Safety Tips for Preparing your Holiday Turkey


Yum! It’s that time again. Start preparing for your perfect holiday turkey now, especially if you have a frozen turkey that needs to be thawed in time for Thanksgiving.

Remember these important tips on thawing, cooking, cleaning and leftovers.

Thawing Tips

There are three safe ways to thaw a turkey: in a microwave, refrigerator or in cold water. Whichever way you choose, you’ll need to keep your turkey out of the danger zone (between 40°F and 140°F) where foodborne bacteria can multiply rapidly. Don’t thaw your turkey in the garage, basement, outside or on a counter as you can’t be sure of keeping the outermost parts out of the danger zone.

Refrigerator Thawing:

Plan in advance, you’ll need 24 hours for every 4 – 5 lbs of turkey:

4 – 12 lbs. 1-3 days

12 -16 lbs. 3-4 days

16 -20 lbs. 4-5 days

20-24 lbs. 5 – 6 days

Be sure your refrigerator temperature is set to 40°F or lower.

Place your turkey on a tray to prevent juices from dripping onto other foods.

Cold Water Thawing:

Allow 30 minutes per pound.

Be sure turkey is wrapped in a leak proof bag to prevent cross-contamination and water absorption.

Submerge wrapped turkey in cold tap water.

Change the water every 30 minutes.

Cook turkey immediately after thawing.

Microwave Thawing:

Follow your microwave manufacturer’s instructions for defrosting a turkey.

Cook turkey immediately after thawing.

81264673Fresh Turkeys:

Buy the turkey 1-2 days before you plan to cook it.

Do not buy a fresh pre-stuffed turkey (harmful bacteria that may be in the stuffing can multiply very quickly).

Helpful Cooking Safety Tips: 

Remove giblets and necks from cavities prior to roasting.

Be sure your turkey fits inside your pan with room to collect juices.

Be sure your turkey is sized right to leave room in your oven (it should not touch the walls of the oven).

Always cook to well-done; the safe minimal temperature for a cooked turkey is 165°F.

Take the temperature in 8 different areas on the turkey (target areas of thick muscle – away from the cavity and bone).

Confirm that your turkey is done with a meat thermometer (even if your turkey has a self timer that has popped).

Cook stuffing in a separate casserole dish.

If you do plan on cooking stuffing inside your turkey, make sure the temperature of the stuffing reaches 165°F (even if the turkey is done, the stuffing may not be).

Don’t use color as indication of a cooked turkey.

Let your turkey rest for 20 minutes before carving.


Keep It Clean: 

Use hot, soapy water to wash counters, surfaces, cutting boards, utensils, meat thermometers, serving platters and anything else the raw meat touches.

Avoid cross contamination by using separate cutting boards, knives and platters.


Refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours of cooking.

Eat leftovers within 3-4 days.

Reheat gravies and sauces by bringing to a boil.


Happy Cooking!

For those of you that want to fry your turkey this year, go to  the Oakland County Sheriff’s page for Turkey Fryer Safety Tips.

To find answers to more of your turkey questions, visit Butterball’s website for information on carving, marinades, brines and more!


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