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Turkey tips, by the numbers

Need help wrangling the big bird? Check out these cooking tips from the USDA, by the numbers:

4 to 5 days: How long it takes to thaw a 16- to 20-pound turkey in the refrigerator. The rule is 24 hours per 5 pounds. This means your 20-pounder should have been thawing since at least Saturday. If not …

30 minutes per pound: How long it takes to thaw a turkey in cold water. Keep the turkey sealed in its wrapper (make sure there are no tears) and submerge it in cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes. NEVER thaw a turkey at room temperature.

3 to 5 hours: How long it will take to roast your turkey. The low end is for a 12-pound unstuffed bird; the high end for a 24-pound giant. Estimate about 15 minutes per pound, but that amount will vary depending on whether your turkey is stuffed and other variables. The wrapper on your turkey should give you a chart of cooking times, or go to the USDA website listed below.

325 to 350 degrees: The traditional roasting temperature range, although some recipes do call for 400 to 450 degrees.


>> Remove the neck and giblets from the turkey’s cavities. Season the cavities with salt and pepper. (Rinsing the turkey is not recommended.)

>> Place the turkey breast side up on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. Tuck the wings underneath and tie the legs together with string if you like. Brush the skin with vegetable oil or rub with butter. Season the outside with salt and pepper.

>> Insert a thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh, not touching bone.

165 degrees: The minimum internal temperature that indicates a turkey is fully cooked. Besides the thigh, it is also wise to take the temperature in the breast and the inner portion of a wing. If your turkey has a “pop-up” temperature indicator, you should still check the internal temp.

5 to 30 minutes: Recommended resting time after roasting. Let the turkey sit to allow juices to reabsorb into the meat, for a more moist end product. No matter how badly you want a taste, don’t cut into the turkey too soon.

2 hours: The longest you should leave turkey — or any other foods — out on the table. And if it’s hot, say 90 degrees or more, the limit is one hour.

>> Leftovers should be divided into smaller portions and refrigerated in well-sealed bags or shallow containers so they will cool quickly. Consume extra turkey, stuffing and gravy within four days.

>> Frozen leftovers should be eaten within six months for best quality.

888-674-6854: The USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline will take calls from 5 a.m. to 1 p.m. Hawaii time today and from 3 a.m. to 9 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day. Recorded food safety messages are available 24 hours a day. Email questions to MPHotline.fsis@usda.gov. For USDA online info go to 808ne.ws/turkeyhelpline.

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