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Countdown to Thanksgiving: Plan Ahead

Thanksgiving is closer than you think. If you’re thinking about having a traditional turkey dinner, now is the time to begin planning the big meal. Planning ahead can help ensure that the special meal is successful, safe, and stress-free.

Frozen turkey, photo by Anthony EastonThanksgiving Planning Checklist

  • Select the guests: 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 now: 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 no higher than 40 F.

Answers to Your Turkey Questions

Here are some of the top turkey questions that we answer at the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline:

Q. I have a turkey in the freezer from last year. Can I still use it?

A. Yes, go ahead and use it! Because 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.

Q. What size bird should I buy?

A. 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.

Q. How far in advance can I buy a fresh turkey?

A. If you want to buy a fresh turkey, wait until the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. Some grocery stores will let you ‘reserve’ a fresh turkey.

Q. 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 5 lbs of weight to thaw the turkey, plus an extra day or two. A twenty pound turkey will take about 4 days to thaw. After it has thawed, it is safe for another two days.

For more information on turkeys, check out these resources on

If you have any questions about turkeys and Thanksgiving, feel free to contact us at the Hotline (1-888-674-6854 toll-free) or online at

Posted in: HolidaysTagged: Turkey | Thanksgiving | Planning