How Long to Cook a Turkey: Your Thanksgiving Guide to Perfectly Roasted Poultry

To some, turkey is a succulent holiday centerpiece. To others, it’s a vehicle for gravy. However, if you know how to cook a turkey so that it reaches the perfect internal temperature without overcooking, then it can be great—delicious even. Whether you’re a seasoned Thanksgiving host feeling overwhelmed by the season’s newest fad (is it turkey breast only, confit, or spatchcocked this year? We can’t keep up!) or a holiday host novice cooking a whole turkey for the first time, you can depend on this infallible guideline: If you just stick to the basics, you won’t need a special recipe. Ahead you’ll find everything you need to know, including step-by-step instructions, to make the perfect turkey.

In a hurry? Scroll down to get right to our table of turkey cook times. Or scroll even further for our guide to cooking a turkey that’s still frozen solid.

Ah, Thanksgiving. A time for family, friends, and of course, a perfectly roasted turkey But how long does it take to cook a turkey, anyway? It’s a question that haunts home cooks every year, and we’re here to answer it once and for all.

The Magic Number: 13 Minutes per Pound

For an unstuffed turkey cooked at 350°F (175°C), the magic number is 13 minutes per pound That means a 12-pound turkey will take about 2 3/4 hours to cook, while a 20-pounder will need closer to 4 1/4 hours

But wait, there’s more! This is just a starting point. The actual cooking time can vary depending on a few factors:

  • Stuffing: A stuffed turkey takes longer to cook than an unstuffed one. Add an extra 15 minutes per pound for a stuffed bird.
  • Oven temperature: If you’re cooking your turkey at a different temperature, you’ll need to adjust the cooking time accordingly. For example, a 12-pound turkey cooked at 325°F (165°C) will take about 3 1/2 hours.
  • Doneness: The most accurate way to determine if your turkey is done is to use a meat thermometer. The internal temperature of the thickest part of the thigh should reach 165°F (75°C).

Your Handy Turkey Cooking Time Chart

To make things even easier, we’ve created a handy chart that shows you the approximate cooking times for different-sized turkeys:

Turkey Weight Servings Cooking Time (Unstuffed) Cooking Time (Stuffed)
10-12 lbs 6-8 2 1/4 – 2 3/4 hours 2 3/4 – 3 hours
12-14 lbs 8-10 2 3/4 – 3 hours 3 1/4 – 4 hours
15-18 lbs 10-12 3 1/4 – 4 hours 4 – 4 1/4 hours
18-20 lbs 12-14 4 – 4 1/4 hours 4 1/4 – 4 3/4 hours
20-22 lbs 14-16 4 1/4 – 4 3/4 hours 4 3/4 – 5 1/4 hours
23-24 lbs 16-20 5 – 5 1/4 hours 5 1/4 – 5 3/4 hours

Don’t Forget the Resting Time

Once your turkey is out of the oven, it’s important to let it rest for at least 30 minutes before carving. This allows the juices to redistribute, resulting in a more tender and flavorful bird.

Pro Tips for a Perfectly Roasted Turkey

  • Start with a thawed turkey. A frozen turkey will take significantly longer to cook and may not cook evenly.
  • Pat the turkey dry before roasting. This will help the skin crisp up.
  • Season the turkey generously. Salt, pepper, and your favorite herbs will add flavor.
  • Baste the turkey occasionally. This will help keep the skin moist and prevent it from drying out.
  • Use a meat thermometer to check for doneness. Don’t rely on the color of the skin or juices to tell you if the turkey is done.

Happy Thanksgiving!

With these tips and our handy chart, you’re well on your way to roasting a perfect Thanksgiving turkey. Now go forth and feast!

The Simplest Way to Cook a Turkey Thaw your turkey.

A frozen turkey should be thawed in the refrigerator; this process may take a week or longer, depending on the size of the bird. Here’s how long it takes a typical turkey to thaw in the fridge:

  • 4–12 pounds: 1 to 3 days
  • 12–16 pounds: 3 to 4 days
  • 16–20 pounds: 4 to 5 days
  • 20–24 pounds: 5 to 6 days

While there are quicker methods available if you’re pressed for time, the safest option when it comes to cooking is to thaw a turkey in the refrigerator. For tips on preparing a turkey for Thanksgiving, click on our guide:

When it’s time to cook your bird, remove the now-thawed turkey from the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature for one hour in order to remove any moisture and dry out the skin. (You don’t need to dirty another dish; you can use this rack to roast your turkey.) The turkey’s bottom should be able to rest at or slightly below the top of the pan on your roasting rack. No roasting rack? A heavy-duty cooling rack set inside a half-sheet pan works too. 3. Prep your oven.

Position your oven rack on the lowest rung and set the oven to 350°F. According to some recipes, you should briefly roast the turkey at a high oven temperature before lowering the heat to cook it for the full amount of time. Though we haven’t discovered that it makes much of a difference, the theory is that the high heat “sears” the bird and the low heat gently roasts it, producing a more moist and succulent bird. Plus, the skin gets browned very quickly (often too quickly). You can prepare your mashed potatoes and other Thanksgiving side dishes and spend more time doing other things by using steady heat instead of constantly checking the oven. 4. Butter your turkey.

Place the breast side of your turkey on the roasting rack and brush it with room temperature salted butter or your preferred flavored compound butter. (For a 12- to 14-pound turkey, you’ll need about ½ cup [1 stick] of butter. ) Starting at the neck, carefully work your fingers under the skin, taking care not to rip it or completely separate it at the large cavity. Apply the butter to the skin in three areas: under the skin, inside the large cavity, and on the skin. 5. Season your turkey (if necessary).

This last seasoning can be omitted if you’ve decided to brine your bird (either a wet or dry brine). There’s no need to salt the cavity of kosher turkeys because they’re already salted, but you should salt the skin. How to do it: For a 12- to 14-pound bird, dust the large cavity with 1½ teaspoons of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, then sprinkle the skin with another 1½ teaspoon of each seasoning.

Sounds random, we know. However, stuffing the neck cavity (as opposed to the large cavity) with a halved apple, with the rounded side facing out, helps prevent overcooking and acts as a heat buffer for the breast. But don’t fill the main cavity with stuffing—it’ll only slow down your cooking time. Instead, prep your stuffing recipe in a casserole dish and bake it on the side. 7. Add some aromatics.

By leaving some space in the cavity of your turkey for aromatics, you can enhance the flavor and fragrance of the bird as well as the complexity of the pan drippings used to make gravy. Try placing onion quarters, celery stalks, parsley, thyme, and other fresh herbs inside the turkey before roasting.

You can also place some aromatics right in the roasting pan, under the rack. These will caramelize in the more direct heat, perfuming the meat and further flavoring the drippings. Add a few halved shallots, sliced carrots, and some celery. To keep those drippings from burning, add two cups of water to your roasting pan whether you decide to add aromatics or not. 8. Cover (and then uncover) the turkey.

When roasting, loosely cover the bird with aluminum foil, shiny side out to deflect heat. Tenting with foil keeps the skin from getting too dark too soon. Remove the foil about halfway through cooking to let the skin brown. 9. Skip the basting.

Some traditional recipes call for basting the turkey, ostensibly to moisten and flavor the bird. We’ve found that opening the oven door too often lets too much heat escape, lengthening the cooking time. In addition, sprinkling or brushing broth on the skin will hinder even browning and may even cause it to become less crisp. The better way to ensure a moist bird is to dry-brine it before cooking. 10. Calculate turkey cooking time and temperature.

The easiest method for estimating turkey roasting times is to use the following formula: 13 minutes per pound at 350°F for an unstuffed turkey, or roughly 3 hours for a 12- to 14-lb bird. turkey), or 15 minutes per pound for a stuffed turkey. Check the temperature about three quarters of the way through that time, and then every ten minutes after that. Roast until the thickest part of the thigh meat and the thickest part of the breast meat register 165°F (or 150°F, depending on the situation; more on that below).

If, however, you prefer to roast your turkey at a higher or lower temperature, follow these guidelines. (The following cook times are for unstuffed birds. As a general rule, we advise against stuffing turkeys and to bake the stuffing separately so that it can easily come to a safe temperature. )How long to cook a turkey per pound:

  • For an 8- to 12-pound turkey:
  • 325°F for 2¾ to 3 hours
  • For a 12- to 14-pound turkey:
  • 425°F for 2¼ to 2½ hours
  • 400°F for 2½ to 2¾ hours
  • 350°F for 2¾ to 3 hours
  • 325°F for 3 to 3¾ hours
  • For a 15- to 16-pound turkey:
  • 425°F for 3 to 3¼ hours
  • 400°F for 3¼ to 3½ hours
  • 350°F for 3½ to 3¾ hours
  • 325°F for 3¾ to 4 hours
  • For an 18- to 20-pound turkey:
  • 425°F for 3½ to 3¾ hours
  • 400°F for 3¾ to 4 hours
  • 350°F for 4 to 4¼ hours
  • 325°F for 4¼ to 4½ hours
  • For a 21- to 24-pound turkey:
  • 425°F for 4 to 4¼ hours
  • 400°F for 4¼ to 4½ hours
  • 350°F for 4½ to 4¾ hours
  • 325°F for 4¾ to 5 hours
  • For a turkey that weighs 24 pounds or more:
  • 425°F for 4¼ to 4½ hours
  • 400°F for 4½ to 4¾ hours
  • 350°F for 4¾ to 5 hours
  • 325°F for 5 to 5¼ hours

The USDA states that in order to eradicate dangerous bacteria, a turkey must be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165°F. For the juiciest meat, you’ll want to remove your bird from the oven when the temperature reaches 150°F. After the turkey is taken out of the oven, the temperature will rise further while it rests and should reach 165°F in about 30 minutes. A temperature of 190°F is preferred by some chefs, such as Chris Morocco, the food director of Epi, for cooking dark meat because it breaks down more collagen and connective tissues, resulting in more tender meat. However, white meat would become dry at this temperature, so it’s best to only aim for it when cooking turkey portions.

Make sure you use an accurate meat thermometer to confirm the final temperature, regardless of the turkey roasting temperature you decide on. Home cooks used to judge when turkey was done by looking at its color. After piercing the bird with a knife, they would know if the juices were clear or pink. But this is not a reliable method for several reasons. First, pinkness can disappear before a safe temperature is reached. Conversely, some turkeys (particularly heritage and organic birds) might never go pink even after cooking to well over 165°F.

You can use a remote food thermometer (the kind with a probe you insert before cooking, which connects to a digital display that sits on your counter) or an instant-read thermometer to check the temperature of the turkey. Either way, insert the thermometer so that its point reaches the thickest part of the turkey’s breast. Be careful not to touch the bone (which will skew the reading). You should also check the thigh to ensure the turkey is cooking evenly all the way through.

Loosely tent the browned sections with a double-thick layer of buttered aluminum foil to protect them from the heat if you notice that the skin is becoming too dark and the desired internal temperature has not been reached.

It’s crucial to give the roast turkey at least 30 minutes to rest after it reaches the ideal temperature before slicing. This allows the bird’s juices to settle and be reabsorbed; if you carve it up too soon, the moisture will simply evaporate, leaving you with dried-out meat that sits atop a puddle on your cutting board. Aluminum foil is not required to be placed over the turkey while it is resting, and doing so will simply result in the skin becoming limp. The turkey can rest for up to 90 minutes and still be hot come carving time. Which means you’ve got plenty of time to make gravy.

How to Cook a Heritage Turkey

Heritage birds are not like your typical Thanksgiving bird in the way that they look, taste, and cook. They have longer thighs and drumsticks, a leaner breast, and a smaller size. Because heritage birds can weigh up to 16 pounds, you might want to roast two side by side if you’re serving a bigger group. Moreover, smaller birds cook faster than their meatier cousins, so if you prefer to have Thanksgiving dinner at noon, you don’t have to get up at the crack of dawn.

Heritage turkeys need to be roasted differently to prevent toughness because they typically lead more active lives. Roasting the bird slowly, at a lower temperature is the best way to achieve tender meat. You should still prep the bird with butter, salt, and pepper, as described above (or dry-brine it). For cooking, preheat your oven to 325°F. Roast a 12- to 14-pound bird for 3½ to 4 hours. Most important, pay attention to the internal temperature. It is noteworthy that certain heritage breeds may produce flesh and bone that retains a pinkish color even after they are thoroughly cooked. But, as long at the temperature has reached 165°F on a reliable meat thermometer, you needn’t worry.

How long do you cook a turkey per pound in the oven?


How many hours does it take to cook a turkey in the oven?

Turkey Weight
Cooking Time
12 to 14 lb
8 to 10
2 3/4 to 3 hours
15 to 18 lb
10 to 12
3 1/4 to 4 hours
18 to 20 lb
12 to 14
4 to 4 1/4 hours
20 to 22 lb
14 to 16
4 1/4 to 4 3/4 hours

How long does it take to cook a 20 pound turkey?

It’s done when the thermometer reads 165ºF. A 20 pound turkey will take between 4 to 4 1/2 hours to come to temperature if your oven is 325°F. Here are some other cook times if your bird weighs differently: 10-12 pounds: cook 2 3/4 to 3 hours at 325°F. 15-16 pounds: cook 3 1/2 to 4 hours at 325°F.

How long to cook 14 lb unstuffed turkey?

The most straightforward approach is to roast an unstuffed turkey, breast-side up, for 13 minutes per pound of turkey at 350°. That works out to approximately 3 hours for a 12- to 14-pound bird (a 12-pound turkey is pretty standard).

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