Prestage Farms

Holiday Turkey Tips

Need help determining what size turkey to buy, proper thawing procedures, cooking tips and more? Check out our holiday turkey tips below:



Purchasing a Turkey:

  • Purchase one pound of turkey per person to be served. This formula allows for a turkey meal, plus a little left over.
  • Ensure that the packaging is intact and has no rips or tears.
  • A whole frozen turkey may be stored in your freezer for up to 12 months.
  • Select the size of turkey based on number of servings needed. There is no appreciable difference between female (hen) and male (tom) turkeys in tenderness, white/dark meat ratio or other eating qualities. Hens typically weigh between 14 to 16 pounds and toms 15 pounds on up, so choose the size which best fits the number of dinner guests you expect.


Storing a Turkey:

      • Frozen turkeys are stored at 0 degrees or below.  Store turkey in the freezer until it is time to thaw.
      • Fresh turkeys are stored at 26°F and above.  Place raw turkey in a refrigerator that maintains 40°F and use it within the timeframe on the package or freeze the poultry at 0°F.
      • It is important to follow proper storage procedures for food safety purposes and to maintain the quality of the turkey.
      • Once you return from the grocery store, place the turkey in its original wrapper in the refrigerator.  If the turkey is still frozen and does not need to be thawed, store in the freezer.

Thawing a Turkey:

          The most fool-proof way to thaw a turkey is in the refrigerator. The key to this method is to plan ahead and allow approximately 24 hours for every four to five pounds of bird weight for thawing in the refrigerator. This method is safest and will result in the best finished product. Place the bird, in the original wrapping, on a shallow baking dish in the refrigerator. The following chart provides good guidelines for thawing times:

Refrigerator Turkey Thawing Time (40°F)

Turkey Weight

Days to Allow for Thawing Turkey

8-12 lb

2-2.5 days

12-16 lb

2.5-4 days

16-20 lb

4-5 days

20-24 lb

5-6 days

If you need to thaw the turkey more quickly, you may thaw the bird in COLD water, in the original wrapping. The cold water must be changed every 30 minutes. Allow approximately 30 minutes per pound using this method.

COLD Water Turkey Thawing Time

Turkey Weight

Hours to Allow for Thawing Turkey

8-12 lb

4-6 hours

12-16 lb

6-8 hours

16-20 lb

8-10 hours

20-24 lb

10-12 hours

Stuffing a Whole Turkey:

The National Turkey Federation recommends that stuffing be prepared and stuffed into the turkey immediately before it is placed in the oven for cooking.  When making stuffing ahead of time, wet and dry ingredients should be refrigerated separately and combined right before stuffing the turkey.  Turkeys should be stuffed loosely, with about 3/4 cup of stuffing per pound of turkey.
If the turkey comes with a pop-up timer, a meat thermometer should still be used to check the temperature in the stuffing.


Cooking a Turkey:

The National Turkey Federation recommends roasting a turkey in a 325 degree F oven until a meat thermometer indicates the internal temperature registers 180 degrees F in the thigh and 165-170 degrees F in the breast.  Pop-up timers are helpful as a preliminary step in judging the correct temperature, but a meat thermometer is the best final authority to determine doneness.

A shallow roasting pan should be used so oven air can flow completely around the turkey.  Pans with sides higher than one inch will shield the thickest part of the turkey thighs from the heat, and the thighs will not cook evenly.  For easier clean-up, add 1/2 cup of water to the bottom of the pan.

If you stuff the bird, stuff it immediately before you place it in the oven.  The center of the stuffing must register 165 degrees F.  If the turkey is done before the stuffing, remove the turkey from the oven and finish cooking it outside the turkey until it reaches the required temperature.  If you do not stuff the turkey, the addition of two cups of coarsely chopped celery, onion, and carrots to the cavity will enhance the fragrance and add to the flavor of the pan juices.

Turkeys today take less time to cook than in the past because new turkey breeds produce a higher proportion of white meat.  Since white meat cooks faster than dark meat, care should be taken to follow these guidelines to ensure a moist turkey.  Use roasting times as a planning guide only; use a thermometer to determine actual doneness.  There are many factors that affect the roasting time.

These factors result in longer cooking times:

              • A partially frozen bird requires longer cooking.
              • The depth and size of roasting pans can alter heat circulation around the bird.  A turkey or the roasting pan may be too large for the oven and could block heat circulation.  Be sure to allow at least two inches of space around the oven walls so heat can circulate around the turkey.
              • The use of an aluminum foil tent for the entire roasting time will slow down cooking.
              • A stuffed turkey takes longer to cook.

These cooking procedures result in shorter cooking times:

              • Dark roasting pans result in faster cook times than shiny metal roasting pans.
              • If the turkey is covered with the roasting pan lid, the cook time will be shorter.
              • An oven cooking bag can accelerate cook time.

Oven factors often require special attention.

              • Some ovens may heat unevenly and many ovens have “hot spots”.  The roasting pan should be turned to prevent one area of the turkey from cooking too quickly.
              • The rack position can have an affect on even cooking and heat circulation. Place the turkey on a lower rack so the top of the turkey is in the middle of the oven.


 “Open Pan Method” NTF Roasting Guidelines for a Fresh or Thawed Turkey Roast in a 325°F Conventional Oven on the Lowest Oven Rack


Unstuffed Turkey

Stuffed Turkey

8-12 lbs

2 ¾ – 3 hours

3 – 3 ½ hours

12-14 lbs

3 – 3 ¾ hours

3 ½ – 4 hours

14-18 lbs

3 ¾ – 4 ¼ hours

4 – 4 ¼  hours

18-20 lbs

4 ¼ – 4 ½ hours

4 ¼ – 4 ¾ hours

20-24 lbs

4 ½ – 5 hours

4 ¾ – 5 ¼ hours

24-30 lbs

5 – 5 ¼ hours

5 ¼ – 6 ¼ hours

Use these two simple steps for determining when a stuffed roasted turkey is done cooking and safe to eat:

              1. Insert a meat thermometer into the deepest portion of the thigh, not touching bone, and allow it to come to temperature for an accurate reading. Cook the turkey until the temperature when measured in the thigh reaches 180 degrees F.  When cooking a stuffed turkey breast, the temperature measured in the breast should be 170 degrees F.
              2. Move the thermometer to the center of the stuffing.  Once the stuffing has reached 160 to 165 degrees F, the turkey should be removed from the oven and allowed to “rest” for 20 minutes.  This makes carving easier and allows stuffing temperature to continue to rise to at least 165 degrees F.


Storage of Raw Turkey


Refrigerated Storage at 35°- 40°F

Freezer Storage at or below 0°F

Whole Turkey

1 – 2 days

12 months

Turkey Breast

1 – 2 days

3 months

Care must be taken to properly store leftover cooked turkey.  The leftover turkey should be carved from the bone and the stuffing removed.  All leftovers should be stored in shallow containers and refrigerated or frozen within two hours of cooking.  NTF recommends that cooked, sliced turkey reach 40 degrees F within two hours or less.  When reheating, be sure the turkey reaches a temperature of 165 degrees F.  Turkey gravy should be used within one to two days, be sure to bring the gravy to a boil before serving.

Storage of Leftover Cooked Turkey


Refrigerated Storage at 35°- 40°F

Freezer Storage at or below 0°F

Leftover Turkey

3 – 4 days

3 – 4 months

Compliments of the National Turkey Federation

For more information on turkey preparation and cooking methods, please visit