How Long to Cook Turkey Guide

How Long To Cook Turkey (Complete Guide)

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Every year, as the festive season approaches, kitchens around the world buzz with the same pressing question: “How long to cook turkey?” It’s a query that has puzzled many, from novice cooks attempting their first Thanksgiving dinner to seasoned chefs aiming for perfection. The art of cooking a turkey lies not just in the seasoning or the method, but predominantly in the timing. Get it right, and you have a centerpiece that’s the talk of the table. Get it wrong, and, well, let’s just say it’s a long year until the next Thanksgiving.

The quest to determine “How long to cook turkey” is not just about tradition; it’s about creating memories. Think back to the family gatherings of yesteryears, where the aroma of a perfectly roasted turkey wafted through the house, signaling the start of a grand feast. The golden-brown skin, the juicy interior, and the flavorful stuffing are all products of not just love and care, but also the precise cooking time. And while many factors play into this— the size of the bird, the temperature of the oven, whether it’s stuffed or not—the core question remains: “How long to cook turkey to achieve that perfection?”

It’s fascinating how a simple dish, rooted in tradition, can evoke such strong emotions and memories. The anticipation as the oven timer ticks down, the first slice into the tender meat, the compliments and contented sighs around the dinner table; all these moments hinge on knowing exactly how long to cook turkey. It’s a culinary dance of sorts, where timing is the key to the grand finale. And while many guides, charts, and family secrets exist, each promising the answer to the age-old question, it’s essential to remember that every turkey, like every family gathering, is unique.

As we delve deeper into the nuances of turkey cooking, we’ll explore various methods, tips, and tricks, all aimed at demystifying the process. But at the heart of it all is the desire to recreate those cherished moments, to hear the laughter, see the joy, and feel the warmth of loved ones around. So, whether you’re a first-timer wondering How long to cook turkey? or a seasoned pro seeking to refine your technique, remember that it’s not just about the time; it’s about the memories you create in the process.

Join us on this culinary journey as we uncover the secrets, share anecdotes, and, most importantly, answer the burning question that has graced dinner tables for generations: With the right knowledge, tools, and a sprinkle of patience, you’ll be well on your way to creating a masterpiece that’s remembered for years to come.

How to Prepare the Perfect Turkey


    • 1 whole turkey (12-15 lbs)
    • 4 tablespoons melted butter or oil
    • 2 teaspoons salt
    • 1 teaspoon black pepper
    • Fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme, sage)


    1. Begin by preheating your oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
    2. Remove the giblets from the turkey cavity and pat the turkey dry with paper towels.
    3. Season the turkey inside and out with salt, pepper, and herbs.
    4. Brush the turkey with melted butter or oil.
    5. Place the turkey on a rack in a roasting pan and roast in the preheated oven. Refer to the cooking times below based on the weight of your turkey.

Cooked Turkey Thanksgiving

How Long to Cook Turkey

One of the most common questions every Thanksgiving is: “How long should I cook my turkey?” The answer, while seemingly straightforward, depends on a few factors. The size of your turkey, whether it’s stuffed or unstuffed, and the consistency of your oven’s temperature all play a role. Below, we’ve provided a comprehensive guide to ensure your turkey is cooked to perfection.

It’s essential to roast the turkey at a consistent temperature to achieve that golden-brown skin and juicy interior. We recommend roasting at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). If you’re using a convection oven, you might need to adjust the cooking time slightly, as convection ovens can cook food up to 25% faster due to the circulation of hot air.

Here’s a detailed chart to guide you:

10 to 12 lb 6 to 8 2 1/4 to 2 3/4 hours 2 3/4 to 3 hours
12 to 14 lb 8 to 10 2 3/4 to 3 hours 3 1/4 to 3 1/2 hours
15 to 18 lb 10 to 12 3 1/4 to 4 hours 4 to 4 1/4 hours
18 to 20 lb 12 to 14 4 to 4 1/4 hours 4 1/4 to 4 3/4 hours
20 to 22 lb 14 to 16 4 1/4 to 4 3/4 hours 4 3/4 to 5 hours
23 to 24 lb 16 to 20 5 to 5 1/4 hours 5 1/4 to 5 1/2 hours

Important Notes:

  • Always ensure the turkey reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees F (75 degrees C) for safety.
  • Allow the turkey to rest for at least 30 minutes before carving. This helps the juices redistribute, ensuring a moist turkey.
  • Using both an oven thermometer and a meat thermometer will provide the most accurate results.

How to Thaw Turkey

Thawing a turkey properly is a critical step in the preparation process, ensuring not only a delicious outcome but also food safety. The safest method to thaw a turkey is in the refrigerator. This method might require some foresight, as a large turkey can take several days to thaw completely. For every 5 pounds of turkey, allocate 24 hours of thawing time in the refrigerator. So, for a 15-pound turkey, you’d need to start the thawing process at least three days in advance. To do this, keep the turkey in its original packaging and place it on a tray or in a shallow pan to catch any potential leaks. This prevents cross-contamination with other foods in your fridge.

Thaw a Turkey

If you find yourself short on time, you can use the cold water thawing method. Submerge the turkey (still in its original packaging) in a sink or basin filled with cold water. Ensure the bird is fully submerged, and change the water every 30 minutes to keep it cold. This method is faster, requiring about 30 minutes of thawing time per pound of turkey. However, once thawed, it’s essential to cook the turkey immediately.

It’s worth noting that while you can cook a turkey directly from its frozen state, it will take 50% longer than the recommended roasting time for a thawed turkey. Moreover, certain preparations, like brining, require a fully thawed bird. Proper thawing ensures even cooking, helping you achieve that perfect roast turkey for your festive feast.

How to Know When Turkey Is Done

Determining the doneness of a turkey is crucial not only for the flavor and texture but also for safety reasons. While the golden-brown skin might give an illusion of a perfectly roasted turkey, it’s the internal temperature that truly indicates its readiness.

A reliable meat thermometer is your best ally in this endeavor. Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh, ensuring it doesn’t touch the bone, as bones conduct heat and can give a false reading. The turkey is safely cooked when the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F (75 degrees C).

Another sign of a done turkey is when its juices run clear. To check this, make a small cut between the leg and the body; if the juices are clear, it’s an indication that the turkey is cooked through.

Additionally, the leg meat should feel tender when prodded and the legs should move easily in their joints. It’s also essential to let the turkey rest after removing it from the oven. This allows the juices to redistribute, ensuring a moist and flavorful meat.

By paying attention to these cues and avoiding the temptation to solely rely on cooking time or external color, you’ll ensure a perfectly cooked, juicy turkey every time.

How to Carve Turkey

Carving a turkey might seem like a daunting task, especially if it’s your first time hosting a Thanksgiving dinner. However, with the right technique and a bit of patience, you can present a beautifully carved turkey that’s sure to impress your guests.

Begin by ensuring you have a sharp carving knife and a sturdy fork. Place the cooked turkey on a large cutting board, preferably one with grooves to catch any juices.

Start by removing the legs; make a cut between the leg and the body, then snap the leg joint out of its socket and cut through the joint. This will give you both the drumstick and the thigh. If you prefer, you can separate the thigh from the drumstick by cutting through that joint.

Next, move on to the wings. Find the joint connecting the wing to the body and cut through it.

When it comes to the breast, you have two options: you can either slice the meat off the bone while it’s still on the turkey, or you can remove the entire breast from the bird and then slice it. The latter method often results in more even slices. To do this, make a deep cut along one side of the breastbone, then continue cutting downward, following the curve of the ribs, until the breast is fully detached. Repeat on the other side.

How to Carve Turkey

Once both breasts are removed, you can slice them against the grain for tender pieces. Remember, the key to a beautifully carved turkey is sharp tools, steady hands, and patience. And don’t forget to save the carcass for making stock or soup later!

Frequently Asked Questions Related to Cooking Turkey

How do I ensure my turkey is cooked thoroughly?

Always use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature. The turkey is done when the thigh meat reaches 165 degrees F (75 degrees C) without touching the bone.

Can I cook a frozen turkey?

It’s recommended to completely thaw the turkey before cooking. However, if you’re in a pinch, you can still roast a frozen turkey, but it will require additional cooking time.

Should I brine my turkey?

Brining a turkey can make it juicier and more flavorful. If you choose to brine, ensure you have enough time and space in your refrigerator to do so.

You can check this guide How to Brine Thanksgiving Turkey or Turkey Brine Recipe (Special Thanksgiving) for a complete step by step instructions

How do I keep my turkey from drying out?

Basting the turkey regularly and using a foil tent to cover it during the initial stages of roasting can help retain moisture. Letting it rest after cooking also helps redistribute juices.

What’s the best way to season a turkey?

Seasoning options vary based on personal preference. Common choices include salt, pepper, garlic, herbs like rosemary, thyme, and sage, and butter or oil for a crispy skin.

Can I deep fry a turkey?

Yes, deep frying is a popular method, especially in the southern U.S. Ensure you follow safety guidelines, as deep frying can be dangerous if not done correctly.

How do I store leftover turkey?

Leftover turkey should be refrigerated within two hours of cooking. Store in airtight containers or wrap tightly in aluminum foil or plastic wrap for 3-4 days.

What can I make with leftover turkey?

There are numerous dishes you can make, including turkey sandwiches, soups, salads, casseroles, and pot pies.

Should I wash my turkey before cooking?

No, washing can spread harmful bacteria. Cooking the turkey to the correct internal temperature will kill any bacteria.

How do I get a crispy skin on my turkey?

Brushing the turkey with butter or oil and roasting at a consistent temperature can help achieve a crispy skin. Avoid covering the turkey for the entire cooking duration.

How Long to Cook Turkey Guide

Cook Thanksgiving Turkey

Master the art of Thanksgiving with our guide on 'How Long to Cook a Turkey'.
Prep Time 25 minutes
Cook Time 3 hours
Total Time 3 hours 25 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Servings 8


  • 12 lbs whole turkey
  • 4 tablespoons melted butter or oil
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • Fresh herbs rosemary, thyme, sage


  • Begin by preheating your oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
  • Remove the giblets from the turkey cavity and pat the turkey dry with paper towels.
  • Season the turkey inside and out with salt, pepper, and herbs.
  • Brush the turkey with melted butter or oil.
  • Place the turkey on a rack in a roasting pan and roast in the preheated oven. Refer to the cooking times below based on the weight of your turkey.
Keyword Thanksgiving

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