The Thanksgiving turkey shouldn’t be treated like an everyday cut of meat. Ensure your Thanksgiving meal is cooked to perfection by following these easy turkey thawing and preparation instructions.

Thanksgiving Turkey Temperature Settings & Thawing Instructions

Don’t wait until the day before Thanksgiving to decide on a recipe and cooking method. Proper turkey preparation requires enough time to fully (and safely) thaw the turkey, as well as ample time to season, brine and cook the meat.

Plan to Brine.
Although there are many methods to cook a turkey, we recommend using a brine recipe. Since turkey is a lean meat, it can easily become dry and tough when cooked. Brining solves this issue by soaking the bird in a salt and water mixture for 12-12 hours. After a long soak, the bird will absorb the water and salt, resulting in a delicious, juicy piece of meat. Yum!

Try this easy brine recipe from kitchn complete with video instructions.
Want a bit more flavor? Try Alton Brown’s Brined Turkey recipe.

Thaw the Bird.
If you decide to brine your turkey, you’ll need to have the turkey fully thawed at least 12-24 hours prior to Thanksgiving Day. The time it takes to thaw will vary greatly depending on the size of bird and method you use.

The USDA recommends three safe methods for thawing a turkey (refrigerator, cold water, or microwave), but we do not recommend using your microwave to thaw your turkey unless you’re in a time pinch.

How long to thaw a turkey in the refrigerator depends on the size of the bird. If you plan to thaw your turkey in the fridge, you’ll want to allow about 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds of turkey. See how proper planning is so essential?! It will take about 5-6 days to thaw a 20-24 pound Thanksgiving turkey!

  • 4 to 12 pounds: allow 1-3 days
  • 12 to 16 pounds: allow 3-4 days
  • 16 to 20 pounds: allow 4 to 5 days
  • 20 to 24 pounds: allow 5 to 6 days

Once the turkey is thawed, it will last in the refrigerator for 1-2 days. As you plan for Thanksgiving, be sure to set a reminder on your calendar to thaw the turkey!

Opps! Did you forget to thaw your turkey in time? Head over to kitchn for instructions on how to cook a frozen turkey.

For more information about food safety, visit the USDA’s Turkey Basics: Safe Thawing page.

Cook the Turkey.

A turkey will generally cook in the oven at 325 °F. Cook time will depend on the size of your bird. The following guidelines will ensure you start the turkey early enough for an afternoon dinner, but be sure to check the temperature for doneness. When the meatiest part of the turkey thigh reaches 165 °F, your turkey is done.

  • 8 to 12 pounds: Cook 2½ to 3 hours
  • 12 to 14 pounds: Cook 3 to 3½ hours
  • 14 to 18 pounds: Cook 3½ to 4½ hours
  • 20 to 24 pounds: Cook 4½ to 5+ hours

Here’s a quick recap to ensure you cook the very best Thanksgiving turkey this year:

  • Start to thaw your Thanksgiving turkey well before Thanksgiving Day.
  • Consider using a brine recipe for ultra-juicy meat.
  • Cook turkey to 165 °F to ensure no one gets sick!
  • Use a meat thermometer to measure the temperature.
  • Measure the doneness of the turkey in the thickest part of the thigh meat.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!