Turkey Prep: Safe Thanksgiving Cooking Tips From Experts

The DuPage County Health Department and a Meijer dietician offer tips to leave Thanksgiving diners in a happy food coma.

If you haven't already bought that turkey or started to defrost it, times a wasting. Thanksgiving cooking shouldn't be stressful and it really shouldn't be a health risk. 

With a few simple touches and proper cooking, a great turkey will serve as the cornerstone of a pleasing and sleep-inducing meal.

The DuPage County Health Department along with Meijer’s Registered Dietitian Shari Steinbach have offered advice and a few techniques that will make cooking that Thanksgiving dinner a safe and tasty meal. The bird can induce a great Tryptophan coma among all of your relatives, including the ones you like.  

Buy the Right Size Turkey

  • People will need 1 pound of uncooked turkey for every guest. Add another half pound if you want leftovers.  

Proper Cooking Time

  • Steinbach suggests cooking an unstuffed turkey for 12-15 minutes per pound, and a stuffed turkey for 18-20 minutes per pound.

Turkey Thawing Safety Tips

The DuPage County Health Department offers the following tips when it comes to thawing and cooking safety:

  • Cooks preparing a frozen turkey should make their purchase a few days to a week in advance to allow thawing. If you plan to buy a fresh turkey, do not buy it too soon. Fresh, unfrozen poultry should be kept in the refrigerator no more than two days before cooking. Frozen turkeys that have been thawed should be cooked within four days.
  • Thaw a frozen turkey in the refrigerator. Allow one day for each five pounds of turkey. A twenty-pound turkey will take about four days to thaw. Hint: Remove neck and giblets from inside the bird as soon as possible to hasten thawing. Leave the frozen bird in its original wrapper and place it on a tray to catch any juices that may leak from the package. Bacteria in meat juices can cross-contaminate other foods that will be eaten without further cooking or that are already cooked, possibly causing foodborne illness.
  • If you do not have time to thaw in the refrigerator, you may thaw it in cold water, provided that the turkey is in a leak-proof packaging, it is submerged, and the water is changed every half-hour. Allow 30 minutes per pound of turkey to thaw in cold water.
  • Wash your hands with hot, soapy water before and after handling raw poultry. Wash all knives, cutting boards and utensils also after using for raw poultry.

Safety Tip – Proper Temperature to Cook a Turkey

  • Steinbach says that when the temperature in the thigh is about 180 degrees, it’s done.
  • If the bird is stuffed, insert thermometer into the middle of the stuffing and wait for it to reach 160 degrees.
  • The DuPage County Health Department suggests that stuffing should not be prepared a day ahead and the turkey should not be stuffed until ready to cook. A quicker, safer method is to cook the stuffing separately in a casserole, using some of the pan juices to flavor and moisten the stuffing.
  • Some turkeys come with a pop-up thermometer. It should be used only as a guide to doneness, according to the DuPage County Health Department. Take the temperature with a meat thermometer to be sure the temperature is over 165°F.
  • Let a cooked turkey sit for about 40 minutes before carving it.

Optional Ways to Prepare a Turkey

  • Steinbach suggested other ways to cook a turkey such as deep frying or basting. She recommends using a smaller sized turkey for deep-frying.
  • Another way to make a great turkey is to brine the bird before roasting. Place the whole turkey into a salt water mixture made with one cup of salt to one gallon of water, and let the bird sit in the water for at least 12 hours before roasting.


  • The Health Department says to make sure and eat the meal as soon as it is prepared. Do not leave leftovers out on the counter or table after dinner. Cut the meat off the bones and put it in shallow containers in the refrigerator.
  • Reheat all leftovers to 165°F. (Use your meat thermometer.) Gravy should be brought to a rolling boil.

Need more help? Contact the Butterball Turkey Talk Line: 1-800-BUTTERBALL (1-800-288-8372).

Do you have any cooking tips? Share them in comments. 

Local Editor Benjamin Feldheim contributed to this story.

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There are plenty of ways to keep up on Downers Grove news:

James Capparell November 19, 2012 at 12:59 PM
We have compiled a list of tasty left over turkey recipes. Find them at http://louisiana.kitchenandculture.com the web site for our new magazine Louisiana Kitchen & Culture which celebrates the heritage, culture and cuisine of Louisiana.


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