Turkey 101

What Size Turkey Should I Buy?

For turkeys that weigh less than 16 pounds, estimate about 1 pound of raw turkey per person, which delivers around a half-pound of edible meat. Bigger birds are meatier, so with those, figure 1½ pounds per person. Note: Bigger turkeys take longer to thaw and longer to cook, and can cook less evenly. If you’re serving a large group, or want more leftovers, we suggest you cook two smaller birds.

How Do I Thaw My Turkey?

You want to buy your turkey at least four days before Thanksgiving, because it will take a while for the bird to thaw in the refrigerator. Thaw it breast side up, in the unopened manufacturer’s wrapper, on a tray in the refrigerator. Plan on about 24 hours per every four pounds of the bird’s weight. A thawed whole turkey will keep in the refrigerator for up to four days before cooking.


Believe it or not, it’s actually safe to cook a turkey from the frozen state — but be aware that the cooking time will be at least 50 percent longer than what’s recommended for a fully thawed turkey, so make sure you put it in the oven in enough time.

Is There A Faster Way?

Yes, you can use a cold-water thaw, but it still takes 30 minutes per pound. Thaw breast side down, in the unopened wrapper, with enough cold water to completely cover the turkey. You will need to change the water every 30 minutes.

How Do I Know When My Turkey Is Done?

The most important thing you need when preparing a turkey dinner is a meat thermometer. If your turkey did not come with a pop-up timer, you will need to check the internal temperature with a food thermometer. Your turkey is ready to come out of the oven when the breast temperature reaches 165 degrees and the thickest part of the thighs reaches between 170 and 175 degrees. The thermometer should be inserted into the joint of the leg and thigh. Don’t push it in so far that it touches bone; the thermometer makes its reading within the first inch of the probe.

Will My Turkey Get Cold If I Let It Rest?

The turkey needs to rest for at least 30 minutes before carving, which gives it time to reabsorb the juices. Don’t tent the turkey with foil to keep it warm while it’s resting; it’s unnecessary and will make the skin soggy. And don’t worry about temperature. As long as the turkey is intact, it will cool pretty slowly.

What If I Undercook The Turkey?

Carve the breasts and legs off the carcass (keeping the pieces whole), place them on a rimmed baking sheet, and pop them back in the oven at 350° until a thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh registers 165°.

What If It’s Overcooked?

Although there’s no real going back from an overcooked or dry turkey, you can add gravy to moisten it a bit.

Can I Refreeze My Thawed Turkey?

Yes, but … from a quality and safety standpoint, thawed meat should only be refrozen once.

Does Turkey Really Make You Tired?

Nope, turkey doesn’t actually contain any more tryptophan than many other foods.