Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and if you're new to cooking turkey, or you're the host of this year's Thanksgiving, don't fret! We have you covered. The thought of preparing a humongous bird on your own can be a daunting one, but with this handy guide suitable for any size turkey, you'll be ready!

Thawing Your Turkey (2-5 Days Before Roasting)

Grocery Store Aisle

Piles of frozen turkeys will adorn the meat aisles of your local market during November. Purchasing one and finding a spot in your freezer is the easy part. Don't forget to place the turkey in the refrigerator to thaw out in time for the big day or this could be potential for disaster.

Set your refrigerator to 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below. Place your frozen turkey in the refrigerator on a plate, or in a bag to catch condensation. Allow the turkey to thaw in the fridge for 24 hours for every four pounds. For instance, if you have a twelve-pound turkey, plan to allow your turkey three days to thaw out.

If you selected a fresh turkey from your local grocer or butcher, it would stay fresh in your refrigerator for two days. This timeframe remains true for thawed frozen turkeys as well.

What If Your Turkey Doesn't Thaw In Time?

frozen poultry

If your turkey does not thaw completely, don't panic! Fill your kitchen sink with water. Place the turkey, still in its bag into the water. Allow it to soak for 30 minutes, drain the water and repeat until the turkey is fully thawed. Take care to scrub your sink thoroughly after using it to thaw your turkey, doing so will inhibit spreading of any potentially harmful bacteria.

How Long To Roast A Turkey

roasted turkey breast

Roasting the Thanksgiving turkey in the oven is the most traditional method of cooking this holiday meal. The time it takes to roast a turkey depends on whether or not your turkey is stuffed or unstuffed.

What You'll Need

  • Roasting pan
  • Aluminum foil
  • Pastry brush or basting bulb
  • Instant-read meat thermometer
  • Cotton String & Toothpicks For Trussing (Stuffed Turkey)

Remember to baste your turkey every thirty minutes or so to keep the turkey from drying out.

How Long to Roast Unstuffed Turkey

unstuffed turkey
  • 4 to 6 pounds (breast) 1 1/2 to 2 1/4 hours
  • 6 to 8 pounds (breast) 2 1/4 to 3 1/4 hours
  • 6 to 8 pounds (breast) 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

How Long To Roast Stuffed Turkey

pan of stuffing
  • 4 to 6 pounds (breast) Not usually applicable
  • 6 to 8 pounds (breast) 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours
  • 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

How Long to Fry A Turkey

Turkey Fryer for Thanksgiving

Frying a turkey on Thanksgiving is another favorite way to prepare your iconic feast. The equipment you'll need is a little different, but starter kits are readily available around Thanksgiving.

What You'll Need

  • Turkey fryer with basket and hook
  • Propane burner
  • Filled propane tank
  • Peanut oil
  • Instant-read meat thermometer
  • Deep fry oil thermometer
  • Aluminum foil

The time it takes to deep fry a turkey depends on the weight. Look to fry the turkey at an oil temperature of 350F for 3 minutes per pound. After you reach the suggested cook time, remove the turkey and make sure the temperature is at least 165F throughout. If not, the turkey should be returned to the fryer. If you're only frying a portion of the turkey, follow the suggested times below.

  • Turkey Breast - 8 minutes per pound
  • Turkey Legs - 8 minutes per pound

How Long to Smoke A Turkey

smoked turkey

Smoking a turkey can provide a whole new depth of flavors and side dish possibilities not commonly found on a dining room table during Thanksgiving.

What You'll Need

  • A smoker
  • Fuel (charcoal, propane, or electric)
  • Wood chips or chunks
  • Instant-read meat thermometer
  • A spray bottle for basting

The general recommendation for smoking a turkey is 30-40 minutes per pound. This means a 15-pound bird should be smoked for roughly 8 hours. If you are only smoking a portion of the turkey, follow the recommendation below. If your smoker has a water pan, make sure to keep it topped up to prevent your turkey from drying out, and baste with a spray bottle liberally. Turkey is not as fatty as other popular smoked meats like pork, so it's less forgiving when it comes to becoming too dry.

  • Turkey breast - 30 - 40 minutes per pound
  • Turkey legs - 4 hours
  • Turkey wings - 1.5 to 2 hours

Let The Turkey Rest Before Serving!

roasted turkey

Even though this has been an all-day event and everyone is starving, don't be too quick to carve the turkey. No matter what cooking method you use, you'll want to transfer the turkey to a cutting board to let it rest for around 30 minutes before cutting. Place aluminum foil around the turkey; this allows the turkey to reabsorb moisture, making it tender and juicy.

No matter how you prepare your turkey this Thanksgiving, make sure you give yourself enough time so safely prepare an amazing turkey that will have everyone talking about it for the whole year. With a little bit of patience and planning, cooking a turkey is a walk in the park.

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