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Thanksgiving Turkey 101:  From The National Turkey Federation

Thanksgiving is our favorite holiday to gather with friends and family to count our many blessings as a nation.  Since 95% percent of Americans eat turkey at Thanksgiving, we want you to also be thankful for your perfectly cooked turkey.

Happy Thanksgiving from America’s turkey farmers and the National Turkey Federation.


Thawing a frozen turkey – plan on a week in the refrigerator

  • Allow 24 hours thawing time for every 4 to 5 pounds of whole frozen turkey and other large turkey pieces. Place the bird, in the original wrapping, on a shallow baking sheet in the refrigerator.
  • ​Tip from Professional Chefs: thaw the turkey upside-down so that the meat remains moist and juicy.

Refrigerator Turkey Thawing Time (40ºF)

Turkey Weight

Days to Allow for Thawing Turkey

8 to 12 pounds

2 to 2.5 days

12 to 16 pounds

2.5 to 4 days

16 to 20 pounds

4 to 5 days

20 to 24 pounds

5 to 6 days

  • Turkey is thawed when it reaches 38ºF.

Roasting the perfect turkey

  1. If you stuff your bird, add stuffing immediately before placing in the oven. The center of the stuffing must register 160-165ºF on a meat thermometer after cooking before removing the turkey from the oven.
  2. If you do not stuff your turkey, the addition of 2 cups of coarsely chopped celery, onion and carrots to the cavity will enhance the fragrance and add to the flavor of the pan juices.
  3. Select a shallow roasting pan that is at least 2 inches longer and wider than the turkey so oven air can flow completely around the turkey.
  4. Add 1/2 cup of water to the bottom of the pan.
  5. Roast at 325ºF in the oven until a meat thermometer indicates the internal temperature registers 180ºF in the thigh and 170ºF in the breast.  Allow the turkey to rest for 20 to 25 minutes before carving.
“Open Pan Method” NTF Roasting Guidelines for a Fresh or Thawed Turkey
Roast in a 325ºF Conventional Oven on the Lowest Oven Rack


Unstuffed Turkey

Stuffed Turkey

8-12 pounds

2.75 to 3 hours

3 to 3.5 hours

12-14 pounds

3 to 3.75 hours

3.5 to 4 hours

14-18 pounds

3.75 to 4.25 hours

4 to 4.25 hours

18-20 pounds

4.25 to 4.5 hours

4.25 to 4.75 hours

20-24 pounds

4.5 to 5 hours

4.75 to 5.25 hours

24-30 pounds

5 to 5.25 hours

5.25 to 6.25 hours

Cooking takes longer under these circumstances:

  • A partially frozen bird requires longer cooking – check carefully that it is thoroughly cooked to 170ºF.
  • The depth and size of roasting pans can alter heat circulation around the bird. A turkey or the roasting pan may be too large for the oven and could block heat circulation. Be sure to allow at least 2-inches of space around the oven walls so heat can circulate around the turkey.
  • The use of an aluminum foil tent for the entire roasting time will slow down cooking.
  • A stuffed turkey takes longer to cook.


Cooking is faster under these circumstances:

  • Dark roasting pans result in faster cook times than shiny metal roasting pans.
  • If the turkey is covered with the roasting pan lid, the cook time will be shorter.
  • An oven cooking bag can accelerate cook time.

Storing your leftovers

  • Extra turkey from the meal should be carved from the bone and the stuffing removed. Store in shallow containers and refrigerate or freeze within two hours of cooking.
  • Cooked, sliced turkey should be refrigerated within two hours and be kept cold at 40ºF. When reheating, be sure the turkey reaches a temperature of 165ºF.


The Extras from Thanksgiving Refrigerator at 35ºF to 40ºF Freezer Storage at 0ºF or Below
Parts, Slices, Turkey Pieces
(not covered with gravy or broth)
1 to 2 days 1 month
Parts, Slices, Turkey Pieces (covered with gravy or broth) 1 to 2 days 6 months
Cooked Dishes Containing Turkey 1 to 2 days 4 to 6 months
Gravy, Broth 1 to 2 days 2 to 3 months

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