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Thanksgiving Holiday Help: Plan Ahead

Stuffed roast turkey on platter.Let’s face it, in November, a turkey will most likely find its way onto your menu. Planning ahead can help ensure that your special meal is successful, safe, and stress-free. If you have questions, the USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline offers planning tips and shares their top turkey questions and answers.

Plan Ahead

  • Make a guest list: Decide how many people will be eating, plan your menu, and gather your recipes.
  • Clear the fridge: Start using foods that are taking up space in your refrigerator and freezer to make sure you have plenty of room for your turkey, ham, or roast and other dishes.
  • Start shopping: Check your pantry to see what you already have and make a shopping list of needed ingredients. Shopping early for pantry items will reduce stress later.
  • Get the thermometers ready: Buy a food thermometer if you don't already have one. A cooked whole turkey is safe at a minimum internal temperature of 165 °F throughout the bird and stuffing. If you're thawing the turkey in the refrigerator, we also recommend using a refrigerator thermometer to make sure the temperature is 40 °F or lower.

Read our Top Turkey Questions

(Answered by the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline)

  1. I have a turkey in the freezer from last year. Can I still use it?
    Yes, go ahead and use it! Food poisoning bacteria cannot grow in the freezer, so your frozen turkey will be safe to eat. A turkey will keep its top quality a full year in the freezer.
  2. What size turkey should I buy?
    Estimate one pound of turkey for each person. That’s enough for ample portions and leftovers. If you’re having a large party, don’t worry: larger turkeys (over 16 pounds) have more meat per pound. A larger turkey will feed two people per pound.
  3. How far in advance can I buy a fresh turkey?
    If you want to buy a fresh turkey, wait until the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. Some grocery stores will let you reserve a fresh turkey.
  4. How long does it take to thaw a frozen turkey?
    The safest way to thaw a turkey is to put it in the refrigerator at a safe temperature (40 °F) during thawing. Allow one day for each five lbs. of weight to thaw the turkey. A 20- pound turkey will take about four days to thaw. After it has thawed, it is safe for another two days.

If you have more questions, visit Let's Talk Turkey to learn how to safely plan, select, thaw, and prepare a turkey or check out these turkey resources at FoodSafety.gov.

If you have additional questions about cooking a turkey call, the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) or chat live with a food safety specialist at AskKaren.gov available from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday, English or Spanish.

If you need help on Thanksgiving Day, the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline will be open from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Eastern Time. You can also ask questions of “Karen,” FSIS’ virtual representative, 24/7 at AskKaren.gov available in English or Spanish. PregunteleaKaren.gov for questions in Spanish)

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Tagged: Turkey | Thanksgiving | Planning | Holiday