How to Shop for & Prepare a Turkey for Thanksgiving

All the information you need to make a successful holiday turkey.

By Sasha Weilbaker
Nov 2, 2022
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Whether you’re hosting Thanksgiving for the first time, you’re a seasoned host, or you’ll be preparing turkey for just your immediate family, the subject of roasting a turkey is often fraught. As there are seemingly endless methods for shopping for, preparing, and roasting your bird, it’s hard to pare down prep to the essential questions—but don’t worry, we’re here to help.

To take the pressure off the big day, our team has compiled a comprehensive guide to shopping for and preparing your turkey– no matter what variety– so that you can focus on the bigger questions at hand.

How to Shop for a Turkey

Shopping for a turkey largely depends on what type of turkey you’re looking to buy. Frozen turkeys can be purchased well ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday from your local grocery store, and often come pre-treated with a basting solution of water, salt, and spices– making roasting a breeze. Butterball turkeys, which are sold either fresh or frozen, are one of the most popular grocery store brands for this reason.

For those looking to shop from a local farmer, be sure to get on the farm’s list well in advance, as reservations for Thanksgiving turkeys start piling up as early as Halloween. If you choose to purchase a fresh local turkey, you’ll likely get a call a day or two before the holiday, as fresh turkeys must be eaten soon after purchase.

How Much Turkey Per Person?

The general rule of thumb for Thanksgiving turkeys is to purchase one that’s between 1 and 1 ½ pounds per the number of  people you’re hosting. While this may seem like a lot of meat per person, remember that not all of the turkey is edible. When you buy a turkey, you’re getting a whole lot of bone with it. This is especially true for smaller birds, as the smaller the turkey, the larger percentage of it is bone.

Additionally, take into account desired leftovers. If you’re looking to have Thanksgiving leftovers for the next week, factor this in while shopping for your turkey.

How to Store a Turkey

Once you’ve successfully purchased your Thanksgiving turkey, you now have to store it for anywhere from a day or two to a few weeks. Where (and how) you store it depends on whether the bird is fresh or frozen—here are the specifics.

In the Fridge

It’s recommended that fresh turkeys be stored in the fridge for no more than two days before cooking. The desired storage temperature for fresh turkeys is 40 degrees or below, which means that they do best in the coldest part of the fridge– often the bottom shelf or a meat drawer. Be sure to store the turkey in its original packaging, such as a wrapper or sealed bag.

In the Freezer

Many prefer to buy frozen turkeys because they can be stored for weeks in advance. However, they do need a few days to thaw, so be sure to factor in thaw time when you’re thinking about preparing your turkey for roasting.

How to Defrost a Turkey

Frozen turkeys take at least one day to thaw in the refrigerator, but thaw time depends on the size of the turkey. The USDA advises allowing one day of thawing for every four pounds of turkey. So, if you’ve purchased a 12 pound frozen turkey, plan for three days of thawing in the fridge.

Additional Turkey Preparation Tips

Brine up to 3 Days Before

Many people have experienced  dry, flavorless turkey at the holiday table. For this reason, using a  brine is a popular method, adding more flavor and juiciness to the meat. We advise preparing a wet brine two days in advance of roasting your turkey, as this will give the brine time to cool in the refrigerator and save you time the day before Thanksgiving.

For those using a dry brine, it’s ideal to leave the brined turkey in the refrigerator for up to three days. However, for those in a rush, one day will do.

Temper Up to 2 Days Before

For an even roast, it’s important to temper your turkey before it goes in the oven. The process of “tempering” simply means ensuring that the entire turkey is the same temperature. This can be done in the refrigerator. We recommend placing your turkey on a Roasting Pan in the fridge for one-half of a day per four pounds of turkey to guarantee an even temperature.

Use a Meat Thermometer

To ensure that your turkey is fully cooked, make sure to have a meat thermometer on hand. It’s recommended that the turkey breast reach 170 degrees, and that stuffing reach 165 degrees, before the turkey is considered fully cooked.

Ready to Shop?

Now that you’re ready to start cooking, it’s time to make sure your kitchen is stocked for the holiday season with all the right tools. Our versatile Roasting Pan was designed in partnership with Chef Tom Colicchio. Constructed from Carbon Steel, it features high, insulating walls, offset handles, and a removable rack. It’s perfect for roasting proteins, vegetables, or a combination for one pan winter meals. Our Roasting Pan can fit a 12-pound bird, so make sure you order yours with plenty of time before the big day.