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How to Prepare the Perfect Turkey for Thanksgiving & Christmas

Updated on November 24, 2007

North Carolina ranks second nationally in the number of turkeys raised, trailing only Minnesota. Below are some guidelines to follow as you plan to prepare a turkey for your Thanksgiving or Christmas gathering.

How much turkey do you need?

For the average turkey in the 8 to 12 pound range, you should figure on about 1 pound of turkey per person. Larger birds will have a greater proportion of meat to bones. Therefore, about ¾ pound per person should be enough. This should also provide some leftover turkey for sandwiches, soups, or salads. The leftovers can be frozen for later use.

Thawing the turkey

Like all protein foods, frozen turkey should be thawed in the refrigerator, never at room temperature. When foods are thawed at room temperature, surface bacteria can rapidly multiply to dangerous levels when temperatures reach 40 degrees F and above.

For safety and optimum quality, leave turkey in the original packaging and place in a shallow pan. Thaw, in the refrigerator, using this simple rule of thumb: whole turkeys will thaw at a rate of 5 pounds per 24 hours. For example, a 15-pound frozen turkey will take 3 days to thaw in the refrigerator.

To reduce thawing time, place the turkey (still in the original packaging) in a clean sink or pan. Submerge in cold water, changing the water about every 30 minutes. The turkey will take about 30 minutes per pound to thaw. When thawed, refrigerate or cook the turkey. A defrosted turkey should not be refrozen.

Stuffing the turkey

Stuffing is best when it is prepared and stuffed into the turkey just before it is put into the oven for roasting. If the stuffing is made before it is time to put it in the turkey, the ingredients should be refrigerated separately and combined just before stuffing the turkey.

The turkey should be stuffed loosely with about ¾ cup of stuffing per pound of turkey. The temperature of the stuffing should be checked as well as the turkey. The center of the stuffing should have a temperature in the range of 160 to 165 degrees F.

How to know when the bird is done

The best way to determine if a turkey is done is with a food thermometer. Use these tests to determine how done it is and to keep the turkey juicy:

For a whole turkey, put the food thermometer in the deepest part of the thigh, but not touching the bone. The internal temperature of the turkey should measure 180 degrees F in the thigh and 170 degrees F in the breast. The juices should be clear and the drumsticks should be soft and move easily at the joint.

Roasting Guidelines

For a fresh or thawed turkey, roast on the lowest rack of a conventional oven @ 325 degrees F

Weight...............Unstuffed Turkey......Stuffed Turkey

8 to 12 pounds.....2 ¾ to 3 hours........3 to 3 ½ hours

12 to 14 pounds...3 to 3 ¾ hours........3 ½ to 4 hours

14 to 18 pounds...3 ¾ to 4 ¼ hours....4 to 4 ¼ hours

18 to 20 pounds...4 ¼ to 4 ½ hours... 4 ¼ to 4 ¾ hours

20 to 24 pounds...4 ½ to 5 hours ...... 4 ¾ to 5 ¼ hours

24 to 30 pounds...5 to 5 ¼ hours....... 5 ¼ to 6 ¼ hours

Click Here to Impress Your Friends with These Turkey Facts


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