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Countdown to Thanksgiving: Cooking the Turkey

Cross-posted from the FoodSafety.gov blog.

November is the busiest month of the year for those of us on the USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline. During the week of Thanksgiving, we get lots of questions about how to safely cook a turkey. Here are answers to the questions we hear most often.

How can I tell when the turkey is done?

Whether you roast, brine, deep fry or smoke your turkey, always use a food thermometer to check the temperature of the meat. You won’t overcook your turkey, and you can ensure it has been cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F to destroy bacteria and prevent foodborne illness. Check the temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. If the turkey is stuffed, the stuffing must also reach 165 °F.

How long does it take to cook a turkey?

Use the Turkey Roasting Chart to determine how long to cook your turkey. These times are approximate and based on fresh or thawed birds at a refrigerator temperature of 40 °F or below.

Is it safe to cook a turkey from the frozen state?

Yes, the cooking time will take at least 50 percent longer than recommended for a fully thawed turkey. Remember to remove the giblet package during the cooking time. Remove carefully with tongs or a fork.

Can I cook two turkeys at the same time?

Cooking two turkeys of about the same weight does not double the roasting time. Cooking time is determined by the weight of one bird. Just make sure there is sufficient oven space for proper heat circulation.

What about storing leftovers?

  • Bacteria spread fastest at temperatures between 40 °F and 140 °F, so chilling food safely reduces the risk of foodborne illness. Discard any turkey, stuffing, and gravy left out at room temperature longer than 2 hours. Divide leftovers into smaller portions. Refrigerate or freeze in covered shallow containers for quicker cooling.
  • Use refrigerated turkey, stuffing, and gravy within 3 to 4 days or freeze it. Use frozen turkey and stuffing leftovers within 2 to 6 months for best quality. Reheat to 165 °F or until hot and steaming. Gravy should come to a rolling boil.

Can I call the Meat & Poultry Hotline on Thanksgiving Day?

Yes! The Hotline will be staffed from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Eastern Time on Thanksgiving Day. Call us toll-free at 1-888-674-6854. (Our usual hours are Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Eastern Time.) You can also ask a question in English or Spanish at AskKaren.gov, available 24 hours a day

This Thanksgiving turkey has been heated to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F, as indicated by the food thermometer. Bacteria is destroyed at this temperature, preventing foodborne illness.

This Thanksgiving turkey has been heated to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F, as indicated by the food thermometer. Bacteria is destroyed at this temperature, preventing foodborne illness.

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