How Long to Cook a Turkey – WellPlated.com


Welcome to Day 2 of Well Plated Turkey Week. Each day, I’m sharing a key part of how to roast the BEST Thanksgiving turkey of your life. Sign up here and I’ll send you my FREE Thanksgiving Survival Guide, complete with a menu and turkey-day countdown!

Let’s discuss the part of preparing a turkey that we all fear the most: How Long to Cook a Turkey.

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From thawing to oven temperature, figuring out how to best tackle your Thanksgiving turkey is quite a feat.

That’s why I’ve broken every step down for you, meaning you can now begin your turkey takedown with confidence!

Whether you’re preparing a modest 4-pound turkey breast or a whopping 24-pound full bird, I have tips to help you figure out when to thaw, brine, and bake your turkey.

Plus, I’ve included some of my best tips and tricks for knowing when your turkey is done (spoiler alert: you’re definitely going to want one of these bad boys).

Scroll down to view all of the content, or use the Table of Contents box below to skip to the content you need.

Table of Contents
  1. Turkey Cooking Times
  2. The Turkey Prep Countdown
  3. Recommended Tools to Roast a Turkey
  4. High-Quality Roasting Pan
  5. Frequently Asked Questions
perfectly cooked turkey on a platter with vegetables

Turkey Cooking Times

Below, you’ll find estimated cook times for unstuffed turkeys (stuffing cooked outside the bird) and stuffed turkeys (stuffing cooked inside the bird).

The estimated times are also broken down by oven temperature.

Regardless of which method you choose, know that these are just estimates.

  • Each oven is different; some run hot and others run cold.
  • Each turkey is different (for example: more white meat vs dark meat can make a difference).

It’s important to keep a close eye on things throughout the cooking process to make sure everything turns out perfectly.

Tips for Perfect Turkey

  • If you are buying a frozen turkey, budget thawing time into your meal prep.
  • Assume you’ll need about 1.5 pounds of uncooked turkey per person (see How Much Turkey Per Person for more).
  • Use meat thermometer to make sure your turkey is cooked through.
  • Start checking your turkey’s temperature about halfway through. This will allow you to gauge how quickly it’s cooking and make any necessary adjustments to your roasting time.
  • Let your turkey rest! Just like other cuts of meat, it’s important to let your turkey rest for a few minutes before you begin carving.
perfectly cooked turkey on a plate

Cooking Stuffing Inside vs. Outside the Turkey

I do not recommend cooking stuffing inside the turkey, as the stuffing must also come to temperature and you risk overcooking the meat. Instead, make a separate pan of Rustic Chestnut Stuffing or Cornbread Sausage Stuffing.

Unstuffed Turkey Cooking Times

These times are based on cooking turkey at 325 degrees F the entire time.

  • 4 to 8 pounds: 1 hour 30 minutes to 2 hours 45 minutes
  • 8 to 10 pounds: 2 hours 45 minutes to 3 hours
  • 12 to 14 pounds: 3 to 3 hours and 45 minutes
  • 14 to 16 pounds: 3 hours 45 minutes to 4 hours
  • 16 to 18 pounds: 4 hours to 4 hours 15 minutes
  • 18 to 20 pounds: 4 hours 15 minutes to 4 hours 30 minutes
  • 20 to 24 pounds: 4 hours 30 minutes to 5 hours

These times are based on starting the turkey at high temp (450 degrees F), then lowering it to 325 degrees F after 45 minutes to 1 hour (recommended for crispy skin).

  • 4 to 8 pounds: 50 minutes to 1 hour and 40 minutes
  • 8 to 10 pounds: 1 hour 40 minutes to 2 hours 10 minutes
  • 12 to 14 pounds: 2 hours 30 minutes to 3 hours
  • 14 to 16 pounds: 3 hours to 3 hours 30 minutes
  • 16 to 18 pounds: 3 hours 30 minutes to 4 hours
  • 18 to 20 pounds: 4 hours to 4 hours 30 minutes
  • 20 to 24 pounds: 4 hours 30 minutes to 5 hours 30 minutes
where to check a turkey breast for doneness

Stuffed Turkey Cooktimes

These times are based on a turkey at 325 degrees F the entire time.

  • 4 to 8 pounds: 2 hours 30 minutes to 3 hours 30 minutes
  • 8 to 10 pounds: 3 to 3 hours 30 minutes
  • 12 to 14 pounds: 3 hours 30 minutes to 3 hours 45 minutes
  • 14 to 16 pounds: 3 hours 45 minutes to 4 hours
  • 16 to 18 pounds: 4 hours to 4 hours 15 minutes
  • 18 to 20 pounds: 4 hours 15 minutes to 4 hours 45 minutes
  • 20 to 24 pounds: 4 hours 45 minutes to 5 hours 15 minutes

These times are based on starting the turkey at higher temp (450 degrees F), then lowering it to 325 degrees F after 45 minutes to 1 hour (recommended for crispy skin).

  • 4 to 8 pounds: 450 degrees F for 45 minutes, then lower to 325 degrees F for 1 hour 15 minutes to 1 hour 45 minutes
  • 8 to 10 pounds: 450 degrees F for 45 minutes, then lower to 325 degrees F for 1 hour 30 minutes to 2 hours
  • 12 to 14 pounds: 450 degrees F for 45 minutes, then lower to 325 degrees F for 1 hour 45 minutes to 2 hours 15 minutes
  • 14 to 16 pounds: 450 degrees F for 45 minutes, then lower to 325 degrees F for 2 to 2 1/2 hours
  • 16 to 18 pounds: 450 degrees F for 45 minutes, then lower to 325 degrees F for 2 hours 10 minutes to 2 hours 40 minutes
  • 18 to 20 pounds: 450 degrees F for 45 minutes, then lower to 325 degrees F for 2 hours 20 minutes to 2 hours 50 minutes
  • 20 to 24 pounds: 450 degrees F for 45 minutes, then lower to 325 degrees F for 2 hours 30 minutes to 3 hours
turkey cooked to the correct temperature

How to Know When Your Turkey Is Done

The best and only foolproof way to check a turkey for doneness is to use an instant read thermometer like this one. A turkey is done with the thermometer shows 165 degrees F.

If you insert the thermometer into the thigh, make sure you’re close to the bone but not touching it.

You can also poke your turkey with a fork (try a couple of different places), paying attention to the juices. If the juices are still pink or reddish in color, the turkey is not done. If the juices are clear, it is done .

roasted turkey on a roasting pan

The Turkey Prep Countdown

So, Thanksgiving is quickly approaching, you know how many guests you’ll be serving, and you’ve purchased your turkey.

Now, it’s time to make a turkey timeline!

Using the reference guides below, you can game plan what steps you’ll need to do and when you’ll need to do them.

When to Thaw Your Turkey

*Plan on 24 hours of thawing per 5 pounds of turkey*

  • 4 to 8 pounds: 1 day before
  • 8 to 10 pounds: 2 days before
  • 12 to 14 pounds: 2 to 3 days before
  • 14 to 16 pounds: 3 days before
  • 16 to 18 pounds: 3 to 4 days before
  • 18 to 20 pounds: 4 to 5 days before
  • 20 to 24 pounds: 5 to 6 days before

What If I Forgot to Thaw My Turkey?

If the thawing timeline above has now become impossible for you, don’t panic! You can still thaw your whole turkey using an ice-water bath.

Submerge your packaged turkey in an ice water bath (your sink, a large bucket, or even a cooler will work), ensuring the water stays between 32 degrees F and 38 degrees F. Check it constantly to ensure it stays ice cold.

This method will still take a while (about 8 hours for a 15-pound turkey), but it will be much faster than the times listed above and result in tender meat.

When to Brine Your Turkey

  • Wet Brine. If you’re using a wet brine, plan on adding it 12 to 24 hours ahead of time.
  • Dry Brine. If you’re using a dry brine, plan on adding it 24 to 48 hours ahead of time.

What to Do the Day Before/Morning Of

  • Wet Brine. Up to 24 hours in advance (complete by the morning of), remove the turkey from the brine and rinse it, pat it dry, then transfer it to a baking sheet. Return the uncovered turkey to the refrigerator until you’re ready to roast.
  • Dry Brine. Up to 24 hours in advance (complete by the morning of), uncover the turkey and leave it in the refrigerator.

Tip!

For both methods, make sure you remove the turkey from the refrigerator 1 hour before roasting to allow it to come to room temperature.

You should also let the oven preheat for at least 30 minutes before you plan to start roasting the turkey.

a meat thermometer checking turkey for doneness
  • Roasting Pan. Ideal for preparing a perfectly-cooked turkey for Thanksgiving dinner.
  • Instant Read Thermometer. This option is an investment, but it’s well worth it. Here’s a more affordable option too. Both work very well for checking the internal temperature of your turkey.
  • Cutting Board with Grooves. Once you’ve roasted your turkey, you’ll need a cutting board like this one for carving.

High-Quality Roasting Pan

This roasting pan was designed to promote even heating and browning. Plus, it has a nonstick surface under the rack for easy cleanup of the turkey drippings.

checking a turkey thigh for doneness

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Frequently Asked Questions

Does One Cooking Method Result in More Flavor than the Other?

No, both the consistent temperature and high/low temperature methods will result in a flavorful turkey. With both options, I still recommend first brushing the turkey with melted butter and black pepper and stuffing the cavity with aromatics (I use carrots, thyme, apples , onion, lemon, and garlic).

I prefer using the 450 degrees F method because it will result in crispier, browner skin and more moisture in the meat. Sticking with 325 degrees F the entire time won’t allow your turkey to brown as much, and some of the fat will likely run off into the pan.

Do I Need to Baste My Turkey?

No, I don’t feel that it’s necessary to baste your turkey once it’s in the oven. Opening the oven door repeatedly will disrupt the temperature of the oven and increase the cooking time.

More Must-Read Turkey Posts

Check out all of my Thanksgiving turkey posts for ideas on what to make for a side dish (everything from stuffing to turkey gravy), how to repurpose leftover turkey, and so much more.

Don’t miss a minute of Well Plated Turkey Week! Sign up HERE to receive a FREE Thanksgiving survival guideincluding cooking countdown so you know exactly what to cook when.



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