Article written by Dr. Daliah.

Although most Thanksgiving dinner parties will be smaller in size this year, many have a 10-15 lb turkey sitting in the freezer as we speak. And one of the biggest mistakes we make during Thanksgiving Week is forgetting how much time is needed to clean, thaw and cook a bird.

So here’s the breakdown.


Unless you’re bringing a turkey, or you just hunted one, health experts recommend to NOT wash the turkey off as the splash factor can spread harmful bacteria throughout the kitchen and table surfaces.

Cooking the turkey at the recommended temperature and time (described below) will kill the bacteria you’re trying to wash off.


Firstly, don’t leave the turkey out at room temperature. Early in the week put it in the refrigerator to avoid growing harmful bacteria. And if you’re coming up short of time, use cold water.

Then depending on the poundage, here is the time needed for a turkey to properly thaw.

  • Under 12 lbs: may need 3 days to thaw in the refrigerator
  • 12-16 lbs: may need 4 days to thaw in the refrigerator
  • 16-20 lbs: may need 5 days to thaw in the refrigerator
  • over 20 lbs: may need 6 days to thaw in the refrigerator

If you missed the deadline to refrigerator-thaw, see the below times for cold water thawing:

How to Thaw a Frozen Turkey (and How Not to)
Image from Spruce Eats


When cooking the turkey, set the oven at 325 degrees and cook for the following times (add 30 minutes more if stuffed):

  • Under 12 lbs: 3.5 – 4 hours
  • 12-16 lbs: 4.5 – 5 hours
  • 16-20 lbs: 5- 5.5 hours
  • over 20 lbs: 5.5 – 6 hours

Make sure the internal temperature is at least 165 degrees in at least 3 places on the turkey:

Temperature Matters: Meat Thermometer Guidelines | National Turkey  Federation

Let’s talk turkey….preparing Thanksgiving dinner is no easy task, but safety comes first and when it doubt, you can peruse FDA recommendations here.

Daliah Wachs, MD, FAAFP is a nationally syndicated radio personality on GCN Network and KDWN.