Archive for Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Here are some tips for cooking Thanksgiving turkey

November 26, 2003


How do I safely cook my turkey?

First, let's talk about what you shouldn't do. Do not cook your turkey in an oven set below 325 degrees for several hours or overnight.

Instead, set the oven temperature no lower than 325 degrees. Preheating the oven is not necessary. Be sure the turkey is completely thawed.

Place turkey breast-side up on a flat wire rack in a shallow roasting pan 2 to 2 1/2 inches deep.

Optional steps include:

  • Tuck wing tips back under shoulders of turkey.
  • Add 1/2 cup water to the bottom of the pan.
  • A tent of aluminum foil may be placed loosely over the turkey for the first 1 to 1 1/2 hours, then removed for browning. Or, a tent of foil may be placed over the turkey after the turkey reaches the desired golden brown.

For safety and uniform doneness of the turkey, cook stuffing separately in a casserole. Use a food thermometer to check that the internal temperature of the stuffing has reached 165 degrees.

If you choose to stuff a turkey, you must use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of the turkey and the stuffing. The temperature of a whole turkey must reach 180 degrees in the innermost part of the thigh and the center of the stuffing must reach 165 degrees. If the stuffing has not reached 165 degrees, continue cooking the turkey until the stuffing reaches 165 degrees.

When cooking only a turkey breast, the internal temperature should reach 170 degrees.

If the turkey has a pop-up temperature indicator, it is also recommended that a food thermometer be used to test in several places, including the innermost part of the thigh and the center of the stuffing.

Many factors can affect the roasting time of a whole turkey:

  • A turkey will cook faster in a dark roasting pan.
  • The depth and size of the pan can affect heat circulation to all areas of the turkey.
  • The use of a foil tent for the entire cooking time can slow cooking.
  • Putting a lid on the roasting pan speeds up cooking.
  • An oven cooking bag will shorten cooking time.
  • A stuffed turkey will take longer to cook than an unstuffed turkey.
  • Ovens may heat unevenly.
  • The oven rack position can have an effect on even cooking and heat circulation.

Let's cook

Time charts are based on fresh or completely thawed turkeys at a refrigerator temperature of 40 degrees or below. Frozen or partially thawed turkeys will take longer to cook. The cooking time for a frozen turkey will take at least 50 percent longer than the time recommended for a fully thawed turkey. These cooking times are guidelines only. Use a food thermometer to determine safe doneness.


  • Four to six pounds -- 1 1/2 to 2 1/4 hours.
  • Six to eight pounds -- 2 1/4 to 3 1/4 hours.
  • Eight to 12 pounds -- 2 3/4 to 3 hours.
  • 12 to 14 pounds -- 3 to 3 3/4 hours.
  • 14 to 18 pounds -- 3 3/4 to 4 1/4 hours.
  • 18 to 20 pounds -- 4 1/4 to 4 1/2 hours.
  • 20 to 24 pounds -- 4 1/2 to 5 hours.


  • Eight to 12 pounds -- 3 to 3 1/2 hours.
  • 12 to 14 pounds -- 3 1/2 to 4 hours.
  • 14 to 18 pounds -- 4 to 4 1/4 hours.
  • 18 to 20 pounds -- 4 1/4 to 4 3/4 hours.
  • 20 to 24 pounds -- 4 3/4 to 5 1/4 hours.

Note: Turkeys purchased stuffed and frozen with the USDA or state mark of inspection on the packaging are safe because they have been processed under controlled conditions. These turkeys should not be thawed before cooking. Follow package directions for handling.

For quality, you may choose to let the turkey stand 20 minutes before removing the stuffing and carving.

I am short on oven space. Can I cook my turkey in an electric roaster?

Yes. Actually, an electric roaster can serve as an extra oven for cooking a turkey. Generally the cooking time and oven temperature setting are the same as for conventional cooking. Always check the roaster's use and care manual for the manufacturer's recommended temperature settings.

Preheat the oven to at least 325 degrees. Place the turkey on the roaster oven rack or other meat rack so the turkey is raised out of the juices that collect in the bottom of the oven liner. Leave the lid on throughout cooking, removing it as little as possible to avoid slowing the cooking process.

Cooking bags can be used in the roaster oven as long as the bag does not touch the sides, bottom or lid. Follow directions given by the cooking bag manufacturer, and use a food thermometer to be sure the internal temperature in the inner thigh reaches 180 degrees.

I've heard that I can cook my turkey in a brown paper sack. Is that possible?

No. Do not use brown paper bags from grocery stores or other stores for cooking. They are not sanitary, may cause a fire, and can emit toxic fumes. Intense heat may cause a bag to ignite, causing a fire in the oven and possibly adulterating the turkey. The ink, glue, and recycled materials in paper bags can emit toxic fumes when they are exposed to heat. Instead, use purchased oven cooking bags.

I haven't had a chance to thaw my turkey. Can I cook a frozen turkey?

Yes, it is safe to cook a turkey from the frozen state; however, it will take longer than a fresh or thawed bird. To determine an approximate cooking time, refer to the timetable for oven-roasting a whole turkey. Use the timing for the size of turkey you have; then add 50 percent of that time to the original time.

This timing is approximate, so check the turkey for doneness often toward the end of the estimated cooking time. Insert a food thermometer in the inner thigh meat when it has defrosted enough to easily insert one. Cook to an internal temperature of 180 degrees; then check for doneness in several places.

Giblets packages and the turkey neck may be found inside the turkey cavity and/or tucked under the flap of skin at the front of the breastbone. When the turkey has sufficiently defrosted, the packages can be removed carefully with tongs and/or forks during cooking.

If the giblets were paper wrapped before being inserted into the turkey cavity at the plant -- which is the case with most whole birds -- there is no safety concern if they cook completely inside the bird.

If giblets were packed in a plastic bag, and the bag has been altered or melted by the cooking process, do not use the giblets or the turkey because harmful chemicals may have leached into the surrounding meat. If the plastic bag was not altered, the giblets and turkey should be safe to use.

It is not recommended to cook a turkey from the frozen state in an oven cooking bag. It is unsafe to open the bag to remove the giblets during cooking because scalding may occur. Also, spilled juices and fat may cause an oven fire.

Cooking a frozen turkey in the microwave is not recommended because it can cook unevenly and might not reach a safe internal temperature throughout. The turkey may, however, be thawed (using the defrost setting) in the microwave. Cook the turkey immediately after thawing.

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