Do I want to purchase a fresh or frozen turkey? If you choose to buy a frozen bird you may do so at any time, but make sure you have adequate storage space in your freezer. If you buy a fresh turkey, be sure you purchase it only 1-2 days before cooking.

How and when do I thaw a frozen turkey? The options to safely thaw a frozen turkey include thawing in the refrigerator, in cold water or in the microwave.

To thaw a turkey in the refrigerator place frozen turkey as originally wrapped in the refrigerator (40 °F or below). Allow approximately 24 hours per 4 to 5 pounds of turkey. A thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator for 1-2 days.

To thaw a turkey in cold water, submerge the turkey in cold water and change the water every 30 minutes. Allow about 30 minutes defrosting time per pound of turkey. Cook immediately after thawing.

Microwave thawing is safe if the turkey is not too large. Check the manufacturer’s instructions for the size of turkey that will fit into your oven, the minutes per pound, and the power level to use for thawing. Cook immediately after thawing.

* Size of Turkey: 4 to 12 pounds; Number of Days to Thaw in Refrigerator: 1 to 3 days; Number of Hours to Thaw in Cold Water: 2 to 6 hours

* Size of Turkey: 12 to 16 pounds; Number of Days to Thaw in Refrigerator: 3 to 4 days; Number of Hours to Thaw in Cold Water: 6 to 8 hours

* Size of Turkey: 16 to 20 pounds; Number of Days to Thaw in Refrigerator: 4 to 5 days; Number of Hours to Thaw in Cold Water: 8 to 10 hours

*Size of Turkey: 20 to 24 pounds; Number of Days to Thaw in Refrigerator: 5 to 6 days; Number of Hours to Thaw in Cold Water: 10 to 12 hours

Day before Thanksgiving Day: Check to make sure you have all the equipment you will need, such as a roasting pan large enough for the turkey and a food thermometer. Wet and dry stuffing ingredients can be prepared and refrigerated separately.

On Thanksgiving Day: If you decide to fry your turkey, make sure your turkey is completely thawed and dry. Attempting to fry a frozen turkey can result in grease fires and burn injuries. The turkey should be 12 pounds or less in size. Select a safe location outdoors. Heat the oil to 350°F, and monitor the temperature of the oil regularly while cooking. Allow approximately three to five minutes of cooking time per pound.

If you choose to stuff your turkey, stuff loosely. The stuffing should be moist, not dry, since heat destroys bacteria more rapidly in a moist environment. Place the turkey in the oven immediately after placing the stuffing in the cavity of the turkey. You may choose to cook your stuffing outside the bird in a casserole dish. The approximate times listed are for fresh or thawed turkey in an oven at 325°F.

Timetable for Turkey Roasting

(325°F oven temperature)

* Cooking Time:8 to 12 pounds; Unstuffed Turkey: 2 ¾ to 3 hours; Stuffed Turkey: 3 to 3 ½ hours

* Cooking Time: 12 to 14 pounds; Unstuffed Turkey: 3 to 3 ¾ hours; Stuffed Turkey: 3 ½ to 4 hours

* Cooking Time: 14 to 18 pounds; Unstuffed Turkey: 3 ¾ to 4 ¼ hours; Stuffed Turkey: 4 to 4 ¼ hours

* Cooking Time: 18 to 20 pounds; Unstuffed Turkey: 4 ¼ to 4 ½ hours; Stuffed Turkey: 4 ½ to 4 ¾ hours

* Cooking Time: 20 to 24 pounds; Unstuffed Turkey: 4 ½ to 5 hours; Stuffed Turkey: 4 ¾ to 5 ¼ hours

Use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of the turkey. A whole turkey is safe to eat when the inside of the turkey reaches 165°F. You should check the temperature in the innermost part of the thigh, wing, and the thickest part of the breast. All turkey meat, including any that remains pink, is safe to eat as soon as all parts reach at least 165°F. Do not serve any parts that are pink unless the turkey meat temperature was checked with a thermometer. The stuffing should reach 165°F, whether cooked inside the bird or in a separate dish.

After removing the turkey from the oven, let it stand 20 minutes before removing the stuffing and carving.

To store leftover turkey and dressing, cut the turkey into small pieces; refrigerate stuffing and turkey separately in shallow containers within 2 hours of cooking.

Use refrigerated leftover turkey and dressing within 3 to 4 days. Harmful bacteria that may make you sick cannot be smelled or tasted; therefore, always reheat food thoroughly to a temperature of 165°F or until hot and steaming.

To learn more about food safety, visit the Partnership for Food Safety Education at