Turkey Prep Tips to Keep Your Thanksgiving Safe and Delicious

DES MOINES, Iowa  --  Thanksgiving is this Thursday and it is usually filled with family and food. The fun around the table can quickly end if you don’t remember to follow some basic food safety rules. Unlike the recent popular internet meme suggests, you cannot microwave a turkey! It will lead to uneven cooking and risk for bacteria growth.

Safely cooking a turkey starts with the thawing process. Place the turkey in its packaging in your refrigerator. Depending on the weight of your turkey this could take a while. Eight to 12-pound turkeys take 2 to 3 days. Twelve to 16 pounds take 3 to 4 days.

Whatever you do, don’t leave your turkey to thaw out on the counter. The danger zone for bacteria growth is between 40 and 140 degrees. If the outside of the turkey stays in this zone longer than two hours, bad bacteria can grow, and food poisoning can happen.

So, if you forgot to thaw your turkey, there is an emergency method. Place your turkey, in its packaging, in cold water, not warm. Give it 30 minutes of thawing time per pound. An 8 to 12-pound turkeys take 4 to 6 hours, 20 to 24-pound turkeys take 10 to 12 hours. Make sure to replace the cold water every half hour.

Before you're ready to start cooking the turkey, pre-heat the oven to 325 degrees. You can use a roasting pan for the turkey, but disposable aluminum pans work just as well. Cooking time can take between 2 and 5 hours depending on the weight of your turkey.

And if you completely forgot to thaw your turkey, you can pop it in the oven completely frozen, you are going to just have to double your cooking time. So, an 8-pound frozen turkey will take around 8 hours to cook.

The most important part of cooking the turkey is taking the temperature to determine when it's done. That magic number should be 165 degrees. Make sure you are checking the thickest part of the turkey breast and in multiple places.