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Posted on Wed, Nov 23, 2011 : 9:22 a.m.

Turkey FUNdamentals: Top questions for cooking a turkey

By Washtenaw County Public Health


Thanksgiving memories should be of good times with friends and family, not of a foodborne illness caused by inattention to food safety. Properly handle, prepare, cook and store food to minimize the growth of E. coli, Salmonella and other causes of foodborne illness.

Did you know the majority of foodborne illness stems from inadequate handwashing, cross contamination, and improper cooking, heating and cooling?

How long will it take to cook two turkeys at the same time?

The cooking time is determined by the weight of one bird — not the combined weight. Use the weight of the smaller bird to determine cooking time. Use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of the smaller bird first and then check the second bird.

A whole turkey is safe when cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees as measured with a food thermometer. Check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. When cooking two turkeys at the same time, make sure there is enough oven space for proper heat circulation.

How long will it take to cook a turkey weighing more than 25 pounds?

To cook a large turkey use the Timetables for Turkey Roasting for an unstuffed turkey, which can be found in Turkey Basics: Safe Cooking. Add 10 minutes per pound for turkeys over 24 pounds. We don’t recommend stuffing a turkey over 24 pounds. Make sure you have a heavy pan large enough to hold the turkey. Be sure to make sure there is enough space in the oven for proper heat circulation.

If a turkey has a “pop-up” temperature indicator, do I still need to use a thermometer?

Pop-up temperature indicators are constructed from a food-approved nylon. The indicator pops up when the food has reached the final temperature for safety and doneness. Pop-up temperature indicators have been produced since 1965 and are reliable to within 1 to 2 degrees if accurately placed in the product. But it is also suggested that the temperature be checked with a conventional food thermometer in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast to ensure safety.

Is it safe to cook a turkey from the frozen state?

Yes, it is safe to cook a turkey from the frozen state. The cooking time will take at least 50 percent longer than recommended for a fully thawed turkey. Remember to remove the giblet packages during the cooking time. Remove the packages carefully with tongs or a fork.

Please visit our food safety site for answers to more burning food questions

USDA also has information on safe turkey cooking