If you are responsible for preparation of a turkey, consider the number of guests to be served, the supplies needed, and safe handling procedures for turkey.
Poultry is a potentially hazardous food that has to be kept at certain temperatures to minimize the growth of bacteria.
Bacteria multiply rapidly between the Danger Zone of 40 F and 140 F.
Larger quantities of food are typically prepared for Thanksgiving, so plan food preparation so that large amounts or large containers of hot food are not placed in your refrigerator at one time, which can make the refrigerator temperature rise about 40 F.
A food thermometer and refrigerator thermometer will be helpful for safe food preparation.
For many families, turkey is the main protein food on Thanksgiving tables. Remember, a serving size is 3 ounces which is about the size of a deck of cards. But, when selecting a whole turkey, allow 1 pound per person.
If your choice is to prepare turkey breast, allow 3/4 pound per person, or if it's boneless, less than a pound per person. For a frozen pre-stuffed turkey, it's best to allow 1 1/4 pounds per person.
Make sure the frozen pre-stuffed turkey has a USDA or State mark of inspection, and never thaw before cooking. Fresh turkey should be purchased only 1 to 2 days before it is to be cooked.
If you buy a frozen unstuffed turkey, it is important to plan ahead for thawing time.
The three safe ways for thawing recommended by the USDA are in the refrigerator, in cold water, and in a microwave oven. For "refrigerator thawing," allow about 24 hours for each 4 to 5 pounds and place the packaged turkey in a refrigerator, set at 40 F or below, on a bottom shelf in a container to catch juices to prevent cross contamination with other foods.
A whole 12 to 16 pound turkey will take 3 to 4 days to thaw in the refrigerator, and can be kept in the thawed state for up to two days. "Cold water thawing" takes a bit more work and takes about 30 minutes per pound, but is a good option if you are not able to thaw the turkey in the refrigerator.
A 12-16 pound turkey will take 6-8 hours to thaw. Make sure the packaged turkey is in a leak-proof plastic bag and submerge in cold tap water. Change the water every thirty minutes until the turkey thaws, and then cook the thawed turkey immediately.
For "microwave thawing," follow the manufacturer's instructions for the recommended on maximum turkey size, the minutes per pound, and the power level setting; and remember, you must cook it immediately after thawing.
The USDA also recommends not to wash the raw poultry and to keep prepared foods away from the poultry preparation area to help prevent cross contamination. Clean and sanitize (1 teaspoon bleach in a quart of water) the sink and counter areas that may have become contaminated with juices from raw poultry.
To safely roast a turkey in the oven, set the temperature no lower than 325 F and cook until the minimum internal temperature of the turkey is 165 F when measured with a food thermometer in the innermost part of the thigh and wing, the thickest part of the breast, and the center of the stuffing. An estimate of oven roasting time for a 12 to 14 pound whole, unstuffed turkey is 3 to 3 3/4 hours. Once the turkey is roasted to a safe minimum temperature of 165 F, let it stand for 20 minutes so juices can set for best carving.