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How Long Defrosted, Refrigerated, and Cooked Turkey Lasts

What to Do With Your Turkey, From Now Until Thanksgiving

The time has come to start finalizing your Thanksgiving meal, and if you're most concerned about timing the defrosting and roasting of your bird, here's a quick calendar for reference. Consider using this calculator from Butterball and the following tips from Butterball's turkey experts to also 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 avoid any juices from leaking into 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 (if you have one in your garage).

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 with foil before returning 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.

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! For example, roasting a 16-pound bird at 325°F will take you between three and three and a half hours.
  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/prepping amount is four and a half hours and you want to serve at 3 p.m., then you'll need to get the bird in the oven at 10:30 a.m.
  5. Now, between the time the turkey is out of the oven and the time you have to carve, eat, and put the wrapped leftovers in the fridge is 2 hours. 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 protein begins to break down.
  2. Either toss any remaining leftovers by Sunday or freeze them for up to two months.
Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Anna Monette Roberts
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