I'm just going to come right out and be honest with you; cooking is not my strong suit.

I can crock-pot like the day is long, but I won't pretend that takes a ton of talent. It's basically a "dump stuff into a pot and set a timer" game. Hard to mess that up, although I'm embarrassed to say I have.

So when it comes to Thanksgiving, I've always let someone who "knows better" handle the bird.

I can manage sides, but in no way think myself capable enough to not screw up the main attraction of the holiday meal.

holiday turkey
Diane Diederich

This year, however, I have no choice.

The ones who usually handle the hard stuff are traveling leading up to the holiday, so the responsibility rests squarely upon my shoulders.

Thus, in order not to let my family and their tastebuds down, I'm gathering all the tips I can, in an effort to save Thanksgiving, from myself.

For those in the same boat, let me share this knowledge that I have gathered:

How big of a bird will I need to feed the crew?

According to the "Food Safety & Inspection" branch of the USDA (and let's face it, goal #1 of any meal should be to not inadvertently make your loved ones ill from your cooking) when dealing with a frozen turkey, here's what you want to keep in mind.


You'll need about one pound of turkey to feed each person. If you're like me, you'll want plenty of leftovers. So my 18 family members all end up coming, and I aim for a 25+ bird, I should be ok.

When do I take the bird out of the deep freeze? 

Going back to the USDA website, I found:

"There are three ways to thaw your turkey safely — in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave oven."

Who on earth has a microwave oven big enough to thaw a 25+-pound bird? Not this lady!

If you want to go the route of using cold tap water, you'll want to go with about 30 minutes per pound, so in this case about 12 and a half hours.

"Wrap your turkey securely...Submerge your wrapped turkey in cold tap water and change the water every 30 minutes."

Since I have other things to do than sit around and change out the water every 30 minutes for an entire day, I won't be opting for this method, obviously!

So I'm choosing to go the refrigerator route.

They say to allow about 24 hours for every 4 to 5 lbs of bird. So if I'm thawing from frozen in a fridge, I'm looking at about 6 or so days. So I'll want to pull it from the freezer before this weekend.

Ok. I've figured out how long it will take me to thaw the bird.

I guess it would be a good idea to find out how long to cook the thing, too. 


The experts at the USDA say:

"A whole turkey is safe when cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165 °F as measured with a food thermometer."

They say the best place to take that measurement is in a meaty part of the bird, as in the thickest part of the breast or thigh.

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I scoured all the major cooking and recipe sights, and they all agree that the best bet is to cook the turkey for a matter of 13 minutes per pound, which works out to about 5 and a half hours.

The length of time will also depend on whether the bird is stuffed or not. Many of the sites suggest cooking the bird without the stuffing so it can cook through evenly. We've always done the stuffing in the bird, but since I don't want to leave that to chance, I may save that little adventure for another time.

What recipe to use? 

Since I'm aiming for a classic roasted turkey meal, I figure why not go to the professionals. Their name is right on the turkeys and they even set up a "turkey hotline" for poor, underskilled cooks like myself each year.

"For more than 40 years, the professionally trained turkey experts that make up the Turkey Talk-Line have been answering turkey-related questions each holiday season. Open every November and December, our 50+ experts answer more than 100,000 questions, for thousands of households around the United States and Canada. Call 1-800-BUTTERBALL (1-800-288-8372) or text 844-877-3456."

According to Butterball.com, I'm going to want to line a baking sheet with foil, pre-heat the oven to 325 degrees (Fahrenheit) and move the oven rack to the bottom 3rd position.

Then I'm going to cook a cup of butter (that's a lot of butter--and I'm totally fine with that. These are turkey professionals, after all, not heart surgeons!) on medium-high heat for about 8 minutes, adding salt, pepper and thyme to the mix after I've taken it off the heat.

Butterball says to then arrange cut onions down on the baking sheet and lay the turkey on top of that, brushing the bird with butter.

Thanksgiving Turkey
Shawn Campbell

Pop it in the oven for however many hours, buttering/basting it every hour. Then you're supposed to let it stand for about 20 minutes before carving it.

Fingers crossed, folks that I don't "fowl" this up!

Cooked turkey
Creatas Images

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