How to Prep a Turkey for Thanksgiving: A Comprehensive Guide

Nothing beats the taste of farm-to-table turkey. You can save yourself the last-minute trip to the grocery store when you’re getting ready to host friends and family by purchasing a frozen turkey. Freezing preserves a turkey’s freshness and delays spoilage. However, before stuffing your frozen turkey and cooking it, you have to prepare and thaw it. Here’s everything you need to know if you’ve never cooked with a frozen turkey so you can cook one without endangering your family’s safety in the kitchen or damaging your oven or outdoor grill.

Use this calculator to determine how much turkey you’ll need. Number of People = Pounds of Turkey

* Whole turkeys smaller than 8 lbs. are hard to find. Consider a turkey breast for feeding 2-4 people.

Ah, Thanksgiving. A time for family, friends and of course, a delicious turkey dinner. But before you can dig into that golden-brown bird, there’s some prep work to be done. Don’t worry, though! This comprehensive guide will walk you through everything you need to know about prepping a turkey for Thanksgiving, from thawing to trussing and everything in between.

Thawing Your Turkey:

The first step is thawing your turkey. This can take some time, so plan ahead! Here’s a general guideline:

  • 24 hours per 5 pounds of turkey: This is the standard thawing time for a frozen turkey. So, if you have a 12-pound turkey, it will need to thaw for 2.4 days (or 57.6 hours).
  • Cold water thawing: If you’re short on time, you can thaw your turkey in cold water. Submerge the wrapped turkey in a cooler filled with cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes. This method thaws the turkey much faster than in the refrigerator, but it requires more attention.

Tips for Thawing Your Turkey:

  • Don’t thaw your turkey at room temperature. This can lead to bacterial growth.
  • Always thaw your turkey in the refrigerator or using the cold water method.
  • Never thaw your turkey in the microwave. This will cook the turkey unevenly and can leave you with a dry, tough bird.

Once Your Turkey is Thawed:

Once your turkey is thawed, it’s time to get it ready for the oven. Here are the steps:

  1. Remove the giblets: The giblets are typically found in a small bag inside the turkey’s cavity. Remove them and discard or save them for another use.
  2. Pat the turkey dry: Use paper towels to pat the turkey dry inside and out. This will help the skin crisp up in the oven.
  3. Season the turkey: Rub the turkey with olive oil or melted butter, then season it generously with salt, pepper, and your favorite herbs and spices.
  4. Stuff the turkey (optional): If you’re stuffing your turkey, do it loosely and just before roasting. This will help prevent the stuffing from overcooking.
  5. Truss the turkey (optional): Trussing the turkey helps it cook more evenly and gives it a more attractive shape. You can use kitchen twine or butcher’s twine to truss the turkey.

Additional Tips for Prepping Your Turkey:

  • Brine your turkey (optional): Brining is a great way to ensure a juicy turkey. You can brine your turkey in a wet or dry brine.
  • Use a roasting rack: This will allow the turkey to cook evenly and prevent the bottom from burning.
  • Baste the turkey: Basting the turkey with its own juices or melted butter will help keep it moist and flavorful.
  • Let the turkey rest: After the turkey is cooked, let it rest for at least 30 minutes before carving. This will allow the juices to redistribute, resulting in a more tender bird.

Prepping a turkey for Thanksgiving may seem daunting, but it’s actually quite simple. By following these steps, you’ll be well on your way to enjoying a delicious and juicy turkey dinner. Now, go forth and roast that bird!


Here are some additional resources that you may find helpful:

How to Prepare a Whole Turkey

After thawing your whole turkey, you only have to prepare and cook it. Here’s how to prepare turkey for the oven:

  • assemble the ingredients: orange slices, melted butter, salt, onions, black pepper, and aromatic herbs (such as rosemary, bay leaves, thyme, etc.).
  • After taking the giblets and neck out of the turkey’s cavity, use paper towels to pat the bird dry.
  • Place your orange slices, herbs, and other aromatics inside the turkey.
  • Melt the butter and liberally season the body with kosher salt and black pepper.
  • To ensure that the turkey cooks evenly, tuck the wings and legs.
  • Place the turkey in a pan and wash your hands.
  • To allow the spices to seep into the turkey, leave it in the refrigerator for two to three hours.
  • After preparing the turkey, you can bake it right away if you don’t have two to three hours to spare.

For the juiciest and tastiest meat, go the extra mile by brining the turkey before cooking.

Prepare Your Turkey for Roasting

You want to thaw your turkey without causing cross-contamination in your kitchen, so here are your best options:

Our recommended method is refrigerator thawing. However, you’ll have to plan ahead because your turkey won’t be ready for cooking same-day. This is due to the fact that it takes around 24 hours to completely thaw four to five pounds of frozen meat, so it will take roughly three days to thaw a ten to fifteen-pound bird.

Follow these steps to thaw your turkey in the fridge safely:

  • Set your fridge to 40°F. By doing this, you can protect your turkey from dangerous bacteria.
  • The turkey should be kept in its original wrapping and placed with its breasts facing up in a baking pan. While the turkey thaws in the refrigerator, the pan will collect drips and help to keep things tidy.
  • After 48 hours, check on the turkey and place the pan in the refrigerator.

After the turkey has thawed, you can leave it in the fridge for up to two days. However, note that refreezing a turkey after refrigerator thawing may lead to some loss of quality.

Refrigerator Thawing Times: 1 to 3 days for 4 to 12 pounds; 3 to 4 days for 12 to 16 pounds; 4 to 5 days for 16 to 20 pounds; 5 to 6 days for 20 to 24 pounds;

If your turkey needs to be cooked the same day, thawing it in cold water is the best option. It can completely thaw a 15-pound turkey within seven to eight hours. This implies that if you plan to cook the turkey for supper, you should begin thawing it in cold water as early as the previous evening, but no later than the cook-day.

Below are the cold water thawing steps:

  • After keeping the turkey in its original container, put it in a plastic bag that won’t leak. After the extra air is removed from the leak-proof bag and the turkey is inside, seal it. Doing so will help prevent the turkey from absorbing water.
  • Pour ordinary tap water into a large container and add the bagged turkey to it. You must fully submerge the turkey in the water.
  • Until the turkey is fully thawed, change the water at least every 30 minutes. Altering the water and submerging the turkey in a warmer solution expedites the thawing process.
  • Once the thawing process is finished, you can immediately season and cook the turkey. After the meat has thawed, place it in a baking pan and store it in a refrigerator set to 40°F or lower if you are not ready to use it right away.

Cold Water Thawing Times: 2–6 hours for 4–12 pounds, 6–8 hours for 16–20 pounds, 8–10 hours for 20–24 pounds, and 10–12 hours for 12–16 pounds.

Do not use hot or warm water to thaw your turkey. When the turkey thaws inside the bag, raising its surface temperature above 40 degrees Fahrenheit may encourage the growth of bacteria.

How to prep a turkey for roasting

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