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Thanksgiving Turkey Survival Guide

by Emily
Thanksgiving Turkey Guide

This week, we decided to pause our Thursday ‘Emily Recommends’ series to give you our Thanksgiving turkey survival guide!

Thanksgiving is just around the corner. I know for many of you, the panic has started to set in. Don’t worry. We have your back! In our survival guide, we include information about when and how to thaw your turkey, the turkey roasting times depending on the weight of your bird, what to do if your turkey is still frozen, how big of a turkey you need for your party size, and more! 

Each topic will include a free and downloadable survival guide cheat sheet. In other words, an infographic. For those wanting to download and print all of the cheat sheets, wait until the end of the post. We included the full package in a single downloadable file! If you like these materials, please join our mailing list for further blog posts, updates, information, and free downloadables! 


If you are a west wing fan, remember, even president bartlet needed to call the butterball THANKSGIVING hotline. (Which is real by the way.)

Why Are We Doing a Thanksgiving Turkey Survival Guide?

More than ever, we understand there will be more people cooking turkeys for the first time. Fewer people are gathering in large groups of friends and families this year. For the first time, people will be in charge of roasting their own turkey. The task usually for mom or grandma now falls on you. Stress!!! 

Beyond the reason listed above, we know many families only roast a turkey once or twice a year. It is helpful to have a reminder of “do’s and do not’s” tucked away somewhere. 

After all, sometimes accidents happen. What happens if your turkey didn’t completely thaw? On the other hand, you may have some questions. Should you cook your stuffing separately or in the bird?

No matter what, we hope this guide helps you!

Thanksgiving Turkey Survival Guide

How Big of a Bird Do You Need?

When picking your turkey, first count the number of people enjoying your Thanksgiving dinner. The weight of your turkey depends on the size of your party and how much you like leftovers.

Infographic by Carving A Journey
How Much Turkey Do You Need?
Infographic by Carving A Journey
How Much Turkey Do You Need?

Typically, the rule of thumb is 1.25 pounds of turkey per person. With that, there will be enough for everyone to feel satisfied, with a few leftovers for the following days.  

Remember, Thanksgiving dinner usually has a lot of sides. People will inevitably be filling up on pies, potatoes, ham, casseroles, rolls, and more. Don’t go crazy with the size of the turkey. If you do, you will have way too many leftovers! 

Note: If you need more than 15-20 pounds and have double ovens, get two birds. It makes the cooking process so much faster!

Please check out my infographic chart to help you decide on the size of your turkey! 

How to Properly Defrost a Turkey

Okay, you have your turkey sitting in the freezer. You are ready with your list of things to do leading up to the big day. But wait, now that you think about it, when do you pull it out of the freezer? How should you thaw that large bird?!

First, we need to note that you should not thaw your turkey on the counter as a last resort for hours on end. Unfortunately, that method can lead to some pretty gnarly foodborne illnesses. 

When Defrosting Your Turkey, You Have Two Options: 

  1. Option 1: Start by placing the frozen turkey in the refrigerator. The bird should still be in the package. You should face it breast-side up. Remember to set the bird on a tray or platter to collect any liquid as the turkey defrosts. The defrost rate is approximately 4 pounds a day. 
  2. Option 2: Place your turkey in the sink or a cooler. The container should be large enough to submerge the turkey in water. Using cold water, completely cover the turkey. Do not use warm or hot water to speed up the process. Once again, this can lead to foodborne illnesses. Change the water frequently. The water needs to remain cold. This process typically defrosts at the rate of 2 pounds per hour.  
Thanksgiving Turkey Survival Guide: When to Thaw You Turkey
Infographic by Carving A Journey
When Should You Thaw Your Turkey?

If you go with the second option, remember how long a turkey takes to cook. You cannot expect to defrost AND cook a turkey in one day. Defrost the day before Thanksgiving or get up really, really early. 

Check out my thawing infographic to help you decide when to start defrosting! 

What Should You Do If Your Turkey Isn’t Fully Defrosted?

First, do not panic. Try to breathe. Remember, Thanksgiving is a holiday meant to spread joy. Are you breathing? Okay, now let’s deal with the situation. 

The answer is simple! Just cook it in the oven! Though it will take longer to cook, it is perfectly okay to place a frozen turkey in the oven to cook. When roasting a fully frozen turkey, it takes approximately 50% longer to cook to the proper temperature. 

Do not, I repeat, DO NOT place your turkey into the microwave. You can check out old Mythbusters videos to see the reason. Many individuals end up in the hospital with severe burns because their microwaves explode when cooking their turkey. Often, it is the stuffing that causes an explosion, but still, better safe than sorry. 

Stuffing or No Stuffing?

Ahhh… the never-ending Thanksgiving debate. Should you stuff the bird or leave it on the side as a “dressing”? I believe you should leave the stuffing on the side.

My Reasonings Include:

  • Adding stuffing slows the cooking of the turkey itself. In turn, the turkey must remain in the oven for longer than usual. Often, the turkey tends to get drier and drier the longer it continues to cook. We all want a moist turkey!
  • To safely eat stuffing, it must reach a particular temperature to prevent foodborne illnesses. At a minimum, the stuffing needs to come to 165°F. Think about it–even if you do not use any raw egg or meat, you place the stuffing into the raw turkey cavity. The stuffing must reach the same temperature as the bird because it was touching the raw meat. Often, the stuffing barely reaches 165°F, even after a long period, because it is in the center of the bird, it is dense, and it is sitting in the cavity surrounded by the bones. This issue leads back to my previous point about drying out the turkey. 
  • The internal cavity of a turkey is not very large. If you have a big family, stuffing the turkey will result in tiny portions. Families will sometimes cook half of the stuffing in the turkey and the other half in a baking dish to offset this issue. 

In the end, I think baking the stuffing in a dish makes the experience much simpler and less frustrating. I remember a year when my family had to keep putting the bird back in the oven because the stuffing was not cooked all the way through. All of our other food got cold waiting for the turkey to finish cooking. Dinner was much later than expected!!! 

Though I prefer making a dressing, every family has its traditions. Don’t let my opinions change how your family does something if it works for you! 

Remember, if you stuff the turkey, check the temperature of the bird AND the stuffing. They both must reach 165°F! 

All you have to do next is pick a turkey recipe!!!

How to Roast Your Turkey and When Is Your Turkey Done? 

Infographic by Carving A Journey
Roasting Times!

How to Roast Your Turkey 

After choosing, defrosting, stuffing, and/or dressing your turkey, it is now the time to cook it! First, preheat your oven to 325°F. After reading and reading, I believe that temperature is the best based on many different professional opinions. 

The roasting time differs depending on the size of your bird and whether or not you add stuffing. I created the infographic chart above to help you set your timer.

Note: Weigh your turkey again after it thaws. There may be a slight difference after losing some water during the defrosting process. 

Note II: Remember to remove the packet of giblets before cooking your bird! People often forget and are grossed out when they open up the cooked bird for dinner.

How to Know When Your Turkey Is Done?

Your turkey is done once it has reached an internal temperature of 165°F. If you stuffed the turkey, your stuffing must reach that temperature as well. I recommend letting your bird sit for a bit before serving.

Voila! You have a delicious roasted turkey! 

Infographic by Carving A Journey
Seriously, don’t microwave unless you want your microwave to explode!

Did Our Thanksgiving Turkey Survival Guide Help You? 

We hope the information and infographics helped you this Thanksgiving season. Below is our compiled free and downloadable infographics for your use.

If you download them and like the information, we would truly appreciate it if you join our mailing list. You can read our blog updates, cooking tips and facts, recipes, recommendations, and more every week! 

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Thanksgiving Side Dishes and Appetizers 

A few of our recipes are perfect to serve with Thanksgiving dinner or as an appetizer ahead of the meal. We hope you have a wonderful and safe holiday season! Remember, don’t microwave your turkey! 

We Would Love to Hear From You!

Feel free to email us at [email protected] for any questions, recommendations, or stories. We love hearing from you! You can also follow us at @carvingajourney on InstagramTwitterFacebook, and Pinterest. Finally, you can subscribe to our blog by joining our mailing list.

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Carving A Journey is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. Although we may earn commissions for our endorsement, recommendation, testimonial, and/or link to any products or services from this website, these opinions are my own and I fully support these products. 

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Katherine November 15, 2020 - 5:41 pm

these are great Hon! So proud! They will be in my family cookbook as cheat sheets.

Marilyn Slagel November 12, 2020 - 12:57 pm

Loved the Thanksgiving survival kit, great idea, Love M and Pie Pie


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