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Originally published November 13, 2012 at 3:23 PM | Page modified November 21, 2012 at 6:51 PM

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Turkey basics: Cooking and thawing times from the USDA

Thawing times, cooking times and a list of ingredients for basic stuffing for turkeys.

Frozen turkey thawing timetable

Weight In refrigerator In cold water
4 to 12 pounds 1 to 3 days 2 to 6 hours
12 to 16 pounds 3 to 4 days 6 to 8 hours
16 to 20 pounds 4 to 5 days 8 to 10 hours
20 to 24 pounds 5 to 6 days 10 to 12 hours

Cold water method: Keep the turkey in a food grade, leak-proof plastic bag that will not allow water to leak through the bag. The wrapped turkey must be submerged in cold tap water and the cold water changed every 30 minutes. Allow 30 minutes defrosting time per pound of turkey. Cook immediately.

Refrigerator method: Allow approximately 24 hours in the refrigerator set at 40 degrees or below for every 4 to 5 pounds of whole turkey weight. Keep the turkey in its original wrapper and place on a tray in the refrigerator so juices don't leak onto other foods.

Approximate roasting times for turkey

Ready-to-cook: Approximate cooking time in 325-degree oven. For optimum results use a meat thermometer to check for doneness. Begin testing for the doneness you desire before you think the turkey will be done.

Stuffed Cooking time
8 to 12 pounds 3 to 3-1/2 hours
12 to 14 pounds 3-1/2 to 4 hours
14 to 18 pounds 4 to 4-1/4 hours
18 to 20 pounds 4-1/4 to 4-3/4 hours
20 to 24 pounds 4-3/4 to 5-1/4 hours
Unstuffed Cooking time
8 to 12 pounds 2-3/4 to 3 hours
12 to 14 pounds 3 to 3-3/4 hours
14 to 18 pounds 3-3/4 to 4-1/4 hours
18 to 20 pounds 4-1/4 to 4-1/2 hours
20 to 24 pounds 4-1/2 to 5 hours

Note: Set the oven no lower than 325 degrees F. Roasting time, which is approximate, can be affected by many factors, including: accuracy of oven temperature; temperature of the bird when it goes in the oven, depth, size and type of the roasting pan; and whether the turkey is shielded with foil.

Place the turkey on a wire rack in a shallow pan, adding 1/2 cup water to the bottom of the pan, and loosely tent the breast with aluminum foil. Remove the foil after 1 to 1 and 1/2 hours so the turkey can brown.

A whole turkey is safe when cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees F. throughout the bird as measured with a food thermometer. Check the temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. For reasons of personal preference, consumers may choose to cook poultry to higher temperatures. Turkey breasts must reach 165 degrees. If the turkey is stuffed, the temperature in the center of the stuffing must reach 165 degrees.

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For optimum safety, the USDA does not recommend stuffing a turkey. For more even cooking, it is recommended you cook the stuffing outside the bird in a casserole. Use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of the stuffing. The stuffing must reach a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees.

If you choose to stuff a turkey, the ingredients can be prepared ahead of time; however, keep wet and dry ingredients separate.

Chill all of the wet ingredients (butter,/margerine, cooked celery and onions, broth, etc.). Mix wet and dry ingredients just before filling the turkey cavities. Fill the cavities loosely. Cook the turkey immediately. Use a food thermometer to make sure the center of the stuffing reaches a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees.

Basic stuffing ingredients

Poultry weight 6 lbs. 10 lbs. 12 lbs. 20 lbs.
Butter 1/3 cup ½ cup 2/3 cup 1 cup
Chopped onion 2/3 cup 1 cup 1-1/3 cup 2 cups
Chopped celery 2/3 cup 1 cup 1-1/3 cup 2 cups
Soft bread crumbs ½ inch square 9 cups 15 cups 18 cups 30 cups
Salt ½ tsp. 1 tsp. 1½ tsp. 2 tsp.
Pepper 1/8 tsp. ¼ tsp. ½ tsp. 1 tsp.
Poultry seasoning 2 tsp. 1 tbls. 1-1/3 tbls. 2 tbls.
Liquid 2/3 cups 1 cup 1-1/3 cups 2 cups

To prepare stuffing, melt butter in skillet, add onion and celery, and sauté for 15 minutes. Combine bread cubes, salt, pepper and poultry seasoning with sautéed mixture. Add liquid (water or broth) and mix thoroughly. Stuff turkey and roast immediately.

Note: These amounts are generous. If all stuffing does not fit in the bird, refrigerate extra stuffing in a casserole dish. Bake, covered, the same day as it was prepared for 1 hour at 325 degrees. Do not pack stuffing too tightly in the turkey.

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