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Advice on cooking a turkey

WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) – With Thanksgiving just around the corner, many people can use a refresher course on safely cooking a turkey.

April Bennett, nutrition program manager at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County, appeared on 7 News at Noon on Friday to offer some turkey tips. Watch her interview above.

Here are some of the questions she answered:

How big of a turkey do I need? Plan on 2 lbs. for every adult and 1 lb. for every child – more if you want leftovers.

Before shopping, make space in your freezer or refrigerator (depending on how far in advance you buy your turkey).

When do I defrost my frozen turkey? It takes 24 hours for every 5 pounds. For example, a 16 to 20-pound turkey would need at least three or four days to thaw in the refrigerator. The turkey should never be thawed on the counter or in hot water and must not be left at room temperature for more than two hours.

Should I wash my turkey? No. Washing or rinsing any meat or poultry is not recommended, and actually increases the risk you will cross-contaminate germs to other foods you’re preparing.

How long should I cook my turkey? For whole, unstuffed turkeys, cook at 325 to 350 degrees Fahrenheit for the following approximate times:

  • 8-12 lb. turkey: 2 ½ to 3 ½ hours
  • 12 to 16 lb. turkey: 3 to 3 ½ hours
  • 16-20 lb. turkey: 3 ½ to 4 hours
  • 20-24 lb. turkey: 4 to 4 ½ hours

How do I know when my turkey is done? The turkey is ready when it reaches a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit as measured with a food thermometer. Check the internal temperature in the thickest part of the breast, the innermost part of the thigh, and the innermost part of the wing. If stuffed, make sure the innermost part of the stuffing also reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit before you stop cooking the turkey.

What to do after the meal? Refrigerate leftovers within two hours. Cut turkey into smaller pieces and place in shallow containers for quick cooling in the refrigerator. Place leftover sauces, dressing, and any side dishes in the refrigerator within two hours as well. Use leftovers within four days or freeze for longer storage.

Where do I go if I still have questions?

  • Call Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County at 315-788-8450.
  • Call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) to talk to a food safety expert. If you need help on Thanksgiving Day, the Meat and Poultry Hotline is available from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Eastern Time.
  • Chat live at from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday
  • Talk to the experts at Butterball at, or call 1-800-BUTTERBALL or text 844-877-3456 to chat with their turkey experts.
  • You can also visit to learn more about how to safely select, thaw, and prepare a turkey.
  • For more Thanksgiving food safety tips, follow FSIS on Twitter @USDAFoodSafety or on Facebook at

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