Turkey Roasting 101

Preparing your bird for Thanksgiving dinner doesn’t have to be a daunting ordeal. We’ve teamed up with the Turkey Farmers of Ontario to provide you with an easy-to-follow guide to turkey roasting. From thawing to cleaning, storing to stuffing we’ve got you covered in all things turkey.

Size Storage Thawing Cleaning Stuffing Roasting Gravy

What size turkey should you buy?

Knowing what size bird to buy is the first step in turkey roasting. Knowing if you want a pre-stuffed or unstuffed frozen bird, and if you would like moderate or lots of leftovers, is the second step. Once the decision is made calculate based on the following:

  • For moderate leftovers: 1 pound unstuffed, 1.4 pounds prestuffed per person
  • For lots of leftovers: 1.3 pounds unstuffed, 1.6 pounds prestuffed per person

If you choose to purchase a fresh, whole bird the above calculations still apply.


If you have purchased a fresh whole turkey, remove giblets and refrigerate in a covered container for use within 2-3 days.

Fresh whole turkeys should be cooked within 3 days of the “packaged on” date.

Whole turkeys can be kept frozen for 1 year. Once thawed, treat as fresh turkey and do not refreeze until cooked.

Cooked turkey can be stored in a covered container, plastic bag or aluminum foil for up to four days in the fridge or up to three months in the freezer.

NOTE: After cooking, keep the turkey hot, above 140°F (60°C) or refrigerate below 40 F (4°C). Do NOT leave at room temperature for more than two hours.

Thawing your bird

It is very important to never thaw a turkey at room temperature. A good rule to follow is to never leave uncooked meat or poultry (including frozen) at room temperature for more than two hours. Leave the turkey in its original package and follow one of the following methods to thaw your turkey:

Refrigerator Method

Cold Water Method

Frozen Prestuffed Turkeys

This method is ideal as it keeps the meat cold until it is completely defrosted. Place your turkey on a tray in the refrigerator, allowing 5 hours per pound (10 hours/kg) defrosting time. In a large container, cover the turkey completely with cold water. Change water at least every hour, allowing 1 hour per pound (2 hours/kg) defrosting time. If you are purchasing a frozen, prestuffed turkey, DO NOT THAW! Cook from frozen state and check product label for further instructions.


Once your turkey has thawed:

  • Remove plastic wrap from turkey.
  • Remove neck and giblets from body cavity (can be saved to make giblet stock).
  • Rinse turkey well inside and out with cold water. Thoroughly pat dry with paper towels.

Food safety:

  • Always wash hands thoroughly in hot soapy water before and after preparing foods and handling raw meat.
  • Do not let raw meat juices touch ready-to-eat foods either in the fridge or during preparation.
  • Do not put cooked foods on the same plate that held raw product.
  • Wash utensils, dishes and surfaces used for cutting turkey with hot, soapy water. Rinse with a sanitizing solution of one capful of chlorine bleach in a sink full of warm water.
  • Keep cutting board and utensils in good repair as they can harbour bacteria inside cracks and crevices.


It is important to stuff the turkey just before roasting. Never stuff the day before as moistened stuffing does not keep well. If you wish, the ingredients may be prepared the day before and combined just before the turkey is to be stuffed. To save on cooking time, you may wish to place the stuffing in a baking dish and cook during the last half hour of roasting time.

Allow 1/2 to 3/4 cup (125 to 175 mL) of stuffing per 1lb of turkey. One slice of bread yields 1/2 cup (125 mL) coarse bread crumbs or 1 cup (250 mL) loosely packed 1/2 inch (1 cm) cubes.

Always remove leftover stuffing from the turkey immediately and keep covered in the fridge. Use within three days and only reheat enough stuffing for one meal at a time.

Cooked stuffing can be frozen for up to four weeks. Heat without thawing (or thaw in fridge first) and use at once.

Tip: For an easy way to remove stuffing from your turkey, prepare the turkey for the oven, line the cavity with cheesecloth leaving excess at the opening and stuff the turkey as usual. After roasting, simply pull the cheesecloth out of the turkey to remove the stuffing.

Do not:

  • Stuff a fresh turkey before freezing
  • Freeze a cooked turkey with stuffing still inside
  • Stuff your turkey too full with stuffing, it will expand when cooking

Try our recipe for Traditional Bread Stuffing.

Roasting Times for Whole Turkeys

The roasting times below are in hours based on a cooking temperature of 325°F (160°C)

Weight Stuffed Unstuffed
6 to 8 lbs (3 to 3.5 kg) 3 to 3 1/4 2 1/2 to 2 3/4
8 to 20 lbs (3.5 to 4.5 kg) 3 1/4 to 3 1/2 2 3/4 to 3
10 to 12 lbs (4.5 to 5.5 kg) 3 1/2 to 3 3/4 3 to 3 1/4
12 to 16 lbs (5.5 to 7 kg) 3 3/4 to 4 3 1/4 to 3 1/2
16 to 22 lbs (7 to 10 kg) 4 to 4 1/2 3 1/2 to 4

Your turkey is done when:

  • A meat thermometer inserted in the inner thigh reads 180°F (82°C) for a stuffed turkey or 170°F (77°C) for an unstuffed turkey.
  • The legs move easily when twisted and the juices run clear.

When your turkey is done, remove it from the oven and cover with foil. Let stand for 15 to 20 minutes before carving to let all the savoury juices soak back into the meat.

Basic Turkey Gravy

A flavourful, rich gravy made from your roasted turkey drippings.

1/4 cup fat from turkey drippings 50 mL
1/4 cup flour 50 mL
2 cups liquid (reserved juices plus broth, milk or water) 500 mL
salt and pepper to taste

Once you have removed your turkey from the oven, pour the drippings from the pan into a bowl, leaving all brown particles in the pan. Let the fat rise to the top and skim it off. Set the juices aside. Measure 1/4 cup (50 mL) fat back into the roasting pan and place over low heat. Blend in flour and cook until slightly brown and bubbly. Stir in liquid (reserved juices plus broth, milk or water) until smooth. Scrape brown particles from bottom of pan and cook, stirring until mixture is thick. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve hot, refrigerate or freeze leftovers.

Chef’s note: Use turkey within four days. Be sure to bring the gravy to a boil before serving.

Source: turkeyrecipes.ca