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How to Select the Perfect Turkey

How to Select the Perfect Turkey

Many Thanksgivings gone wrong start with an enormous and completely frozen bird that took too long to roast. This is easily avoidable with a little advanced planning and some know-how. Create a feast to remember this year with these easy tips on how to select the perfect turkey this holiday season.

Sizing the Turkey


Portioning is everything and if there isn't enough turkey to go around, the entire holiday dinner could be ruined. Estimate how many people will be served and use this chart to determine what size of a bird to buy:

Type of Turkey

Pounds to Buy

Whole Turkey

1 Pound per Person

Boneless Turkey Breast

1/2 Pound per Person

Turkey Breast (Bone-In)

3/4 Pound per Person

Frozen, Pre-Stuffed Turkey

1 1/4 Pound per Person



Fresh VS. Frozen Turkey


For those who plan ahead, buying a frozen turkey is the way to go because it can keep for a long time in the freezer. However, it will need to be thawed before it can be cooked. This can take several hours or several days, depending on the size of the bird and the thawing method.

Of course, the whole thawing process can be circumvented by purchasing a fresh turkey. Just make sure there is enough storage space in the refrigerator beforehand. A fresh turkey needs to be cooked within two days of purchase, so plan accordingly.

Thawing a Frozen Turkey


For those who decide to purchase a frozen turkey, the bird can be thawed in either the refrigerator or in cold water.

Thawing in the Refrigerator


The refrigerator is the safest method for thawing a turkey, because all areas of the bird are kept cold enough (below 40°F) to prevent bacterial growth. However, thawing in the refrigerator takes a long time, so be sure to plan ahead and use this table to determine how long it should take for the bird to thaw:

Turkey Size

Number of Days to Defrost

4 to 12 Pounds

1 to 3 Days

12 to 16 Pounds

3 to 4 Days

16 to 20 Pounds

4 to 5 Days

20 to 24 Pounds

5 to 6 Days


Thawing in Cold Water


Thawing a turkey in cold water offers a quicker option than via refrigerator, however, the water will need to be changed every 30 minutes. If the water is not changed every half hour, some parts of the bird can become too warm and facilitate bacterial growth. Be sure to cook the turkey immediately after thawing. Here is a table that tells how long it should take for a turkey to thaw in cold water:

Turkey Size

Number of Hours to Defrost

4 to 12 Pounds

2 to 6 Hours

12 to 16 Pounds

6 to 8 Hours

16 to 20 Pounds

8 to 10 Hours

20 to 24 Pounds

10 to 12 Hours


Once an appropriate turkey is selected, it is time to get to work on the cooking. There are several different ways to cook a turkey, but if done correctly, each method will result in a bird that is juicy and delicious.