With Thanksgiving quickly approaching, there will likely be more families getting together this year than in 2020. If you're like me and are hosting people for the holiday, the pressure is on to do a lot of the cooking, including making sure the turkey is properly cooked.

If you get a bit nervous cooking turkey, especially when it will be eaten by so many people, you're not alone. The good news is that the USDA has simple and handy tips to make sure everyone has a great Thanksgiving.

If you're first question is how much turkey do you need, the best way to figure it out is by having at least a pound of turkey per person. So, if you'll be cooking for 10, you'll want at least a 10 pound turkey, but I'd go much higher because you want those leftovers!

Now, assuming your turkey will be kept frozen until you're ready to cook, you'll want to make sure you give yourself a lot of time to thaw your turkey. The easiest way is to place the frozen turkey in your refrigerator, but you have to plan ahead.

Here are suggesting thawing times for frozen turkey's in the fridge. Remember to keep in wrapped, but place in a pan so it doesn't leak:

  • 4 to 12 pounds 1 to 3 days
  • 12 to 16 pounds 3 to 4 days
  • 16 to 20 pounds 4 to 5 days
  • 20 to 24 pounds 5 to 6 days
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If you find yourself with a turkey to thaw, but you're short on time, you can also thaw a turkey by submerging it in cold water. Make sure it's securely wrapped before submerging.

Here is how long the cold water method will generally take, based on the size of the turkey:

  • 4 to 12 pounds 2 to 6 hours
  • 12 to 16 pounds 6 to 8 hours
  • 16 to 20 pounds 8 to 10 hours
  • 20 to 24 pounds 10 to 12 hours

Okay, now that the turkey has been properly thawed, you have several ways you can cook it. How you decide to cook the turkey will determine how you'll go about it, but here are some USDA guidelines.

Traditional Roasting 
This is the most common way to go about it. Put the thawed turkey into a roasting pan and into the oven it goes! Set the oven to 325˚F and when your food thermometer registers 165˚F in the innermost part of the thigh, the innermost part of the wing and the thickest part of the breast, the turkey is ready to eat! Make sure to let it stand for 15-20 minutes before carving. This will allow all the juices to settle.

Traditional Stuffed Roasting
Cooking a stuffed turkey isn't as easy, but it can still be done somewhat efficiently. Make sure put the stuffing in only when you're ready to put your turkey in the oven. Again, set the oven to 325˚F, then when your food thermometer registers 165˚F in the innermost part of the thigh, the innermost part of the wing, the thickest part of the breast and the center of the stuffing, the turkey is ready. You'll want to remove the stuffing right away and cover it. Then, let the turkey stand for 15-20 minutes before carving.

Oven Bag Roasting 
This is a similar method, but because the turkey is in a bag, it'll go faster. Using an oven bag will also save cleanup time. With this method, you'll want to follow the cooking directions on the box and be sure to add 30 minutes to the recommended cooking time if you choose to stuff your turkey. Like with the traditional oven method, your turkey is safe to eat when the thermometer registers 165˚F in the innermost part of the thigh, the innermost part of the wing, the thickest part of the breast and the center of the stuffing.

The big question is, how long should you plan on cooking your turkey to get to that 165˚F. That depends on the size of the turkey of course, but the graphic below will give you a great idea.


I know people who like to get more adventurous and deep fry their turkey, or grill or smoke the centerpiece of their Thanksgiving feast. While that allows you to be outside to cook, freeing up kitchen space, it does require more preparation and skill.

The link above will provide guidance on those advanced methods, as well as the spatchcocking method, where the turkey is cooked by removing the backbone and splaying the bird out flat. To be honest, I'd never heard of that in my life, but I just wanted to type the word "spatchcocking".

However you decide to cook your turkey, enjoy the process and enjoy spending time with people who mean the most to you. Also, remember that when making sandwiches with the leftovers it's best to put green bean casserole, cranberries and everything else ON the sandwich and then cover it with gravy.

Have a fantastic holiday season!

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