A roasted turkey plays the starring role in a traditional Thanksgiving celebration. Though roasting a turkey is easy to do it does take time and planning to be able to serve it at a precise time. Meat from a whole roasted turkey is nutritious, tender and juicy.
Here are some tips that will answer some of your questions about purchasing, preparing and roasting a whole turkey.
What should I buy – a fresh or frozen turkey?
Fresh or frozen turkey can be roasted using the same process. The one difference is that purchasing a fresh turkey eliminates the need to allow time to thaw the turkey. Purchase a fresh turkey approximately 1 to 2 days before cooking it. Keep it covered in the refrigerator until it is time to cook the turkey.
Frozen turkey can be purchased any time, but you should keep it frozen until 1 to 5 days before cooking. Whole frozen turkey can be kept in the freezer for up to 12 months.
How much turkey should I buy?
Allow 1 pound of turkey per person when roasting a whole turkey. Usually, because so many other foods are prepared for a special meal, this will be enough turkey.
Thawing a Frozen Turkey
Here is a guide for determining how much time you need to allow to completely thaw a frozen whole turkey.
Thaw the turkey in the refrigerator at 40° F. Allow approximately 24 hours per 5 pounds whole turkey
8 to 12 pounds — 1 to 2 days
12 to 16 pounds — 2 to 3 days
16 to 20 pounds — 3 to 4 days
20 to 24 pounds — 4 to 5 days
Alternatively, thaw the turkey in cold water. Allow approximately 30 minutes per pound of a whole turkey. Cover the turkey in a large bowl or a sink with ice cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes.
8 to 12 pounds — 4 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
After thawing, remove the neck and giblets from both neck and body cavities, wash the turkey inside and out with cold water and drain well. The thawed turkey can stay in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days after thawing.
Roasting a Turkey
The following timetable for roasting a turkey can be used for both fresh and thawed turkey at 325° F. The times are approximate and should be used as a guide and with an oven-safe meat thermometer.
8 to 12 pounds — 2 ¾ to 3 hours
12 to 14 pounds —3 to 3 ¾ hours
14 to 18 pounds — 3 ¾ to 4 ¼ hours
18 to 20 pounds — 4 ¼ to 4 ½ hours
20 to 24 pounds — 4 ½ to 5 hours
8 to 12 pounds — 3 to 3 ½ hours
12 to 14 pounds —3 ½ to 4 hours
14 to 18 pounds — 4 to 4 ¼ hours
18 to 20 pounds — 4 ¼ to 4 ¾ hours
20 to 24 pounds — 4 ¾ to 5 ¼ hours
Use a meat thermometer to ensure that the internal temperature of the whole turkey reaches 165°F. Check the temperature at the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast, without the thermometer touching a bone. The internal temperature could be slightly higher if placed next to the bone.
For specific information about roasting a turkey click on the recipe for Roasted Turkey to learn how.
Source: United States Department of Agriculture; Food Safety & Inspection Service; www.fsis.usda.gov