How to Cook a Holiday Turkey

How to Cook a Holiday Turkey

As a crisp creeps into the morning air and the leaves  start changing hue, we're ready to say goodbye to grilled corn on the cob and turn our attention to seasonal favourites like apples, pumpkin spice and, of course, holiday turkey. And even if you're not quite feeling ready for turkey just yet, starting to plan a few weeks ahead can make pulling off an unforgettable holiday feast easier, especially if it's your first time hosting. Read on to learn exactly how to get your turkey ready for a holiday feast.

Baked holiday turkey with stuffing and garnishes

A Step-by-Step Guide to Roasting a Turkey

Cooking a turkey for holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas can seem overwhelming. This step-by-step guide will help you prepare. Discover tips for how much turkey you will need per guest, how to thaw and clean your turkey and finally how to best roast your turkey.

Before You Cook

The first step to throwing a holiday feast is planning ahead, and you should reserve your bird with a butcher at least a few weeks in advance.

How Much Turkey Per Person?

Order roughly 1.25 pounds of turkey per guest—so, for example, a 12- to 13-pound bird to feed a party of 9—so everyone can get their fill and have some leftovers, too. If you want lots of leftovers, order 1.5 pounds per guest.

Cleaning and Preparation

Roasting an unforgettable turkey takes some time, and you may need to start up to a week before your feast.

How Long to Thaw a Turkey

If your turkey came frozen, it could take days to thaw. There are two methods to thaw a turkey: the fridge and water bath method.

 If you're thawing in the fridge, count on one day of thawing per 4 to 5 pounds of turkey; for thawing in a water bath, plan for a half hour of thawing per pound of turkey.

While the fridge method takes longer to defrost a turkey, you have more time in between thawing and cooking your turkey. The water bath method thaws your turkey faster, but the turkey must be cooked immediately. Learn how long each method takes per pound of turkey below.

How to Thaw a Turkey in the Fridge

If you're thawing turkey in the fridge, count on one day of thawing per 4 to 5 pounds of turkey. The breakdown per pound is this:

Pounds of Turkey

Time to Thaw in the Fridge

4 pounds

1 day

8 pounds

2 days

12 pounds

3 days

16 pounds

4 days

20 pounds

5 days

25 pounds

6 days


Fridge thawing tips:

  • Health Canada recommends that you set your fridge to 40 °F (4°C).
  • Ensure the turkey is in its wrapping when its thawing
  • Place the turkey breast-side-up in a pan to catch drips and keep your fridge clean and sanitary
  • A turkey thawed in the fridge can be left in the fridge for up to 2 days before cooking

How to Thaw a Turkey in Cold Water

For a quicker thawing alternative, for thawing in a water bath, plan for a half hour of thawing per pound of turkey. The breakdown per pound is this:

Pounds of Turkey

Time to Thaw in Cold Water

4 pounds

2 hours

8 pounds

4 hours

12 pounds

6 hours

16 pounds

8 hours

20 pounds

10 hours


Cold water thawing tips:

  • Ensure there are no holes in the wrap of your turkey. If there are holes, or for extra safety, place your turkey in a leak-proof plastic bag. Make sure there is no excess air and seal the bag. Fill your sink or a bucket with cold water.
  • Fully submerge your wrapped turkey breast-side down in the water and let it sit, change the water every thirty minutes.
  • Cook your defrosted turkey immediately after it is thawed.


Thawing Safety Tips

To prevent foodborne illnesses, it’s important to never thaw a frozen turkey in hot water or at room temperature on your kitchen counter. Learn more from Health Canada here.

How to Clean a Turkey

Once your turkey has fully and safely thawed, it’s time to clean it.

First, wash your hands thoroughly and remove the turkey from its packaging.

Most turkeys will come with the neck and giblets inside the bird. Remove these and set them aside to cook separately.

Use paper towels to pat the bird dry, including inside the cavity.

Cleaning Safety Tips

  • When you rinse raw turkey, you run the risk of spreading bacteria around your kitchen. It is not recommended to clean your turkey with water.
  • Handling raw turkey will contaminate your hands. Try to touch as few foods and surfaces as possible and thoroughly wash your hands after handling turkey.
  • Wash all cutting boards and utensils used to prepare raw turkey.

Ready to Roast

How to Season a Turkey

A classic rub made from thyme, garlic powder, salt and pepper works well with virtually any stuffing, while a sage rub perfectly complements a cornbread stuffing. Try our poultry seasoning for a delicious, easy and time-saving rub.

What Temperature to Cook a Turkey

Set your oven to 325°F (163°C) to cook your bird evenly. The total cook time will depend on the size of your turkey, so let a meat thermometer be the ultimate judge. Your turkey is cooked when the breast meat reaches 170°F (77°C) and the thighs reaches 180°F (82°C). After it's done, allow the bird to rest for at 20 least minutes before carving. This is the perfect time to use the oven to warm up your sides.

How Long to Cook a Turkey per Pound

If you’re cooking your turkey at the recommended 325°F (163°C), follow the recommended times below for either stuffed or unstuffed turkey.

How Long to a Cook Unstuffed Turkey per Pound

Pounds of Unstuffed Turkey

Time to Cook

4 – 8 pounds

1.5 – 2.75 hours

8 – 12 pounds

2.75 – 3 hours

12 – 14 pounds

3 – 3.75 hours

14 – 18 pounds

3.75 – 4.25 hours

20 – 24 pounds

4.5 – 5 hours


How Long to a Cook Stuffed Turkey per Pound

Pounds of Stuffed Turkey

Time to Cook

6 – 8 pounds

2.5 – 3.5 hours

8 – 12 pounds

3 – 3.5 hours

12 – 14 pounds

3.5 – 4 hours

14 – 18 pounds

4 – 4.25 hours

18 – 20 pounds

4.25 hours – 4.75 hours

20 to 24 pounds

4.75 – 5.25 hours

How to Carve a Turkey

You're almost ready to serve your bird, now you just need to carve. We suggest carving in advance rather than at the table, since you can take your time to get it right. Remove the drumsticks and wings to serve whole, and slice or pull the rest of the dark meat. Remove the turkey breasts and slice the white meat into ½-inch slices, using a carving knife or chef's knife. Fill your platter with a variety of cuts and serve. All that is left is to bask in the glow of compliments from your guests; you've earned them!

How to Make Turkey Gravy

The secret to savoury, lump-free, turkey-flavoured gravy? Fond (the meaty little bits leftover in your turkey roasting pan) and two packets of Club House Turkey Gravy Mix. Make our Perfect Turkey Gravy recipe in a few simple steps.

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