Countdown to the Thanksgiving Holiday

— Written By N.C. Cooperative Extension

As Thanksgiving approaches, you may already be planning your menu. Shopping early will ease the countdown tension. If you choose to buy a frozen bird, you may do so at any time, but make sure you have adequate space in your freezer to store the turkey. A fresh turkey should be purchased only 1-2 days before cooking.

Allow 1 pound per person if cooking a whole turkey and ¾ pound per person for a turkey breast.

It’s best to thaw the turkey in the refrigerator allowing about 24 hours per 4 to 5 pounds of turkey. A thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator for 1-2 day, so plan ahead. If you forget to thaw the turkey or don’t have room for thawing, don’t panic. You can submerge the wrapped turkey in cold water and change the water every 30 minutes. It takes about 30 minutes defrosting time per pound of turkey. Cook a turkey thawed in water immediately after thawing. 

A whole turkey is safe cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees F. Using a meat thermometer, check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast.

When the turkey is removed from the oven, let it stand 20 minutes before carving.

If you have a question about meat, poultry, or egg products, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline toll free at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854). The hotline is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday – Friday all year. You can hear recorded message 24 hours a day. Check out the Food Safety Inspection Service Web site at

Eleanor Summers
Extension Agent
Family & Consumer Sciences