This Thanksgiving, millions of people who do not cook on a regular basis will enter their kitchens to roast a mega-size bird, and concoct a dozen delicious side dishes.

“Expectations can be high, time short and experience lacking. That can be a recipe for a stress-filled day,” said Dr. Pam Duitsman, a nutrition and health specialist with University of Missouri Extension.

To ease the stress, Duitsman is offering some tips to prepare for the big day.


Size: Plan on one pound of turkey per person. If you want leftovers, add a few extra pounds overall.

Type: Read the labels. “Young turkey” means the bird was four to six months old at slaughtering. “Turkey fryer” means the bird was under four months of age. “Tom” means it is a young male turkey. “Hen” means it is a female turkey. Toms are normally larger and can weigh 20 to over 30 pounds. Hens are smaller, weighing between 10 and 12 pounds. For safety, avoid buying a turkey that is already stuffed.

Frozen or Fresh? This is a matter of personal preference. If choosing fresh, buy the bird no more than two days ahead of cooking to ensure quality. If frozen, buy early enough to give ample time to thaw the bird. Plan on 24 hours for every five pounds of frozen turkey — in the refrigerator. Do not let the raw turkey or its juices come in contact with other foods. Never thaw a turkey at room temperature.


To stuff or not to stuff? The safest way to cook the stuffing is separate from the turkey. But, whether the stuffing is cooked inside or outside of the turkey, it must reach a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit to be safe to eat.

What if your bird is still frozen or partially frozen? You can roast it safely, but it will take longer. Use the timing for the size of turkey you have, then add 50 percent to your original time (it will take 1.5 times total). Never smoke, grill, deep fry, or microwave a frozen turkey. Frozen turkeys should not be cooked in an oven cooking bag.

Roasting: About 30 minutes before roasting, take the turkey out of the fridge and remove any packaging and the giblets (check the body cavity and neck cavity). Preheat oven to no lower than 325 degrees F. Place the turkey breast side up, on a rack in a roasting pan. Rub the turkey with preferred seasoning (a mixture of extra virgin olive oil, garlic powder, salt and pepper works well). A meat thermometer should be inserted in the center part of the inner thigh (the meaty part) and should not touch bone.

A whole turkey is safely cooked when the thermometer reaches 165 degrees F. Cover the bird loosely with aluminum foil and cook (time chart is below).

You may also want to baste your turkey during the roasting process with drippings from the bird. Uncover the bird 20-30 minutes before the cooking time is up so the skin can brown.

Don’t forget to check the meat thermometer to be sure it’s done.


Let the turkey stand for 20 minutes before carving. This will ensure juicier meat. Cut leftover turkey into small pieces and refrigerate leftovers as soon as possible or at least within two hours. Use within four days or freeze for future dishes.

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