How to Cook a Turkey: Cooking Times and Tips

Learn How to Cook the Perfect Turkey

October 24, 2019
Roasted Turkey
Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

Ready to roast the big bird? Here are our tips on how to cook a turkey, including a chart on how long to cook a turkey for peak flavor!

How to Cook a Turkey: Cooking Tips

Before you start roasting the big bird, make sure you have the right equipment. You’ll need a good roasting pan with a rack; the pan should be heavy enough so it does not bend. Also, make sure you have a meat thermometer so you can remove the turkey at the peak of flavor; overcooking is one of the most common problems. See more about meat thermometers.

Preparing the Turkey

  • Leave time for defrosting! If your turkey is frozen, it needs to be defrosted in a refrigerator. Allow one day of defrosting for every four pounds of turkey.
  • Once defrosted, remove gizzards (the sack containing the neck and innards). You can save these for stock.
  • If you’re cooking stuffing inside your turkey, truss it (tie up the turkey’s legs and wings). Otherwise, there’s no need. It will only slow down the cooking time.
  • Add some aromatics to the turkey cavity, such as garlic cloves, celery, carrots, bay leaves, and herbs.
  • Add broth or water (about ¼ inch) to the bottom of the roasting pan to avoid any burning.
  • Place your thawed or fresh turkey breast up on a flat rack in your roasting pan, which should be 2 to 2-½ inches deep.
  • Brush or rub the skin with olive or coconut oil or softened butter to prevent drying of the skin and to enhance the golden color. Season the bird with salt and pepper, to your taste.

Cooking the Turkey

  • Place into a preheated 325°F (165°C) oven.
  • Baste the turkey with juices several times throughout cooking.
  • When the skin is a light golden color and the turkey is about two-thirds done, shield the breast loosely with a tent of lightweight foil to prevent overcooking of the breast.
  • See the cooking times below for an idea of how long your bird will take to roast, and start checking your meat thermometer until it’s done cooking.

Image: Roasting pan with rack for turkey.

How Long to Cook a Turkey

Use the roasting schedule below as a guideline, and start checking for doneness ½ hour before the recommended time ends.

Use your instant-read thermometer to test for peak flavor and moistness. The turkey is cooked when it reaches the following internal temperatures:

  • 180° to 185°F (82° to 85°C) deep in the thigh; also, juices should be clear, not pink, when the thigh muscle is pierced deeply.
  • 170° to 175°F (77° to 80°C) in the thickest part of the breast, just above the rib bones.
  • 160° to 165°F (70° to 74°C) in the center of the stuffing (if the turkey is stuffed).

Let the turkey sit for 15 to 20 minutes before carving to allow the juices to be reabsorbed by the meat.

Turkey Cooking Times

Net Weight
 10 to 18  3 to 3-½  3-¾ to 4-½
 18 to 22  3-½ to 4  4-½ to 5
 22 to 24  4 to 4-½  5 to 5-½
 24 to 30  4-½ to 5  5-½ to 6-¼
Credit: Butterball Turkey

How to Carve a Turkey

Once you’ve roasted the turkey and let it rest, it’s time to carve the big bird! Watch our video on how to carve a turkey for carving tips.

Turkey Recipes

Check out our Thanksgiving Recipes page to see our favorite turkey recipes—and recipes for Thanksgiving side dishes and desserts, too!

How do you cook your Thanksgiving turkey? Roasting? Deep-frying? Share your technique in the comments below!

Reader Comments

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Roasting time chart errors?

Generally turkeys are roasted 325 Deg. F for between 15 and 20 minutes per pound. Why does your chart seem to indicate about 13 1/2 min. per pound???

TG Turkey

Some folks might want to try this method--called Trash Can Turkey
There are many blogs/youtube entries on how to do this---very simple--done outside(frees up the kitchen-plus no electric/gas costs) and the bird will come out very moist and tender, plus a 14 lb turkey will be done in 1 hr and 30 minutes. Costs are a steel trash can(not galvanized) a roll of heavy duty Alum Foil(you will use this anyway), a 24" wooden stake, 2 bags of charcoal. Easy enough to look this up on the internet--no way you can dry this one out if you follow the simple process--

Breast side down!

Since we carve the turkey in the kitchen rather than bringing it whole to the table, I roast for taste, rather than appearance. I roast the turkey breast side down, which results in a juicier breast. It also rests in this position before carving.

A tip to share: I always order a fresh turkey and pick it up the day before Thanksgiving. Thus I avoid having a hulking frozen poultry carcass thawing in my fridge for days before the big event.

fresh, not frozen

The Editors's picture

Another good idea if it works for you! (Not everybody has easy access to fresh birds) Happy Thanksgiving!

Cooking a Turkey

The first time I read accurate information on what temperature to cook my bird to. All of the magazines, TV cooks, even brochures from the market tell you to cook to 155-165 degrees. The result is a raw bird that needs to go back in the oven after it's carved, drying it out. I am convinced that the people who write for some magazines and TV shows have never cooked a turkey in their lives, much less been anywhere near the kitchen. I'm glad there are some dependable sources for information.

what temperature

The Editors's picture

Thanks, George! Happy to help and glad you found us. Now, what time is dinner? ;-)

Cooking a Turkey

3P.M.! Everyone is always welcome!

Brined turkey

You didn't mention how to brine A turkey. I started doing that three years ago I'm not sure if I'm doing it right. I typically leave it in a day or two at the least. I have found it has given a more succulent turkey , any tips about this?


I've never brined a turkey, It seems too messy to me and I'm afraid of it getting overly salty (I've done that with my fried chicken on occasion). Instead, I simply salt the bird inside and out with kosher salt, leave it a few minutes, then thoroughly rinse it (forget the hype about spreading bacteria, you wash the sink and surfaces thoroughly after this). Dry the outside completely. Put a few small thin strips of bacon over the breast and add a few cups of stock to the roasting pan. Baste it every half hour (or more often).

An alternative to the

An alternative to the traditional roast Turkey for Thanksgiving consider a deep fried turkey. We don't do it often but sometimes we will do a deep fried turkey in addition to a traditional roast turkey if we are having a large gathering for the holidays. It only take about 45 minutes to cook a 15 lb. turkey (3 min. per pound). The one drawback is that it does take a lot of oil (about 3 gal. for a 20 lb. turkey). There are electric models now that can be used indoors which is especially helpful for us northerners who might have to deal with winter weather conditions and don't want to be outdoors using a propane turkey fryer. You can still have all the traditional dinner items to go along with your fried turkey including stuffing and gravy and the turkey is extremely moist and delicious!

I use a basting mixture of

I use a basting mixture of red wine, lemon juice and brown sugar. Apply several times during cooking. GREAT golden, crispy skin and appearance.

gobble and pass a leg, then

gobble and pass a leg, then again white meat please.........

I like this your choice of

I like this your choice of recipes because your is so variable from basic to other and advanced food to cook. It had turkey roasting. And I would like to advice to have the choices of chicken gourmets to cutlets dinners.