How to Cook a Turkey: Cooking Times and Tips

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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!

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 1/4 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 2-1/2 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.

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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 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
(pounds)
Unstuffed
(hours)
 Stuffed
(hours)
 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
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!

Readers' Best Recipes Cookbook

Comments

Thomas Cameron (not verified)

1 week 1 day ago

I have always followed my mother's recipe for stuffing a turkey. Depending on the size of the bird, use one (1) to two (2) pounds of sausage meat and mix well with thyme (I always thought she meant "It takes a lot of time to stuff a turkey").
She, and I, cook the turkey at 30 minutes per pound at 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

chuck... (not verified)

3 years ago

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???

gary Stilwell (not verified)

3 years ago

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--

Linda D Seacrist (not verified)

1 week ago

In reply to by gary Stilwell (not verified)

My husband and I bought something like that at depot many years ago. We put our turkey inside of it put a top on it than spread charcoal around the outside ring and some in a little cup made on the top. The turkey was done in no time and juicy. That was the only one they had at the store and never seen again. People love the taste of the turkey. Still got it, don't use it any more since my husband pass and that was his job cooking the turkey.

Sheila (not verified)

3 years ago

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.