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Cooking A Whole Turkey, Safety Charts

Updated on September 6, 2012
Cooking charts make it easy to prepare a whole turkey for any holiday table!
Cooking charts make it easy to prepare a whole turkey for any holiday table! | Source

Turkey Prep Charts

No need to let the anxiety of the season get its grip on you this year, simply print out (or bookmark) the handy Turkey-Prep Cheat Sheets below and place them on the fridge. Because this year, the accolades belong to you, not the Bird!

Turkey Thawing, Cooking, Serving, and Leftovers

The Turkey. Most American holidays would not be the same without it. Roasted, fried, baked and boiled, this bird is tops on our Thanksgiving, Christmas, and almost every Holiday feast menu. However, many find that the math behind thawing, cooking and serving this delicious bird keep the illusive turkey perfection just out of reach. Instead of hoping for the best when it comes to your turkey this year, you have at your disposal a couple of very handy "Cheat Sheets" to help find that perfect holiday turkey outcome.

What Kind of Pan is Best For Cooking Turkey

How to Avoid a Screaming-hot Turkey Disaster

Using a flimsy, cheap, thin roasting pan will only serve to offer a dangerous 12-plus pound screaming-hot juggling act at the end of the day. The biggest favor you can do for yourself or the cook in your home, is to make certain the kitchen has a reliably thick and sturdy roasting pan.

Safety For Removing Turkey From The Oven

A turkey is hard enough to handle when it's cool and fresh out of the fridge, but remember this oddly shaped convex back, wiggly legs, and dense weight can become a nightmare when coming out of a 3 or 4 hour stent in a 350°F oven. If the pan you roast in is not sturdy, the act of removing the hot turkey from the oven, can end up becoming a ride to the local emergency room, or at the very least, a real waist of great turkey as it tumbles to the kitchen floor.

Roasting Pan Note:

Buying a quality roasting pan can save you a ton of turkey anguish in the long run. Just make sure which ever roasting pan you choose, offers your bird 2-inches of clear space on all four sides of the pan and is a heavy enough gauge material so it does not wobble with the turkey in it. Also, having sturdy handles to lift and move the pan with can be very helpful.


How To Thaw a Turkey

How to Safely Thaw a Whole Turkey (Or De-Chillin' The Bird)

A fresh turkey will always be the best choice for a better and more moist bird. But, this is not always (if at all) an option for most home cooks. The reasons are many—price, convenience, timing, store give away—as to why you end up with a frozen turkey. This holiday turkey may well be safe at home with you, but it stills needs to be thawed carefully and slowly in the refrigerator for several days.


10 to 12 pounds
2 Days
4 to 6 Hours
12 to 14 pounds 
3 Days 
6 to 9 Hours 
14 to 18 pounds 
4 Days 
9 to 14 Hours 
18 pounds and over
4 to 5 Days
14 to 24 Hours
*Do not be tempted to use warm or hot water to thaw the turkey, only cold water will protect the process in the safest manner.

Thawing a Whole Turkey, Chart

The cheat sheet at right will help guide you through the safe defrosting of your thanksgiving or Christmas turkey. *If you are short on time and big on ambition, a turkey can be thawed in the sink, a large bowl, or even a bathtub (for a really big turkey) filled with cold water, but you are usually still looking at an entire day. The point here, be prepared and plan ahead and your holiday turkey feast will go as smooth as,...well,... is your turkey gravy hopefully!


Cooking a Stuffed Turkey (At 325ºF)

How do you tell if a turkey is done? Wiggle the drumstick of course, if it's loose it's done,...WAY OVER DONE!

**The only safe and reliable way to determine if your holiday turkey is done to a safe, and yet moist point, is to check the internal temperature.**


8 to 12 Pounds
3 to 4 Hours
12 to 16 Pounds 
4 to 4-1/2 Hours 
16 to 20 Pounds 
4-1/2 to 5 Hours 
20 to 26 Pounds
5 to 6 Hours
*For an unstuffed turkey, subtract 20 to 40 minutes from the total cooking time, but always check the internal temperature for safety to be sure your holiday bird is safe and cooked thoroughly.

How Do I Know When the Turkey is Done

  1. Place an instant-read thermometer into the thickest part of the turkey thigh, without hitting or touching the bone. It needs to read 165º to 170ºF.
  2. The juices must run clear with no sign of blood when you remove the thermometer.
  3. The breast meat will cook more quickly, so using the thigh area is the safest location to test the temperature.
  4. If the turkey is stuffed, you must check the temperature of the stuffing as well: It must be at least 160ºF.
  5. If the holiday turkey is done and the stuffing is not yet to temperature, take the turkey out of the oven, remove the stuffing to a casserole, put the stuffing back into the oven on its own to finish cooking while the bird rests.

Turkey Temperature Cheat Sheet

Using the cheat sheet at above right, you can manage the turkey cooking times for the size of the holiday turkey you have chosen to cook. However; no matter what any chart or recipe suggests:




TURKEY WEIGHT (In pounds) 
If you desire very large serving sizes and seconds as well as leftovers, allow another 1/2 pound of turkey per person.

NOTE: Manageable Turkey Size

When considering the size of your bird, be certain that you or someone within your household is going to be strong enough to lift any sized turkey into and safely out-of your oven.

How to Measure the Turkey Serving Size, Per Guest

How big is big enough, and when is big enough too big?

Cooking a turkey is probably going to be the biggest thing you cook in your home kitchen annually, and Thanksgiving and Christmas usually means many more elbows on your dining room table. And don't forget, nothing is better than holiday turkey leftovers; as they are de rigueur after all. Remember, feeding all of your guest doesn't really require a pterodactyl sized bird, but possibly a twin-set of turkeys isn't such a bad idea?

You will need to calculate just how much turkey you are truly going to need. See the serving chart "cheat sheet" at right to help you figure it out very quickly and easily, (It will also help you compute the amount of leftovers you desire).

How Big Should My Turkey Be

Now really think about this and ask yourself; "What size turkey can I actually manage?" Remember that once you get into a bird that is more than 15-pounds, it is no longer a feather weight, but rather a real heavyweight!

How To Choose The Size Of A Turkey

  • The larger turkey will require a larger pan that is strong enough to take on this big bird (not a Sesame Street reference at all).
  • You must also consider the size of your oven, will the turkey and the pan fit into it with at least 2 inches of room on all sides? If not, the cheat sheet below will not be on target.
  • Don't forget that the bird is convex, so it requires some headroom as well.

What You Think Really Does Matter!

What part of the Turkey Do You Fight For?

See results

Two Birds in Hand...

Should I Cook Two Small Birds Instead of One Huge Bird

I know this may sound trite, but if you have two ovens, a method to make your cooking day easier (it really will) is to prepare two smaller turkeys.

Are Two Turkeys Better Than One? (You had me at twice as much crispy skin!)

Just think;

  • Two wishbones
  • Four drumsticks
  • Twice as much juicy breast meat
  • And all of those extra turkey drippings for that-much-more turkey gravy!

Even more importantly than the list above, with a smaller turkey it is far easier to get that magic temperature between juicy white meat and fully cooked dark meat, while at the same time creating twice as much crispy roast turkey skin!

Thanksgiving and Christmas Turkey Math


How Would You Rate The Informatin On How To Cook A Whole Turkey?

5 stars for How to Cook a Whole Turkey

Comments for "Safety Charts For Cooking A Whole Turkey"

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  • K9keystrokes profile imageAUTHOR

    India Arnold 

    8 years ago from Northern, California

    Nellieana~Thank you so very much for the recipe! I cannot wait to 'warm' those salad fixins'. It sounds as if TX will be a grand holiday experience for you, possibly a few extra bits of fruit packed away in your carry-on will help keep your daily-fresh-produce requirements on task? I giggled many time as I read through your comments, the gentle and loving nudge at a right slanted group, are very smooth.

    As for any "ramblings" (as you refer) if only these could be the way all humans communicated, what a wonderful thing that would be. Clever, articulate and open. My days would be filled with far more smiles and ingestion of knowledge! I bid you a wonderful Holiday season with the warmest wishes I can muster.

    Always thrilled when you hop over for a read,


  • Nellieanna profile image

    Nellieanna Hay 

    8 years ago from TEXAS

    Haha - wow, what a response, K9! At times in my life, I admit I felt I must be powered with Kryptonite to keep up the pace and meet the challenges. I tend to be obsessive so never do things "half-way". They are all or nothing at all!

    I'm palsied to report that I've received an invitation to Thanksgiving with my step-relatives in Austin. It is a most interesting assortment of people with a great deal more dedication to Univ. of Texas spirit, all sports and games, right-wing politics and almost religious-like avoidance of the fresh produce than I prefer. But I can handle a day or two of burnt-orange & white UT colors, unending TV sports coverage and discussion, and Tea-Party sympathies without protesting. I ado watch occasional sports, did go to UT for a semester of grad school and was once a lukewarm elephant. (The people are lovable and the food scrumptous, otherwise. hehe. One Christmas, before the most current inaugeration, one cousin who joined the festivities flew in on Air Force One from his post at the Bush White House. He was low-key about it, but his mother couldn't stop bragging about him and her other two sons! Thankfully, the also live in Dallas and usually have better things to do than "slum" with the rest of us.

    I enjoy riding down with my stepson and catching up with visiting with him. He lives in Plano - a far-north Dallas suburb. Fairly recently divorced and into a newer job as the result of the economic turnover - one which occupies his time fully, as well as finding his sea-legs in a single-person's world, he isn't often available for uninterrupted chats with me. If I needed him, he'd be here in an instant. Neither of us is especially clingy, though.

    I love sleeping on my step-granddaughter's couch cuddled in the down comforter she brings out of the coat closet for me. I'm always offered a bed upstairs, but I prefer the couch. Everyone else sleeps upstairs, so I can peck away at my laptop as long as I wish, access the fridge before anyone else wakes in the morning to get & eat the orange I bring along as a pittance of my usual bowl of fruit every morning, (since it is an anti-fresh-produce household).

    My Hot-Salad soup has a few variables but I find that the basic assortment suits my taste buds best. It's a can of chicken broth plus a little water to give enough liquid to the mix, with some precooked chicken (either canned, frozen or left-over), The veggies are one large sliced carrot, a bunch of sliced celery, a potato (usually a small red one, diced up, unreeled), onion, colored bell pepper if I have any on-hand, a few shreds of fresh cabbage, sometimes some green beans if I have fresh ones unhand - or frozen if they appeal to me at the time, generous fresh ginger root, generous Kikkoman soy sauce, curry powder and turmeric. When I try other things in it, I may not mind them but usually wish I'd stuck to the basics.

    I didn't see any regular cabbage that looked presentable at the market yesterday so I'll try some napa cabbage. If I don't like it in the soup, I do like it raw. The reason George said my soup is "hot salad" is that I barely cook it - it's almost al dente, though the leftover mug of it for another meal gets more cooked being heated in the microwave.

    The Calphalon pot I use for this - and for many other things - is so wonderful. It has slightly sloped sides, flaring up and out a bit. It does rice beautifully, as well as oatmeal and anything else I've ever cooked in it. I ordered it online and never see that one advertised since then. I love Calphalon cookware and the pieces I have could easily replace any and all other cookware of a lifetime of cooking! One of these days I am going to give myself a Calphalon frittata pan - which is actually two skillets which hook together so that the contents can easily be inverted for cooking both sides smoothly. I'd love it for omelets, especially.

    As I say - my cooking has boiled down to some VERY simple things I both like and know to support my health. I like the flavor of foods without too much other additions, though I'm very fond of soy sauce, ginger, curry and turmeric. I like Mediterranean cuisines, and, of course - being a native-born border rat, I love Mexican cuisine, from Tex-Mex to other SW adaptations, - though my own heritage is British Isles & Germanic.

    Thanks for the warm and generous welcome K9! Nice of you to forgive my rambling.

  • K9keystrokes profile imageAUTHOR

    India Arnold 

    8 years ago from Northern, California

    lyjo~Wow! Thank you so much for the accolades my new hub friend. I am so happy that you enjoy and 'get' my odd humor. I am grateful for your comments and kind words. Keep on Hubbing!


  • profile image


    8 years ago

    Absolutely great...loved reading this, cute, funny, informative, such a great writer...awesome information & details....voted way up, awesome, funny...thanks. Take care!

  • K9keystrokes profile imageAUTHOR

    India Arnold 

    8 years ago from Northern, California

    Nelieanna~ You trigger my curiosity with the mention of your 'Nellieanna Hot Salad Chicken Veggie soup' Possibly a recipe hub on the list to share the spicy comfort-food sounding delight?

    I can only imagine the task of cooking a Thanksgiving turkey feast for 7 people out of an RV! I bow to your super-womanness. Certainly you uncovered a big red 'S' under your apron to find that only Kryptonite could slow your task!? ;)

    I am finding the holidays, (these past three) to be something different than before my spouse passed in 2008. It all seems less grand and far more turned-inward. It has been a chore to place a cheery smile where my broken heart remains, but I am so very grateful for the memories. It sounds as if your George gave you many grand memories to recall during this season as well. I will keep you plenty in my thoughts as the big days come and go.

    Please know that I value your comments and sharing beyond words. You have a kind and unassuming way of sparking the good memories within...

    Thank you much.


  • Nellieanna profile image

    Nellieanna Hay 

    8 years ago from TEXAS

    Great informaton - ! But Ah -K9. THANKfully I no longer have to face these tasks. Now I'm either invited to go to Austin with my stepson for his daughters' and their other side of the family's holiday celebration - where my help feels more like offering interference. I'm helping by just doing my little share of eating of the over-production laid out! And it's all lovely. If by chance they forget to invite me, well - no biggie. I'll get a small turkey breast and cook it - enough for the festive meal and a couple of leftover meals. I'll open a can of cranberry sauce (which I love), fix a green salad and steam a hot veggie - pretty nearly my regular fare, except for the cranberry sauce and that choice of a meat. Not that it's not a good one. But usually my meat choice is enough for one for one meal, unless it's my Nellieanna Hot Salad Chicken Veggie soup - when it makes two soup mugs full - and serves me two meals.

    So I'm spared the ordeal of juggling timing for the food and the eaters, and the mess afterwards, including cleaning the carcass to get ever little morsel of turkey off the bones. LOL . The aroma is divine though, as it bakes. And in all candor and honestly - I always enjoyed fixing it all those many, many years. And I do seriously miss my George's famous turkey gravy! All his progeny try to make it just like he did and they do pretty well - but no one can do it like he did. I even enjoyed making Thanksgiving dinner for 7 at the ranch one year - doing it all in our 28 foot RV with the tiny stove & oven, little fridge and sink and limited seating. It was fun and every was especially thankful. I was too, when I FINALLY managed to get all the pots and pans washed, rinsed, dried and put away!!! LOL. Come to think of it that may have been next to the last time I ever did a turkey dinner, though George was alway invited to do the gravy when we went to is son's house for the celebration. He was only ever alive for two holiday (Christmas) dinners with his grandkids and only one with his great grandson - That was his last Christmas on earth, in fact. His son made the gravy that time.


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