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Fresh or Frozen: Careful Cooking of Thanksgiving's Big Bird : Guidelines for Serving a Safe, Tasty Meal

November 21, 1985

The great American bird comes again to grace the annual Thanksgiving table. Broader-breasted, more tender and milder flavored, this year's turkey, as in recent years, conveniently is dressed, rinsed, inspected, bagged and is available fresh or fresh-frozen. Serving a roast turkey can be simple, but there are guidelines to follow in its preparation to ensure maximum safety.


There are four ways to thaw a frozen unstuffed raw turkey. An evenly thawed turkey may be held in the refrigerator for up to 2 days before roasting. Do not refreeze uncooked thawed turkey.

Refrigerator Method--This is the best, although the slowest method of thawing. Place frozen bird on a tray in its original wrapping, refrigerate and allow to thaw. When partially thawed, remove bag of giblets from cavity and reserve in refrigerator for gravy making or stuffing.

Turkey Weight Approximate Thawing Time 4 to 12 pounds 1 to 2 days

12 to 20 pounds 2 to 3 days

20 to 24 pounds 3 to 4 days

Room Temperature Method--Leave turkey in its original wrap, place in double paper bag or wrap in several thicknesses of paper towels. Staple bag or close with paper clips, then place on tray to catch drippings. Thaw at about 70 degrees. When partially thawed, remove giblets.

Turkey Weight Approximate Thawing Time 4 to 12 pounds 12 to 15 hours

12 to 24 pounds 16 to 20 hours

Quick-Thaw Method--Leave turkey in its original wrap, place in large kettle and cover with cold water. Change water frequently to speed thawing. Thaw until bird is pliable.

Turkey Weight Approximate Thawing Time 4 to 12 pounds 4 to 6 hours

12 to 20 pounds 6 to 8 hours

20 to 24 pounds 8 to 12 hours

Microwave Method--If your microwave unit is large enough to accommodate turkey, thaw in glass baking dish, following manufacturer's directions. It may take 1 to 1 1/2 hours on defrost cycle.


Remove plastic giblet bag from turkey, rinse and pat dry. Check both cavities for extra parts. Here are methods for preparing stuffed and unstuffed turkeys.

Stuffed--Prepare your favorite dressing recipe. Never stuff turkey the night before or several hours before roasting, as the temperature in bird's cavity remains warm long enough for bacteria that cause food poisoning to multiply. Save time by preparing, measuring and refrigerating dressing ingredients the night before cooking but assemble dressing and stuff turkey just before putting in oven. Stuffing should be loosely packed into neck and body cavities. Do not overstuff as stuffing will expand while cooking. Allow 1/2 to 3/4 cup stuffing per pound of turkey. If your recipe makes more stuffing than bird will hold, wrap remaining mixture in foil and bake alongside bird in pan during last half-hour of roasting. After stuffing, tuck drumsticks back into clamp or skin band. Neck skin should be skewered to back and wings twisted akimbo.

Unstuffed--Rub salt generously in cavities and, if desired, insert few pieces celery, carrot and onion to improve flavor. Fold neck skin to back and fasten with skewer. Fasten legs down by tying or tucking under skin band.


There are two ways to insert thermometer in turkey and other large birds: If bird is stuffed, thermometer can be inserted through carcass to center of stuffing. Or thermometer can be inserted in large meaty muscle of inside of thigh without touching bone. When no thermometer is used, thickest part of drumstick should feel soft when pressed with thumb and forefinger and drumstick or thigh should move easily.


Prepare turkey for roasting as directed and place, breast-side up, on rack in shallow roasting pan. Baste, if desired, with melted butter or margarine every 1/2 to 3/4 hour. If bird is browning too fast, tent loosely with foil or cover breast with butter-soaked cheesecloth. Roast turkey at 325 degrees according to time table until thermometer reaches 170 to 175 degrees when placed in thigh or 165 degrees when placed in stuffing:

Turkey Weight Total Cooking Hours Stuffed Unstuffed 4 to 8 pounds 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 1 1/2 to 28 to 12 pounds 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 2 to 312 to 16 pounds 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 3 to 416 to 20 pounds 4 1/2 to 5 1/2 4 to 520 to 24 pounds 5 1/2 to 6 5 to 5 1/2

NOTE: Roasting turkey, breast side down, in a V-shaped rack in shallow pan until halfway done, then turning it up for the remaining cooking time produces a more juicy bird, particularly in the breast region, but unless one has a small size turkey, it is rather inconvenient and dangerous to handle a hot, heavy bird.TURKEY PARTS PREPARATION


Type of meat--all dark

How Much to Buy--Allow 1 thigh per serving.

How to Store--In the refrigerator (wrapped), use within 2 days; if frozen use within 2 months for best quality.

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