Turkey by the Numbers: Step-by-Step Instructions : Thawing

There are 3 ways to thaw a frozen, unstuffed turkey. An evenly thawed turkey may be held in the refrigerator for up to 2 days before roasting. Do not refreeze an uncooked turkey after it has been thawed.

Refrigerator Method--The best, although slowest, way of thawing. Place bird on a tray in its original wrapping and put in refrigerator until thawed. When partially thawed, remove the bag of giblets from body cavity and reserve in refrigerator for making gravy 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 pound: 3 to 4 days

Quick-Thaw Method--Leave turkey in its original wrap, place in a 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 is large enough to accommodate turkey, thaw in a glass baking dish, following manufacturer’s directions. It may take 1 to 1 1/2 hours on defrost cycle.


Preparing for Oven

Be sure the giblet bag is removed. Rinse turkey and pat dry. Check both cavities for extra parts. Here are methods for preparing stuffed and unstuffed turkeys.

Stuffed--Save time by measuring, preparing and refrigerating stuffing ingredients the night before cooking, but wait to assemble them and stuff turkey until just before placing it in oven. Never stuff a turkey ahead of time, since bird’s cavity remains warm long enough for bacteria that cause food poisoning to multiply.

Stuffing should be loosely packed into neck and body cavities. Do not overstuff--stuffing will expand while cooking. After stuffing, skewer the neck skin to the back to hold stuffing in place. Tuck drumsticks back into a clamp or skin band, or tie with kitchen twine, and twist the wings akimbo.


Allow 1/2 to 3/4 cup stuffing per pound of turkey. If recipe makes more stuffing than bird will hold, wrap remaining mixture in foil and bake alongside bird during last half hour of roasting.

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

Determining Doneness

There are 2 ways to insert a thermometer into a turkey or other large bird. If bird is stuffed, insert it through the carcass to center of stuffing. If unstuffed, insert through the large, meaty muscle of the inside of the thigh without touching bone. If no thermometer is used, test by hand--thickest part of drumstick should feel tender 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 or until thermometer reaches 170 to 175 degrees in thigh or 165 degrees in stuffing:

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

Note: Roasting a turkey, breast-side down, on a V-shaped rack until halfway done, then turning over for remaining cooking time makes the bird juicier, particularly breast meat. This works best with a smaller turkey; it is inconvenient and even dangerous to handle a big, heavy bird when hot.