Handling & Storing Turkey

Follow these guidelines to help ensure that your turkey remains fresh, wholesome and delicious.

Purchasing Whole Turkey

Prices vary as you move across the grading scale, but meat quality remains high. So for a soup or stew, you could purchase a grade of turkey with a more favourable food cost and still give your customers full turkey flavour.

Contact your turkey supplier for more information about which grade makes the most sense for your turkey dishes.


Fresh (not frozen)

Refer to the “Best Before” date to determine how long a fresh whole turkey may be safely stored. Leave it in its sealed packaging and refrigerate until ready to cook. If no date is given—or if the turkey is not in vacuum sealed packaging—remove the giblets from the cavity, refrigerate at 35°F to 40°F (2°C to 4°C) well wrapped in plastic or in a covered container, and use within 2 to 3 days of purchase.


Ground turkey in its sealed packaging can be refrigerated until the “Best Before” date. Freshly ground turkey can be stored in the refrigerator for 1 day and in the freezer for 2 to 3 months.

To prevent bacterial contamination, do not store uncooked turkey near any other ready-to-eat foods.


Wrapped well, whole turkeys can be kept frozen for 1 year, and turkey parts for up to 6 months. Once thawed, treat as a fresh turkey. Do not refreeze unless cooked.


Store cooked turkey in a covered container, plastic bag or aluminum foil and refrigerate for up to 4 days, or freeze for up to 3 months. Cold cuts should be refrigerated and used within 4 days after slicing or opening sealed packaging, or frozen for up to 3 months.

Remove stuffing from cavity shortly after turkey comes out of the oven. Cover and keep hot. Leftover roasted turkey should be carved from the bone. Store all leftovers in shallow containers and refrigerate or freeze within 2 hours of removing turkey from the oven.

Keep turkey HOT (above 140°F/60°C) or COLD (below 40°F/4°C).

Previously Frozen
Any thawed turkey labeled as “previously frozen” must be kept refrigerated and used within 48 hours. Do not refreeze.

Recommended Thawing Methods

For proper taste and texture, turkey must be completely thawed before cooking.

Never thaw at room temperature or in warm water—bacteria can grow on the surface even though the inside is still frozen.

REFRIGERATOR THAWING (preferred method)

Refrigerator thawing keeps the turkey at a safe temperature as it thaws.

  • Thawing time depends on air-flow in your refrigerator. Allow 5 hours per pound (10 hours/kg). A 20 pound (10 kg) turkey will take about 4 days to thaw completely.
  • Remove turkey from the shipping container but leave in its original wrapper to prevent moisture loss. If wrapper is punctured or torn, rewrap in plastic wrap to keep airtight.
  • Place the turkey on a tray (to catch any juices that may leak) in the refrigerator.

(For use only when there is not enough time for refrigerator thawing.)

Refrigerator thawing keeps the turkey at a safe temperature as it thaws.

  • Allow 1 hour per pound (2 hrs/kg). A 20 pound (10 kg) turkey will take almost a day to thaw completely.
  • Leave the frozen turkey in its original wrapper. If wrapper is punctured or torn, rewrap in a plastic bag so it is air and water tight.
  • Cover turkey completely in cold water, changing water at least every hour.
  • Once thawed, prepare to cook or refrigerate and cook within 48 hours.

Note: Frozen pre-stuffed turkeys and certain processed turkey products must be cooked from a frozen state to prevent bacterial growth and to maintain taste and texture. Check the product label for details.

Be Cautious!
Bacteria grow in a “danger zone” between 40°F and 140°F (4°C and 60°C). Either refrigerate below 40°F (4°C), or keep hot, above 140°F (60°C). Do not allow raw or cooked turkey to remain in the danger zone for more than 2 hours.


Wash hands thoroughly with hot, soapy water before and after handling raw turkey.
the “canada inspected” or “Inspection Canada” stamp along with the maple leaf logo ensures the utmost quality of your turkey.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency oversees all aspects of Canadian turkey processing to ensure that each turkey is properly graded and labeled.

All materials used for storage, preparation and serving turkey must also be cleaned before and after use.

Do not let raw meat or juices touch ready-to-eat foods either in the refrigerator or during preparation.

Do not put cooked foods on the same plate that held raw product.

Wash prepping utensils, dishes and surfaces with hot, soapy water.

Rinse using a solution of one capful of chlorine bleach in a sink full of warm water. Thoroughly rinse surfaces, dishes and utensils with hot water.

Cutting boards and utensils harbour bacteria in cracks and crevices. Keep them in good repair.

Like any agricultural product, turkey is sensitive to its environment and must be maintained and processed under strict sanitary conditions.

Cooking Turkey


  • Stuffing turkeys is still popular, but food safety experts strongly recommend cooking stuffing separately.
  • Preparing the stuffing outside the bird is more practical, and it saves time and money.
  • Roasting time is reduced for unstuffed birds and yield is higher.
  • Cooking stuffing separately saves on overall labour.
  • Stuffing is easier to properly portion from a pan than from turkey.
  • Improper handling and inadequate cooking of stuffed birds raises food poisoning risk.
  • In foodservice, the amount of stuffing required is usually more than the turkey can hold.
  • If you decide to cook the stuffing then place it inside a fresh or fullythawed turkey just before roasting.

Prepping the Whole Bird

  • Sanitize your sink, drain board or draining area.
  • Remove neck and giblets from the cavity.
  • Remove any pin feathers, pieces of lung, or windpipe.
  • Rinse turkey inside and out under cold, running water. Do not leave turkey in water.
  • Drain the turkey on a sanitized surface.
  • Add seasonings/spices as desired.
  • Cook turkey immediately, or cover and refrigerate (see storage directions).
  • Due to high risk of cross-contamination, never re-use containers used to store raw poultry.

Check Temperatures

Check your oven thermostat and temperature to verify the setting, and adjust it if necessary.

A 25°F (14°C) variance can make a 5% difference in cooked turkey yield, and severely impact food costs.

Use a thermometer to check internal temperature for doneness.

Roasting Times* for Whole Turkey

Cooking temperature 325°F (160°C).
Weight Stuffed UNStuffed
6 – 8 lbs
(3.0 – 3.5 kg)
3 – 3 ¼ hours 2 ½ – 2 ¾ hours
8 – 10 lbs
(3.5 – 4.5 kg)
3 ¼ – 3 ½ hours 2 ¾ – 3 hours
10 – 12 lbs
(4.5 – 5.5 kg)
3 ½ – 3 ¾ hours 3 – 3 ¼ hours
12 – 16 lbs
(5.5 – 7.0 kg)
3 ¾ – 4 hours 3 ¼ – 3 ½ hours
16 – 20 lbs
(7.0 – 9.0 kg)
4 ¼ – 4 ¾ hours 3 ¾ – 4 ½ hours
20 – 24 lbs
(9.0 – 10.9 kg)
4 ¾ – 5 ½ hours 4 – 5 hours
*Roasting times are approximate
Roast Turkey
Estimate the number of people to be served and the amount of cooked turkey required. A whole turkey yields about 50% of its original weight in cooked, servable meat. It’s better to overestimate your needs — leftover turkey is great for creating tasty, profitable dishes.

Gauge cooking start time so the turkey is fully cooked 30 to 45 minutes before serving.


  • Try to schedule thawing so that the turkeys will reach 38°F (3°C) no more than 4 to 6;hours before cooking must begin. Once thawed, they must be cooked within 48 hours.
  • Insert a sanitized dial thermometer into the inner thigh just above (but not touching) the thigh bone to determine if fully thawed. To sanitize dial thermometer, wash and then immerse the stem in 170°F (77°C) water for 30 seconds, or wipe with a sanitizer.
  • Preheat oven to 325°F (160°C) and verify accurate oven temperature with an oven thermometer. Do not cook turkey below 325°F (160°C).
  • Place turkeys on racks in shallow pans.
  • If using a convection oven, place a loose foil tent on each turkey and secure with stainless steel trussing pins.
  • Move the panned turkeys into the oven when the scheduled cooking must start. Record the time that each goes into oven.
  • Set a timer for 30 minutes prior to the bird’s scheduled cooking completion. At this time, double check the internal temperature of each bird to confirm remaining cooking times. Reset the timer to the additional finishing time.

Whole Turkey Once Cooked

Remove turkeys from oven; let stand about 20 minutes before carving.

Note: Some turkeys will cook faster than others, so each bird must be monitored and removed separately from oven as they reach the temperatures noted above.

Immediately carve the major sections from the carcass. Place turkey in sanitized pans and cover. Slice as required and serve hot.

For holding times less than one hour, use a hot holding device and maintain the temperature at 140°F to 160°F (60°C to 71°C). Keep turkey covered.

For holding times of more than 1 hour, slice immediately, shingle in shallow pans no more than 2 inches deep, and cool in a blast-chiller refrigerator to less than 40°F (4°C).

Cover tightly with plastic wrap when cooled and refrigerate at 38°F to 40°F (3°C to 4°C). Reheat to proper temperatures as close to serving times as possible.

(bone in)

  • Recommended oven temperature 325°F (160°F).
  • Always start with completely thawed breasts.
  • Cook with skin on to retain moisture.
  • Place in pan with bone underneath.
  • Cook same size/weight breasts together to better monitor internal cooking temperatures and times.
  • 10 to 14 pounds (4 to 6 kg) breasts cooked to 165°F (74°C) to 170°F (77°C) internal temperature (thermometer inserted in the thickest part but not touching bone) will be tender.
  • Do not overcook breasts or they will dry out.

Convection Oven

This method results in greater moisture loss and a 2 to 3% lower yield vs. regular ovens. A temperature of 25°F to 50°F (15°C to 30°C) less than a regular oven is recommended. Cook uncovered.

Braising provides a richer flavour and greater yield through moist heat cooking. Use 4 cups (1 L) water in a 21″ x 20″ x 6″ (53 x 50 x 15 cm) pan, 4 breasts per pan. Cook covered with foil wrap or invert another pan on top.

Regular Oven

Internal Temperature for Cooked Whole Turkey

Always check with a sanitized thermometer. Turkey should register 170°F (77°C) in the breast and 180°F (82°C) in the thigh. Stuffing that is cooked in the turkey cavity should reach an internal temperature of at least 165°F (74°C).

Use 12″ x 20″ x 2″ (30 x 50 x 5 cm) steam table pans with 1/2 inch (1 cm) racks, 2 breasts per pan. Cook uncovered.

Use 3 cups (750 mL) water in a 12″ x 20″ x 2″ (30 x 50 x 5 cm) steam table pan; no rack, 2 breasts per pan. Cook covered with foil wrap or invert another pan on top.

Once Cooked:

If the meat is needed immediately, remove from pans, slice and serve hot.

For holding time of less than one hour, remove the breast meat from the bones, place pieces in pans and cover. Place in a hot holding device and maintain the temperature at 140°F to 160°F (60°C to 71°C).

For holding times more than one hour, slice immediately and shingle no more than 2 inches (5 cm) deep. Let cool, cover and store below 40°F (4°C) in a blast-chiller refrigerator.

Turkey Burgers and Sausages: Cook to internal temperature of 165°F (74°C).

Turkey Thighs (& Other Parts): Cook to internal temperature of 170°F (77°C).

Carving Turkey

General Rules for Carving Turkey

Proper carving techniques provide the highest yield.


Allow roasted turkeys to stand at room temperature for 10 to 20 minutes (maximum) before slicing to allow juices to distribute evenly throughout the meat, and make netting and cooking bags easier to remove.

Turkey and turkey products, to be machine sliced, should be first chilled for easier slicing. Serve or store turkey as soon as it is carved or sliced.

Carving the Breast

Remove half of the breast by cutting along the keel bone and rib cage. Place breast half on a sanitized cutting surface and slice evenly against the grain.

Carving a Fully Cooked Breast Roast

When carving half of a whole breast, carve it lengthwise with the muscle.

Slicing Turkey Products

Slice turkey rolls, slabs, ovals and other shapes crosswise to desired thickness. Slice at a slight angle to achieve a more oval-shaped piece of meat. remove-stuffing


Turkey parts for soups, stew, casseroles and other mixed dishes will be cut into smaller pieces of various sizes. Some parts, such as the breast, can provide larger, more attractive slices.
Drumsticks & Thighs
step 1 Remove drumsticks and thigh by pressing the leg away from the body. The joint connecting the leg to the backbone will often snap free or cut easily with the knife point. Cut dark meat completely from body by following the body’s contour with the knife. step1-image
step 2 Place the drumstick and thigh on a cutting surface and cut through the connecting joint. Tilt drumstick to a convenient angle, slicing toward the cutting surface as shown. step2-image
step 3 To slice thigh meat, hold thigh firmly on the cutting surface with a fork. Cut slices evenly, parallel to the bone. step3-image
Carving the Breast – Presentation Method
step 1 Place the knife parallel to the wing, as close as possible. Make a deep cut into the breast, cutting right to the bone. This is your base cut. All breast slices will stop here. step1-image2
step 2 After making the base cut, carve downward, ending at the base. Start each new cut slightly higher up on the breast. Keep slices thin and even. step2-image2
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