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Turkey Talk:
Answers to the 6
Most-Asked Questions

by Sherri Allen

Thanksgiving Roasted Turkey

Stop worrying about cooking the turkey!! We're here to help.

The holiday season is upon us. Our minds turn to the delicious aromas of Thanksgiving wafting from the kitchens of celebrations-past. The busy cook hosting this years' gathering, however, doesn't always get to enjoy the thoughts of pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce. Instead, he or she worries about the turkey... "How long should I cook it? Which method should I use? What's the right temperature for cooking it?"

The answers to six of the most-asked turkey-roasting questions are right here. Keep reading and plan to enjoy your holiday!

• What size turkey do I need to buy?
Plan for at least one pound of uncooked turkey per person when purchasing a whole turkey. You'll have enough for the feast and for leftovers, too.

• How should I defrost the turkey?
Turkey can be thawed in the refrigerator, in cold water or in the microwave.

Whole turkey takes about 24 hours per four to five pounds to thaw in the refrigerator. In cold water, changed every 30 minutes, turkey takes about 30 minutes per pound to thaw. When using a microwave to thaw a turkey, follow the manufacturer's instructions for the size turkey that will fit in your oven, the minutes per pound and the power level to use.

Never defrost turkey on the counter.

Once thawed, keep turkey refrigerated at 40 degrees F. or below until it is ready to be cooked. Turkey thawed in the microwave should be cooked immediately.

• How should I stuff the turkey?
Stuffing should be prepared and stuffed into the turkey immediately before it's placed in the oven for cooking. If preparing the stuffing ahead-of-time, wet and dry ingredients should be refrigerated separately and combined right before stuffing the turkey.

Stuff the turkey loosely, about 3/4 cup stuffing per pound of turkey.

Test the suffing for doneness. Place a meat thermometer in the center of the stuffing. Once the stuffing has reached 160 to 165 degrees F., the stuffing is done.

Do not remove the turkey from the oven until the stuffing has reached the required temperature.

For over 100 stuffing recipes, visit

• Do I have to stuff the turkey?
No. If you do not stuff your turkey, add about 2 cups of coarsely chopped celery and onion, with a few sprigs of fresh sage, to the cavity to enhance the fragrance and add to the flavor of the pan juices.

• How do I cook the turkey?
According to Sherrie Rosenblatt, director of public relations for the National Turkey Federation (NTF), the open pan dry heat cooking method is the easiest and most reliable of all cooking methods and results in a juicy, tender, flavorful golden brown turkey. Just follow these easy steps:

  1. Thaw the turkey and remove neck and giblets from the neck and body cavities.
  2. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. for conventional ovens.
  3. Place turkey breast-side up on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. If cooking stuffing inside the turkey, fill the body cavity with stuffing now.
  4. Insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh, not touching bone.
  5. Roast the turkey, uncovered, until the meat thermometer registers 180 degrees F. Use the roasting timetable below to estimate approximate cooking time. If stuffed, make sure the temperature of the stuffing has reached 160 to 165 degrees F. before removing the turkey from the oven.

• How long should I cook the turkey?
The following chart shows the NTF's turkey roasting guidelines for a fresh or thawed turkey cooked at 325 degrees F. on the lowest rack. Remember, these are just guidelines; use a meat thermometer to check for actual doneness.

Weight Unstuffed Turkey Stuffed Turkey
8 to 12 pounds 2 3/4 to 3 hours 3 to 3 1/2 hours
12 to 14 pounds 3 to 3 3/4 hours 3 1/2 to 4 hours
14 to 18 pounds 3 3/4 to 4 1/4 hours 4 to 4 1/4 hours
18 to 20 pounds 4 1/4 to 4 1/2 hours 4 1/4 to 4 3/4 hours
20 to 24 pounds 4 1/2 to 5 hours 4 3/4 to 5 1/4 hours
24 to 30 pounds 5 to 5 1/4 hours 5 1/4 to 6 1/4 hours

For more information, visit the NTF's website at You will find recipes, tips, recommendations and the 2003 How to Guide for Thanksgiving.

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Image Credit: National Turkey Federation