How to Cook a Turkey: Cooking Times and Tips

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Homemade Roasted Thanksgiving Day/ Christmas Day Turkey with all the Sides
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Learn How to Cook the Perfect Turkey

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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 and moisture (no dried-out breasts, here!)

How to Cook a Turkey: Cooking Tips

Before roasting the big bird, ensure 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, we recommend using a meat thermometer to 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 must be defrosted in a refrigerator. Allow one day of defrosting for every four pounds of turkey.
  • Once defrosted, remove the 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 aromatics to the turkey cavity, such as garlic cloves, celery, carrots, bay leaves, and herbs.
  • Add broth or water (about 1/4 inch) to the bottom of the roasting pan to avoid any burning.
  • Place your thawed or fresh turkey breast upwards on a flat rack in your roasting pan, which should be 2 to 2-1/2 inches deep.
  • Brush or rub the skin with olive or coconut oil or softened butter to prevent drying of the skin and 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 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.
 Roasting pan with rack for turkey.
 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 1/2 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 3-1/2 3-3/4 to 4-1/2
 18 to 22 3-1/2 to 4 4-1/2 to 5
 22 to 24 4 to 4-1/2 5 to 5-1/2
 24 to 30 4-1/2 to 5 5-1/2 to 6-1/4

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!

About The Author

Catherine Boeckmann

Catherine Boeckmann loves nature, stargazing, and gardening so it’s not surprising that she and The Old Farmer’s Almanac found each other. She leads digital content for the Almanac website, and is also a certified master gardener in the state of Indiana. Read More from Catherine Boeckmann

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