What to Do With Your Turkey, From Now Until Thanksgiving

Anna Monette Roberts

The time has come to start finalizing your Thanksgiving meal, and there's a lot to consider when it comes to timing the defrosting and roasting of your bird. How long will it take to thaw a whole turkey? How long can a thawed turkey last in the refrigerator? Consider using this calculator from Butterball and the following tips from Butterball's turkey experts to help plan your timing.

Thursday (one week before Thanksgiving)

  1. Pick up your frozen turkey from the grocery store or schedule it for delivery on this day.
  2. It will take one day per four pounds of turkey to defrost.
  3. Once it's thawed, the turkey can be refrigerated for an additional four days before it needs to be cooked.
  4. When you are ready to thaw, keep the turkey in its plastic wrap and place it on a rimmed sheet tray or roasting pan to keep any juices from making a mess your fridge. Put it in the coldest part of your fridge to defrost, or better yet, store it in a spare fridge that isn't opened often.

Wednesday

  1. Want to prep the bird the day before? Go ahead! Just pat the turkey dry with paper towels, season to your liking, and cover it with foil before returning it to the fridge.
  2. Remember to prep the bird and get it back into the fridge as soon as possible. Also, do not put the turkey on the roasting pan you plan to use. You don't want that pan to be ice cold when it goes into the oven.

Related: No Need to Wait 'Till Thanksgiving - Costco's 4-Pound Pumpkin Pie Is Here!

Thursday (Thanksgiving)

  1. Have a plan before the big day. Decide on a time you want to serve Thanksgiving dinner, and know how long your turkey recipe will take you.
  2. Remember: no matter your cooking method, make sure the bird reaches an internal temperature of 135°F in less than four hours of cooking. That's a food safety concern, as you don't want the turkey to hover in the danger zone of 40°F to 140°F for longer than that!
  3. Tack on an additional hour to your cook time for checking the internal temperature (which lowers the oven temperature and slows down the cooking process), letting the bird rest, and carving the turkey.
  4. Let's say the total cooking and prepping time is four and a half hours and you want to serve at 3 p.m., then you'll need to get the bird into the oven at 10:30 a.m.
  5. Once the turkey is out of the oven, you have two hours to carve it, eat it, and put the wrapped leftovers into the fridge. Plan on carving the entire bird in one go as a food safety concern (remember: even cooked meat has a danger zone!).

Sunday

  1. Refrigerated turkey leftovers will keep for three days. After that, the turkey proteins begin to break down.
  2. Either toss any remaining leftovers by Sunday or freeze them for up to two months.

Related: The Fastest Way to Thaw Meat (Without Getting Food Poisoning)