How Long to Cook a Turkey


So you’re the one making the turkey this year – lucky you!  That also means you’re the one who will get most of the leftovers!  Rule number one: make a turkey that will yield generous leftovers, for you, for your guests, for pot pies and soup.  Here is what you need to know about cooking whatever size bird you bought to perfection!

How Long to Cook a Turkey

Now where is my gravy fat separator…..

What Size Turkey to Buy?

Most birds sold for Thanksgiving dinners in U.S. supermarkets are in the 16-pound range, with some being much larger.  A 16-pound turkey will serve 10 to 12 people, with leftovers.  As a general rule, when buying turkey aim for about 1 ½ pounds per person especially if you want leftovers.  

A 12-pound turkey is not too large for a group of 8, feeding your gang generously, and again allowing for leftovers which are the perfect springboard for all kind of dishes (see below).

How Long to Cook a Turkey

Turkey Cooking Times

The following times are for a turkey roasted at a continuous 325°F temperature.  The USDA does not recommend cooking a turkey at a lower temperature than 325°F to prevent foodborne illness.  These are the times recommended by the USDA.  You should find the lowest cooking time for your size bird, and start checking the internal temperature about 45 minutes ahead of that suggested time.  Don’t rely completely on the pop-up timer; the turkey may have reached the desired temperature before it pops up.

How Long to Roast a Turkey at 325°F

Weight Unstuffed Stuffed
8 to 12 pounds 2 ¾ to 3 hours 3 to 3 ½ hours
12 to 14 pounds 3 to ¾ hours 3 ½ to 4 hours
14 to 18 pounds 3 ¾ to 4 ¼ hours 4 to 4 ¼ hours
18 to 20 pounds 4 ¼ to 4 ½ hours 4 ¼ to 4 ¾ hours
20 to 24 pounds 4 ½ to 5 hours 4 ¾ to 5 ¼ hours

The basic rule of thumb is 20 minutes per pound, but a larger bird may take slightly less time per pound to cook, where a smaller bird might take more.

Easy Roasted Thanksgiving Turkey

Should the Turkey be Rinsed in Water?

The USDA does not recommend rinsing the turkey because that can spread bacteria in your sink and in your kitchen.  By the time the turkey is cooked to a safe temperature, any bacteria should be killed.

Tips for Cooking a Whole Turkey

  • If your turkey is still partially frozen it will take longer to cook.
  • Remember to remove the giblets and the neck from the interior of the turkey, and save them to make gravy (please link to gravy).
  • It is possible to cook a stuffed turkey safely, but more difficult, as by the time the stuffing is cooked to a safe temperature, the meat of the bird might be overcooked.  It is also more likely that you might have bacteria that is not killed when cooking a stuffed turkey.  A stuffed turkey takes longer to cook, and you should plan to add at least 30 minutes to a bird 14 pounds or under, and an hour for a bird over 14 pounds.  Do not let the stuffing sit for more than an hour in a cooked turkey.
  • Your oven may have hot spots, and the bird may cook unevenly
  • Your oven temperature might run hotter or cooler than what it is set for
  • If you use a dark roasting pan your turkey may cook a bit faster
  • The depth and size of the pan can affect the heat circulation to all parts of the turkey.
  • If your turkey is browning too quickly you can tent it with aluminum foil.  Make sure to remove the foil for the last 15 minutes of cooking to give the skin a chance to crisp up again.  If you cover the bird with foil or a roasting pan lid it can affect the cooking time.
  • An oven cooking bag can speed up the cooking time.
  • The position of the rack in the oven can affect the cooking time
  • A turkey or a roasting pan that is proportionately too large for the oven may slow the cooking time.  

How to Truss a Turkey

It is not necessary to truss a turkey, but some people feel it makes the bird more compact and easier to carve.  I think it adds cooking time to the roasting process, and when the thighs are pressed against the body of the bird it slows down the thighs from cooking to a safe temp at a similar speed to the breast meat.   So I prefer to leave the turkey untrussed.  However, it does look a lot neater pre-carving, if you’re looking for a tidier presentation.  And some chefs think holding the legs aginst the bird actually keeps the breast moister.  It’s definitely a two-way option!

Easy Roasted Thanksgiving Turkey

To truss a turkey simply tuck the wing tips underneath the turkey, securing the wings.  Double a long piece of kitchen twine.  Bring the legs together and cross the drumsticks at the base.  Place the middle of the string under the bottom of the legs, then bring the string up, cross it over, wrap it around once more and tie securely.

Safe Internal Turkey Temperature

The safe internal temperature for a turkey is 165°F.  Insert your meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh, but make sure it doesn’t touch the bone, which can result in a false temperature reading, and also the thickest part of the breast, not touching the bone.  Test the turkey in a number of spots to be sure.

The internal temperature of the turkey will rise once it is taken from the oven, as it rests (which is needs to do to reincorporate the juices as well).  So, if you take your turkey from the oven when the temperature reads 160°F when the meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh and breast meat, you will see the temperature continue to climb until it reaches 165°F.  

Easy Roasted Thanksgiving Turkey

Turkey Recipes:

Leftover Turkey Recipes:

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