The food and nutrition experts at Consumer Reports aren’t just scientists. They’re also enthusiastic home cooks who’ve hosted and prepared a holiday meal or twenty over the years. So when they share their best turkey tips, they cover all the bases—from food safety to serving strategies. Here’s their game plan. (Be sure to check out our advice and step-by-step video for cooking your Thanksgiving meal on a gas grill.)

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Buy a Better Bird
Whether you buy your turkey at a grocery store or from a local farm, Consumer Reports recommends buying one that’s certified organic, which means an independent certifier has verified that the farm raising the turkey meets the U.S. Department of Agriculture standards.  

Among the many requirements in the USDA organic standards is a prohibition on the use of antibiotics after turkeys are two days old. The USDA Organic seal also indicates that the birds were fed organic feed, from crops grown without the use of synthetic pesticides and genetically engineered seed, and the feed does not contain animal byproducts or other types of drugs that can be added to the diet of a conventional turkey to promote growth. Organic turkeys do cost a little more, so if organic isn’t an option for you, your next best bet is to look for one with a label that has both a “raised without antibiotics” claim and the USDA Process Verified seal, which guarantees that this claim has been met. (Here's where to find the best grocery store prices in America.)

Size It Right
To make sure you’ll have enough for all your guests, plus leftovers, Maxine Siegel, R.D., who heads CR's food testing team, says to plan on about 1 pound of turkey for each person. “That may sound like a lot, but it takes into account the skin, bones, and other bits we don’t usually eat,” she says.

Leave Time to Thaw
If you buy a frozen bird, plan to thaw it in a refrigerator set to 40° F for 24 hours for each 4 to 5 pounds of meat. “A 16-pound turkey will take about four days to thaw,” says CR food tester Ellen Klosz. “Put the wrapped turkey on a tray on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator,” she advises. “As it thaws, some water and juice will leak out of the plastic wrapping, and you don’t want that to get all over the fridge, spreading bacteria onto surfaces and other foods.”

Don’t Give the Bird a Bath
“You can’t wash off bacteria with water, and rinsing out the turkey risks splashing its juices all over the sink and anything within several feet,” says CR food tester Amy Keating, R.D. Instead, open the plastic wrap carefully and drain any liquid into the sink before discarding the wrapper. Pat the turkey dry, inside and out, with paper towels. Wash your hands and any utensils, using hot water and soap.


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Don’t Stuff It
“According to the USDA, the safest way to cook stuffing is outside of the turkey,” says Klosz. Stuffing can absorb the juices from the raw turkey. if the stuffing doesn't get hot enough (165° F), you could leave you and your guests susceptible to food poisoning, but cooking the bird until the stuffing is safe will likely lead to overcooked meat.

Watch the Temperature
A crispy golden brown exterior may be your goal, but it’s the interior temperature that really matters: Too low and you risk food poisoning; too high, and your bird may look a lot better than it tastes. CR’s tests have shown the pop-up thermometers that come with many turkeys are not 100 percent accurate. Use a meat thermometer instead. 

Learn Correct Placement
“Take the turkey out of the oven, closing the oven door to keep the heat inside in case you need to roast it longer,” says Klosz. “Insert the meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh (not the drumstick), pushing it in about 2 inches and making sure you don’t hit a bone. Then, check the thickest part of the breast and the innermost part of the wing, keeping the thermometer horizontal as you insert the probe. Both should be 165° F.” 

Let the Turkey Rest
When the turkey has reached 165° F, remove it from the oven and let it rest, loosely covered, for at least 20 minutes to let the juices redistribute into the meat, says Keating. “That’s when you can make the gravy and finish up last-minute dishes.” Don’t let the cooked bird sit unrefrigerated for more than 2 hours, however. Any bacteria that may be present could multiply to harmful levels if the bird sits at room temperature longer than that.