Good tips for finding and cooking your Thanksgiving turkey

More than 85 percent of Americans will eat turkey on Thanksgiving Day. If you’re cooking the holiday meal, here are some tips to help you buy the bird you want and to help you prepare and cook it.Thanksgiving

Claims on the labels

Fresh turkeys are quick-chilled to 40 °F or lower, but must not go below a temperature of 26 °F.

Frozen turkeys are rapidly frozen in blast freezers and stored at 0 °F or below.

Hen (female) or Tom (male) is an indication of size rather than tenderness.

Natural should mean that the turkey does not contain any artificial flavor or flavoring, coloring ingredients, chemical preservative, or any other artificial or synthetic ingredient and that the product is not more than minimally processed.

Organic means it was produced following all the rules necessary to meet federal organic standards and this was verified by an on-site audit.

Free-range or free-roaming turkeys are supposed to have continuous, free access to the out-of-doors for over 51% of their lives.

No added antibiotics means the bird was raised without antibiotics in feed and water and was not injected with antibiotics.

No hormones added is true for all turkeys. Hormones are not allowed in raising poultry.

Basted or self-basted turkeys are injected or marinated with a solution containing butter or other edible fat, broth, stock, or water, plus spices, flavor enhancers, and other approved substances. This should add a maximum of 3 percent to the weight of the bird and should be included in the net weight on the label.

Thawing the bird

You can thaw your frozen bird in cold water. It’s faster than refrigerator thawing, but requires more attention.

The turkey should be in leak-proof packaging or a plastic bag.

Submerge the turkey in cold tap water, changing the water every 30 minutes. It will take about 30 minutes per pound to completely thaw a whole turkey. After thawing, cook it immediately. Turkey thawed by the cold water method should be cooked before refreezing.

Should you rinse off the turkey before cooking it?

Food safety experts do not recommend washing poultry before cooking. Many bacteria are quite loosely attached to the birds. Water can splash these bacteria up to three feet away onto counter-tops, other food, towels and you. It’s best to transfer the turkey straight from package to pan, since the heat required for cooking will kill any bacteria that may be present.


Set you oven temperature no lower than 325 °F.

Turkey should be cooked to at least 165 °F. Use a food thermometer to confirm this in the innermost part of the thigh and wing, the thickest part of the breast, and in any stuffing.

For a higher-quality roast, let the turkey stand for 20 minutes to allow the juices to set. The bird will also carve more easily.

Have a question?

If you have a question about meat, poultry, or egg products, call the U.S.Department of Agriculture Meat and Poultry Hotline toll free at 1-888-674-6854. The hotline is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. ET.

Or, email your question to

Bon Appétit!

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