How to Clean a Turkey

Nothing looks more tasty in the center of a Thanksgiving table than a beautifully prepared turkey. Before you cook the bird, though, you need to clean it properly. Learn how to clean a turkey, whether store-bought or brought home from a hunting trip, in a thorough manner to make sure no one at your table winds up with a feather on their drumstick or a bag of giblets in their spoonful of stuffing.


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    Check that the turkey is thoroughly thawed. If you try to cook the bird with large portions of it still frozen, it will not cook evenly, and someone at your table could wind up becoming ill from under-cooked poultry. To determine if it's still frozen, simply press down and gently squeeze the bird (still in its wrapper) to see if you detect any hard, very cold spots.
    • Thawing in a bowl or the kitchen sink of cold water takes roughly 30 minutes per pound. The wrapping should be free of any tears to minimize any cross contamination of bacteria. Remember to change the water every 30 minutes or so to keep it cold; never use hot water.
    • Thawing in the refrigerator should take roughly 24 hours for every five pounds, so a 15-pound frozen turkey could take roughly three days to thaw completely.
    • If you are cleaning a fresh (never frozen) store-bought turkey or a turkey brought home from a hunting trip, you won't need to worry about the thawing step.
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    Remove the turkey from its packaging, setting the raw bird in a large bowl in your kitchen sink or on stack of paper towels on the counter.
    • Be careful when cutting the wrapper off as it often has cooking instructions or other warnings on it that you may wish to read. If this is a wild turkey from a hunting trip, the wrapping it is in will obviously not be the plastic wrapper covered in writing.
    • You may want to cut a small hole in the wrapper and hold the bird over the sink to drain any excess water from thawing into the sink before you cut the package open.
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    Rinse the turkey with cold water, getting all outside and inside surfaces clean. You may want to rinse two or three times. If any tiny pin feathers remain on the bird, either missed in the packing plant or while cleaning a wild turkey, simply pull them out by applying pressure where the quill is attached to the skin.
    • To clean the inside cavities of the bird, you'll need to release its legs from the metal or plastic brackets holding them together. You can then reach inside, pull out the bag of giblets and either discard them or set them aside momentarily if you plan to cook them to make gravy.
    • If you find a few ice crystals inside, run a little lukewarm water into the cavity until the ice crystals are gone. If you find a large chunk of ice crystals inside, remove the ice chunk and then leave the bird in a sink of cold water just briefly to continue thawing. (Don't leave it too long to avoid the development of harmful bacteria.)
    • Turn the turkey over to clean the small cavity that's usually covered with a flap of skin on the backside of the bird.
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    Dry the turkey prior to preparing it for the oven. Turn it on end so the large cavity is pointing toward the drain and shake it gently to remove remaining water from inside the turkey. Place it on paper towels on the counter or in a large dry bowl then pat the turkey dry with paper towels and transfer it to the prepared roasting pan.
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    Clean your work area thoroughly with soap, hot water and bleach products. This includes the sink, cutting boards, counter top, bowls and utensils. Use diluted bleach, an antibacterial kitchen spray with bleach or a soft scrubbing bleach product and hot water to kill bacteria. Then wash your hands thoroughly with hot water and an antibacterial soap.


  • No matter how the turkey is thawed, the turkey should never be removed from its wrapping until ready to clean and cook.

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Categories: Summarization | Cleaning Food | Turkey Dishes