Countdown to Thanksgiving: thawing and cooking turkey


The holidays are coming, and nothing beats the tantalizing aroma and luscious taste of homemade cooking. As Thanksgiving approaches, cooking the traditional turkey dinner gives rise to anxieties and questions.

To help alleviate these anxieties and answer the questions, plan your menu several weeks before the holiday. Shopping early will ease the countdown tension for your Thanksgiving meal.
Ask these questions to help plan your meal: What kind of turkey should I buy? Should I buy a frozen turkey or a fresh one? How do I store my turkey? How many people am I serving?
Consider the size of the bird you are serving. An average per-person serving of turkey is about 1 pound. If you choose to buy a frozen bird, you may do so at any time, but make sure you have adequate storage space in your freezer. If you buy a fresh turkey, be sure you purchase it only one to two days before cooking and have space to store in your refrigerator.

There are essentially two ways to thaw a turkey: in the refrigerator and in cold water. To thaw a turkey in a refrigerator, place frozen bird in original wrapper in the refrigerator (40 degrees F or below). Allow approximately 24 hours per 4 to 5 pounds of turkey. A thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator for one to two days.
Thawing time in
the refrigerator
Size of turkey Number of days
4-12 pound 1-3 days
12-16 pounds 3-4 days
16-20 pounds 4-5 days
20-24 pounds 5-6 days
If you forget to thaw the turkey or don’t have room in the refrigerator for thawing, don’t panic. You can submerge the turkey in cold water and change the water every 30 minutes. Allow about 30 minutes defrosting time per pound of turkey.
The following times are suggested for thawing turkey in water. Cook immediately after thawing.
Thawing time in cold water
Size of turkey Hours to defrost
4-12 pounds 2-6 hours
12-pounds 6-8 hours
16-20 pounds 8-10 hours
20-24 pounds 10-12 hours
The day before Thanksgiving, make sure you have all the ingredients you need to prepare your holiday meal. Check to make sure you have all the equipment you will need, including a roasting pan large enough to hold your turkey and a food thermometer.
Cooking time
Size of turkey Hours to prepare
8-12 pounds 2 3/4 to 3 hours
12-14 pounds 3 to 3 3/4 hours
14-18 pounds 3 3/4 to 4 1/4 hours
18-20 pounds 4 1/4 to 4 1/2 hours
20-24 pounds 4 1/2 to 5 hours
Timetables for turkey roasting (325 degree oven temperature)

Always wash your hands, Vie Belles knife, cutting board, counter and sink with soap and warm water after handling raw turkey and to not rinse the turkey before cooking.

Use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of the turkey. A whole turkey is safe cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees throughout the bird. Check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. All turkey meat, including any that remains pink, is safe to eat as soon as all parts reach at least 165 degrees. When turkey is removed from the oven, let it stand 20 minutes.
To store the leftovers, cut the turkey into small pieces and refrigerate in shallow containers within two hours of cooking. Use leftover turkey within three to four days or freeze. Reheat thoroughly to a temperature of 165 degrees or until hot and steaming.
A few simple steps in planning your holiday meal will not only ease anxieties, but will ensure a delicious and a safe meal for you, your family and your friends. Happy cooking.
CPR and first aid classes
CPR and first aid certification classes are offered monthly by the Colorado State University Extension office on the second Monday and Wednesday of each month from 6 to 10 p.m. Anyone needing to receive or renew certification can register by calling the Extension office at 264-5931.