Tips to roast the perfect turkey

Jamie Davis
OSU Lake County Extension

Turkey is a low-cost, low-fat, and nutritious food, yet we often overlook cooking a turkey outside the holiday season. It is no surprise there are a number of turkey preparation and food safety questions this time of year. The Oregon State University (OSU) Extension Service offers several resources to assist you in your quest to cook the perfect bird.  Below are some basic food safety guidelines to assist you.

When selecting the turkey, you have the choice between a frozen and a fresh bird.  If you buy a frozen turkey, make sure you keep it frozen until it’s time to thaw, and follow the guidelines given below.

Typically, for determining what size of turkey to buy, you want to allow three-quarters to 1 pound per person for an 8- to 12-pound frozen turkey. For a larger frozen turkey (greater than 12 pounds), allow one-half to three-quarters pound per person. If you are purchasing a fresh turkey, allow for 1 pound per person and purchase up to two days prior to cooking.

For a frozen bird, thawing in the refrigerator is often the preferred method, but it requires some forethought. To thaw a turkey in the refrigerator requires 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds.  Make sure to leave the turkey in the original wrapper but place the bird on a tray or pan. A thawed turkey can stay in the refrigerator safely for up to two days prior to cooking.

You may also thaw a turkey in cold water. Keep the turkey in the original wrapper, and then place it inside a large plastic bag. Fully submerge the turkey in cold tap water in either a deep sink or a large ice chest. This process will take about 30 minutes per pound. The thawed turkey can then be cooked immediately or refrigerated for up to two days.

When you are ready to prepare the bird, make sure you wash your hands with soap and water and preheat your oven to no less than 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove the plastic wrapper from the thawed bird, and remove the giblets and neck packets, which should be cooked separately. Do not wash the bird, as this scatters bacteria. Place the bird on a rack in a roasting pan and cook until the turkey reaches a minimum temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit with a food thermometer. Remove the bird from the oven and allow it to rest for 20 minutes.

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Please note that the U.S. Department of Agriculture does not recommend stuffing turkeys, as stuffing prolongs the turkey baking time and prevents uniform cooking. The stuffing may not reach a high enough temperature to kill bacteria. However, if you do choose to stuff your turkey, make sure the stuffing is moist, loosely stuffed, and reaches a temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

For more information on preparing your holiday turkey, please visit the Oregon State University Extension website and check out the Turkey Basics Publication. For additional questions, please contact the USDA Meat & Poultry hotline at 1-888-674-6854.