How to Cook a Turkey!

By Deana Novembrino MS, RD Price Chopper Community Nutritionist
Owner of In Season Personal Chef and Nutrition Services, LLC

Choosing and Thawing your Turkey

When choosing a turkey for the holidays, it can be difficult to figure out how much you need.

  • Allow 1 pound of turkey per person.  If you prefer lots of leftovers go with 1 ½ pounds per person.
  • If you intend to purchase a fresh turkey, buy it only 1 to 2 days before you plan on cooking it.  Keep it stored in the refrigerator on a tray or pan to catch any juices that may leak.
  • If you purchase a frozen turkey, keep it frozen until you are ready to thaw.  Remember to allow ample time for the turkey to thaw. (See Thawing Guide below)
  • There are three ways to thaw your turkey safely – in the refrigerator, under cold water, or in the microwave.  For the best tasting turkey, thawing in the refrigerator is recommended.

Refrigerator Thawing

If thawing in the refrigerator, (40⁰F or below) allow approximately 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds.

4 to 12 pounds

1 to 3 days

12 to 16 pounds

3 to 4 days

16 to 20 pounds

4 to 5 days

20 to 24 pounds

5 to 6 days*


If thawing in cold water, allow approximately 30 minutes per pound and make sure your turkey is wrapped tightly to ensure that the water is not able to leak through.  Change the water every 30 minutes.  Cook the turkey immediately after it is thawed.

Preparing and Roasting your Turkey Ingredients 1 Turkey, thawed 1 lemon 1 teaspoon salt 2 tablespoons vegetable oil or melted butter ½ teaspoon black pepper 1 small onion cut in half Remember, when handling raw turkey or any raw poultry or meat, it is important to wash your hands, utensils, the sink, and any other surfaces that that come in contact with the raw meat and its juices.
  1. Preheat oven to 325⁰F.
  2. Cut lemon in half.  Reserve one half the lemon for the cavity of the bird and squeeze the juice from the other half into a small bowl.
  3. In the small bowl with lemon juice, mix in vegetable oil or butter and salt and pepper and set aside.
  4. To prepare the turkey, remove the giblets and neck from the body and neck cavity. Reserve for stock or gravy or discard.
  5. Rinse the turkey with cold running water and pat dry.
  6. For food safety reasons, stuffing your turkey is not recommended.  Stuffing also prevents even cooking of the bird. For best results and a safer turkey, cook your stuffing outside of the bird in a casserole dish.  If you choose to stuff your turkey, the stuffing must reach an internal temperature of 165⁰F.
  7. For this recipe, instead of stuffing, place lemon half and onion halves into the cavity of the turkey, this will help add flavor to the pan drippings for gravy.
  8. Rub turkey with lemon and oil mixture.
  9. If kitchen twine is available, tie together the turkey legs, and tuck wing tips under the shoulders of the bird for more even cooking and to prevent them from burning.
  10. Position the turkey, breast side up, on a cooking rack placed in a shallow roasting pan.  Add ½ cup of water to the bottom of the pan to prevent the turkey drippings from burning.
  11. Roast turkey on the bottom rack of the oven at 325⁰F-350⁰F until the top is nicely browned and the turkey has reached an internal temperature of 165⁰F. If your turkey has a pop-up temperature indicator, you should still check the temperature with a food thermometer.   Check the temperature of the turkey in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast.  The minimum internal temperature should reach at least 165⁰F.
  12.  If the turkey begins to brown too quickly, cover it with aluminum foil and return to oven.  Do not roast your turkey at an oven temperature below 325⁰F.  Also try to keep the oven door closed as much as possible while the turkey is roasting to prevent loss of heat.
  13. Remove turkey from oven when 165⁰F has been reached.  Move the turkey to a cutting board or another heat safe surface and cover with tinfoil.  For best results, let the turkey stand for at least 10 minutes before carving to allow juices to set.  The turkey will also carve more easily.
Approximate Roasting Times (325⁰F oven temperature)


8 to 12 pounds

12 to 14 pounds

14 to 18 pounds

18 to 20 pounds

20 to 24 pounds

24 to 30 pounds


2 ¾ to 3 hours

3 to 3 ¾ hours

3 ¾ hours to 4 ¼ hours

4 ¼ to 4 ½ hours

4 ½ to 5 hours

5 to 5 ¼ hours


3 to 3 ½ hours

3 ½ to 4 hours

4 to 4 ¼ hours

4 ¼ to 4 ¾ hours

4 ¾ to 5 ¼ hours

5 ¼ to 6 ¼ hours*

*Source: Here are three Turkey recipes to try Chicken Baked Over Mushrooms (substitute turkey) Lemon-Garlic Roast Turkey & White-Wine Gravy Winter Fruit Glazed Turkey Storing Leftovers
  • Discard any cooked turkey that has been left out at room temperature longer than 2 hours.
  • Use refrigerated turkey and stuffing leftovers within 3 to 4 days.
Click on our helpful guide for purchasing, thawing, preparing, storing leftovers, carving tips and more! Happy Thanksgiving!

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