Roasted turkey on plate with lettuce and lemon garnish, surrounded by a cutting board, carrots, onions, celery and herbs.

Looking for details on how to defrost a turkey, how to prepare a turkey or how to cook a turkey? We’ve got you covered. Need a planner and shopping list so you can feel confident about every step along the way? Read on. Want the tools, temperatures and timing tips to ensure you’re serving a perfectly roasted, juicy bird right on time? Seriously, it’s all here.

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1How to plan your turkey dinner

Turkey dinner doesn’t have to be stressful. Take care of tasks like shopping and cleaning in the week leading up to your feast so you have less to do on the big day. Keep our turkey dinner planner nearby to help you get ready.

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Printable checklist of tasks, supplies and ingredients to take care of in the week before a turkey dinner.

2How much turkey to buy

In general, you’ll need about one pound person—plus more if you like leftovers.

You can safely store an uncooked turkey in the freezer for up to a year,[1] so go ahead and buy your bird early.

And don’t stress if you can’t find a bird exactly the size you want. If it’s a little big, you can send guests home with a doggie bag or freeze leftovers for later. And if it’s a little small, extra portions of starchy (and bonus, inexpensive!) sides such as mashed potatoes or stuffing will fill everyone right up.

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BUDGET WATCH
Turkeys are big birds, and it’s hard to find one under five pounds. Planning a small dinner and don’t want leftovers? Bone-in and stuffed turkey breasts are compact and affordable choices.

What size whole turkey do you need?

Check this chart before you shop and get the right-sized bird:

Number of people eating For just one meal For one meal plus leftovers
2

n/a

5 lb

3

n/a

5 lb

4

5 lb

6 lb

5

5 lb

7.5 lb

6

6 lb

8 lb

7

7 lb

10.5 lb

8

8 lb

12 lb

9

9 lb

13.5 lb

10

10 lb

15 lb

11

11 lb

16.5 lb

12

12 lb

18 lb

13

13 lb

19.5 lb

14

14 lb

21 lb

15

15 lb

22.5 lb

3How to thaw a turkey

In a perfect world, you’ve found this article a few days before the big dinner, and still have time to buy and thaw your turkey the easy way. But if you’re reading this at the last minute, no need to fire up the time machine or fret about the bird you didn’t start thawing yesterday—just follow the instructions for the fast way.

  • The easy way
    The safest and easiest way to thaw a turkey is to place it on a rimmed baking sheet in the fridge in its original packaging. This super-simple method requires absolutely zero babysitting, but it does take time—around five hours per pound.
  • The fast way
    A faster solution is to submerge the still-packaged turkey[2] in a large pot of cold water. Change the water at least once an hour[3] until your bird is thawed—it will take around 30 minutes per pound.
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Safety Tip
Leaving a turkey at room temperature can result in dangerous bacterial growth,[4] so it’s important to keep your bird chilled. If you’re in a hurry, cold water submersion is the safest bet.

How long to thaw a turkey

Size (lb) In the fridge In cold water
5

1 day

2 hr 30min

6

1 ½ days

3 hr

7

1 ½ days

3 hr 30min

8

2 days

4 hr

9

2 days

4 hr 30min

10

2 ½ days

5 hr

11

2 ½ days

5 hr 30min

12

2 ½ days

6 hr

13

3 days

6 hr 30min

14

3 days

7 hr

15

3 ½ days

7 hr 30min

16

3 ½ days

8 hr
17

3 ½ days

8 hr 30min

18

4 days

9 hr

19

4 days

9 hr 30min

20

4 ½ days

10 hr

4How to make stuffing

Stuffing is a mixture of stale bread cubes and aromatics such as herbs, celery and onions. To some, it is the best part of the meal, but we’ll let you debate that at your own table.

There are two ways to cook it:

  • Inside the bird: Where the stuffing is cooked inside the cavity of the turkey.
  • Outside the bird: The same mixture is baked separately, in a casserole dish. Technically, this is called dressing, although many people and recipes still refer to it as stuffing.

No matter what you call it, or how you cook it, it’s delicious. Plan for around half a cup per person at dinner, plus extra for leftovers.

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Tasty Tip
Try lightly toasted stuffing with a fried egg for breakfast, or add some to a turkey, cranberry sauce and mayo sandwich for a decadent next-day lunch.

5How to prepare a turkey

Plan ahead for best results! Raw turkey can hold bacteria, which means washing your hands any time you touch it and before touching anything else like cupboard doors or food packaging.

Keep your tools and ingredients close to reduce handwashing between steps.

You might need:

The more you know, the easier the flow! Here are a few questions to ask as you set up your workstation:

  • Do you want to season your turkey? If your family tradition is to season the bird, prep for that now. To add a little extra flavour or crackle to the skin, here are a few options that will keep your turkey moist:

Butter: Some cooks like to pat butter underneath the turkey’s skin. For extra flavour, mix the butter with dried or fresh and chopped parsley, rosemary, sage and thyme to taste.

Olive oil: Try the same mixture with extra-virgin olive oil instead—it contains less water than butter, providing a crispier skin.

Finally, sprinkle kosher salt and freshly ground pepper over the turkey for extra pops of flavour.

  • Will you keep the giblets? Think twice before tossing the neck and giblets that come tucked inside your turkey. Their heavenly drippings are perfect for homemade gravy—simply add them to the pan with the bird. Just remember to toss the packaging they come in, since no one wants a side of roasted plastic with dinner!
  • Are you adding anything else to the pan? If you have room, you can save time by roasting root veggies in the same pan as the turkey—think chunked potatoes and celery or quartered onions. Root vegetables need around one and a half hours at 350°F, so check your math and set a reminder to add them later if your turkey requires more oven time. No room in the pan? Don’t worry—you can always roast them in a separate dish, adding basting juice for that sublime turkey flavour.

6How to cook a turkey

Follow these instructions for a perfectly moist roasted turkey:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C).
  2. Place roasting pan with prepared turkey into oven.
  3. Baste turkey every 30 minutes (see tips below).
  4. As the turkey nears its finish time (see chart below) check its temperature with a digital meat thermometer inserted in the thigh.
  5. Your turkey is safe to eat when it has reached 180°F (82°C)[5]. If stuffed, your stuffing is safe to eat when it hits 165°F (74°C)[6].
  6. Carefully lift the roasting pan onto the stovetop or a heat-safe pad on the counter.
  7. Cover turkey loosely with foil and rest it for 20 to 30 minutes before carving and serving.

Top turkey cooking tips

  • DO: Baste regularly for moist turkey. Basting means using a long-handled spoon or turkey baster to draw drippings from the bottom of the roasting pan and pour them over the bird. Set a timer on your phone so you don’t forget!
  • DO: Take its temperature. For safety, use a digital thermometer inserted in the inner thigh. Avoid poking the (hot) thigh bone, as this can skew the reading.
  • DON’T: Let the skin overcook. If your turkey looks perfectly roasted before its finish time, cover it with foil. (You can even cover legs or specific parts if one section is browning faster than the rest.)
  • DON’T: Carve too soon. A rest period of 20 to 30 minutes is not to torture you—rather, it gives time for the turkey’s juices to settle and redistribute. Cut too quickly, and those precious liquids will gush out and turn the meat dry.

How long to cook a turkey at 350°F (177°C)

Size (lb.) Unstuffed Stuffed
5

1 hr 15 min

2 hr

6

1 hr 30 min

2 hr

7

1 hr 45 min

2 hr 30min

8

2 hr

2 hr 45min

9

2 hr 15min

3 hr

10

2 hr 30 min

3 hr 30 min

11

2 hr 45 min

3 hr 45 min

12

3 hr

4 hr

13

3hr 15min

4 hr 30 min

14

3hr 30min

4 hr 45 min

15

3hr 45min

5 hr

16

4 hr

5 hr 30 min

17

4hr 15min

5 hr 45 min

18

4 hr 30 min

6 hr

19

4 hr 45 min

6 hr 30 min

20

5 hr

6 hr 45 min

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Printable list of instructions on how to prepare and cook turkey.

7How to make turkey gravy

Making your own gravy with the turkey’s drippings is an economical way to use up every ounce of precious turkey flavour. It only takes a few minutes, and you can do it while the turkey is resting.

Simple homemade turkey gravy

This method will serve four to six people. Feeding a crowd? Double or triple the recipe or stock a few cans of premade gravy as backup.

  1. Gather your tools and ingredients. You’ll need: a saucepan, whisk, sieve and measuring cup, as well as flour, butter and/or turkey fat, chicken stock and/or turkey drippings, salt and pepper.
  2. First make a roux by adding a quarter cup of flour and a quarter cup of fat (butter, turkey fat or a mixture of both) to the saucepan. Whisk on medium heat until the roux turns brown.
  3. Next, add two cups of turkey drippings or chicken stock (or a mixture of both) to the roux, whisking constantly to prevent lumps.
  4. Once the mixture has thickened, taste it and if you wish, add salt and pepper. If the gravy is too thick, whisk in more drippings or broth until you like the consistency.
  5. Strain the gravy over a sieve to remove any lumps and enjoy—it is now ready to serve!
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TIME-SAVING TIP
Try this hack for a quick batch of half-homemade gravy. Open a can (or cans) of gravy and heat in a saucepan. Spoon in fresh turkey drippings to taste, being sure to get as many toasty brown bits as possible, and voila: It will taste almost as good as homemade, in less time.

8How to carve turkey

While holiday films love to show the ceremonial turkey carving starting high on the breast, it’s easier to get even slices if you start with a leg, then move to the low end of a breast, completing one side before moving on to the next. Follow the instructions below for easy, even cuts.

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Printable instructions on how to carve a turkey.

9How to store turkey leftovers

We know you’re eager to eat, but the best way to avoid bacteria growing on your leftovers is to pack them away immediately. Plus, putting away leftovers before dinner means one less step after.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Pick the meat from the carcass and place in zipper bags or sealed containers in the fridge or freezer.
  • Break the bones with a chef’s knife and toss them in a zipper bag in the freezer.

Roasted turkey bones make beautiful, fragrant homemade stock, perfect for turkey noodle soup, turkey congee, turkey chili or turkey mulligatawny. Leftover turkey meat can be stuffed into sandwiches and added to casseroles, savoury pot pies and more.

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Safety Tip
Leftover turkey keeps in the fridge up to four days and in the freezer up to three months.[6]

Congratulations: You’ve done it, a brilliant turkey dinner! Now there’s nothing left to do but assign someone else to clean up after dinner (you deserve a break!) and enjoy your turkey!

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