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College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences

November 22, 2022 - 10:53am --

Before Thanksgiving, first-grade teacher Myranda Miller does a fun activity with her Wooster Township Elementary School class. She gives her students a worksheet titled “How to Cook a Thanksgiving Turkey” and the responses are fun to read.

          Here are a couple from Max and Maleena.

          Maleena advises getting a turkey “from a market or in the wild” and Max says it should come from “a farm.”

          Before you cook it, you need to “put seasoning on it like pepper,” Max writes. Maleena says you need to “thaw it out.”

          According to Max, the turkey should cook at 22 degrees for 27 minutes. Maleena is cooking hers at 20 degrees for 10 minutes.

          It’s done when “the timer goes off,” Max says, and you can eat “ham and stuffing” with the turkey. Maleena said the turkey is done when “it is cooked properly” and she recommends “mashed potatoes and ham” with turkey.

          For dessert, the students recommend “cake” and “ice creme and yoguert.”

          Recipes are “not kitchen tested,” as noted on the worksheet.

Step-by-step instructions: How to cook a turkey safely

          The Partnership for Food Safety Education has tested its methods, so if you’re cooking a turkey this Thanksgiving, here is the group’s step-by-step instructions. 

Wash your hands with soap and water. After removing the turkey from its packaging, do not rinse the turkey! Remove neck and giblets packet, and reserve them for making stock or gravy. Free legs from clamp.

Season inside with ½ tablespoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. For added flavor, fill the cavity with aromatics such as an orange, cut in half, a quartered onion and/or fresh thyme or sage.

To allow the turkey to roast more quickly and evenly, plan to cook your stuffing recipe in a separate pan. To brown the bird, brush skin with unsalted butter or olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Another option is to mix unsalted butter or olive oil and fresh herbs together and apply the mixture under the skin.

Secure legs in clamp and tuck wing tips under. Place turkey, breast side up on a V-rack set inside a 2-6-inch-deep roasting pan.

Use the chart to determine estimated cooking time for your bird. These are approximate cooking times for whole, unstuffed turkey (325-degree oven temperature).

Turkey Weight

Cooking Time

8 to 12 pounds

2 ¾ to 3 hours

12 to 14 pounds

3 to 3 ¾ hours

14 to 18 pounds

3 ¾ to 4 ¼ hours

18 to 20 pounds

4 ¼ to 4 ½ hours

20 to 24 pounds

4 ½ to 5 hours

Cover breast with aluminum foil and roast the turkey for one hour.  After one hour, remove the foil and reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. Turkey is cooked to a safe internal temperature when it reaches 165 degrees on a food thermometer. Once cooked to 165 degrees, remove turkey from the oven. Let the turkey rest for 20 minutes. If you wish, reserve the turkey drippings to make gravy.

How to Grill or Smoke a Turkey

Grilling or smoking the turkey are two other options and the USDA provides instructions for these cooking methods.

Grilling is cooking over direct heat on a rack set over charcoal, wood or special rocks heated by a gas flame. Allow 15 to 18 minutes per pound when cooking a turkey on the grill. When the weather is cold, it could take longer.

          Smoking is cooking food indirectly and slowly over a drip pan in a covered grill or smoker. Cooking time depends on many factors: the type of meat, its size and shape, the distance of food from the heat, the temperature of the coals and the weather. It can take anywhere from four to eight hours to smoke a turkey.

          Turkeys that are grilled or smoked should not be stuffed. Smoked or grilled, your turkey is safe to eat when the thermometer registers 165 degrees in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast.

What is Spatchcocking and What Does it Have to do With Your Thanksgiving Bird?

          Spatchcocking is a fancy term for cooking a whole turkey or chicken by removing the backbone and splaying the bird out flat. Among the benefits of spatchcocking are a quicker cooking time, easier carving and a moister turkey, according to the USDA. The turkey also takes up less room in the oven since it is flat.

          To spatchcock your turkey, use sturdy kitchen shears to cut along both sides of the turkey’s backbone and remove it. Flip the bird over and flatten it by breaking the breastbone. Brush your turkey with olive oil, salt and pepper (if desired). Roast at 450 degrees for approximately 70 minutes for a 12-pound turkey. Again, the innermost parts should register 165 degrees.

          Frying a whole turkey is a faster method, but it comes with safety concerns because it requires such a large amount of hot oil, according to the USDA. A whole turkey can be successfully cooked by the deep fat frying method, provided the turkey is not stuffed and has been completely thawed. The turkey should be 12 pounds or less in size. Be sure to pat your turkey with paper towels to remove any trace of moisture before putting it into the hot oil.

          When dinner is over, carve the rest of the turkey from the bone and refrigerate it immediately. For safety, make sure the turkey is refrigerated within two hours of coming out of the oven. Use leftovers within four days or freeze them.

          For more information, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-674-6854, or chat live with a food safety specialist at, available from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Eastern Time, Monday through Friday, in English or Spanish.

Laurie Sidle is an FCS and 4-H Program Assistant with The Ohio State University Extension-Wayne County.
This article was previously published in The Daily Record.