The Ultimate Guide to Cooking a Perfectly Moist Turkey: Temperature Tips and Timing Secrets

How to cook a turkey? Don’t waste your time with other posts. Here’s the plain truth: The secret to perfect turkey is proper control of turkey temperature. And that’s our jam. Use whatever recipe you like—deep-fry it, smoke it, roast it, whatever. But neglect these fundamental principles at your own peril!.

Turkey Doneness Temp: 157°F (69°C) in the breast—not 165°F!, and 175°F (79°C) in the thigh for moist turkey. (USDA charts here or read more below to see why this is safe. ).

Ah, Thanksgiving. A time for family, friends and of course, the centerpiece of the feast: the turkey. But achieving that perfect balance of juicy meat and crispy skin can feel like a culinary tightrope walk. Fear not, fellow foodies! This comprehensive guide armed with insights from two trusted sources, will equip you with the knowledge to cook a turkey that’ll have your guests singing your praises.

The Temperature Conundrum: Finding the Sweet Spot

Contrary to popular belief, the magic number isn’t 325°F. According to Real Simple, the ideal temperature for a classic oven-roasted turkey is a dynamic duo: 325°F for the initial stage, followed by 425°F for the final 45 minutes. This approach ensures even cooking and a beautifully browned exterior.

Timing is Everything: A Recipe for Success

Now, let’s talk about the time dance. Good Housekeeping provides a handy chart to help you navigate the cook time based on your turkey’s weight:

Unstuffed Turkey:

  • 8-10 lbs: 1 hr 45 mins – 2 hrs 15 mins
  • 10-12 lbs: 2 hrs 15 mins – 2 hrs 30 mins
  • 12-14 lbs: 2 hrs 30 mins – 3 hrs
  • 14-16 lbs: 3 hrs – 3 hrs 30 mins
  • 16-18 lbs: 3 hrs 30 mins – 4 hrs
  • 18-20 lbs: 4 hrs – 4 hrs 15 mins

Stuffed Turkey:

  • 6-8 lbs (breast only): 2 hrs 30 mins – 3 hrs 30 mins
  • 8-12 lbs: 3 hrs – 3 hrs 30 mins
  • 12-14 lbs: 3 hrs 30 mins – 4 hrs
  • 14-18 lbs: 4 hrs – 4 hrs 15 mins
  • 18-20 lbs: 4 hrs 15 mins – 4 hrs 45 mins
  • 20-24 lbs: 4 hrs 45 mins – 5 hrs 15 mins

Pro Tip: Remember, these are just estimates. Always use a meat thermometer to ensure the internal temperature of the thickest part of the thigh reaches 165°F.

Bonus Round: Tips and Tricks for a Thanksgiving Triumph

  • Frozen Turkey? No Problem! Just bump up the cooking time by 50%.
  • Bigger isn’t always better. Opt for two smaller birds for even cooking and juicier results.
  • Say no to stuffing inside the turkey. It prolongs cooking time and risks undercooked stuffing.
  • Rest is key! Let your turkey rest for at least 25 minutes after cooking for maximum juiciness.

With these insights and a sprinkle of culinary confidence, you’re ready to conquer the Thanksgiving turkey challenge. Remember, cooking is an adventure so have fun and enjoy the process!


Even after you remove your turkey from the heat, the higher temperatures on the outside will continue to move toward the lower temperatures in the center of the meat.

This is called carryover cooking. Small cuts of meat, like steaks or chops, carry over very little, but large cuts, like turkeys or roasts, can rise internally by as much as 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit (3-6 degrees Celsius) while the outside cools. We call the way a cooked turkey comes to one temperature while it rests “equilibration. ”.


The other challenge is that people misinterpret the food safety tables put out by the USDA. Achieving a reduction of the poultry pathogen Salmonella is a function of both time and temperature. Note this screenshot from the USDA’s own tables on turkey safety….

what temperature do you cook turkey at

This shows that a turkey held at 157°F (69°C) for 50. 4 seconds will achieve the same lethality on Salmonella as a turkey cooked to 165°F (74°C) does instantaneously. And what are the chances that a turkey pulled at 20157%C2%B0F%20(69%C2%B0C) will stay at that temperature for at least a minute? 20100% because of a process known as carryover cooking. The temperature is actually guaranteed to keep going up for a spell after you stop cooking.

In the meantime, the turkey’s white meat will begin to lose water when the temperature reaches 150°F (60°C), and by the time it reaches 165°F (74°C), it will be bone dry.

Do your family a favor this Thanksgiving. Pull your turkey from the oven or smoker at 157°F (69°C). But remember to verify!.

With those big questions out of the way, let’s get down to brass tacks. Here’s the best advice you’ll find on how to cook an amazing turkey. It starts right up front with the thaw….

How to Take the Temperature of a Turkey


Is it better to cook a turkey at 325 or 350?

It’s better to cook a turkey at 350°F after preheating the oven to 450°F. This makes the skin crispier and ensures the turkey will get cooked evenly.

What is the best temperature to cook a turkey?

The Professional Method: 425°F, then 350°F Begin by roasting your turkey at 425°F for 40 to 45 minutes before lowering the temperature of the oven to 350°F for the rest of the cooking time.

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

Turkey Weight
Cooking Time
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
23 to 24 lb
16 to 20
5 to 5 1/4 hours

What temperature should a Turkey be cooked at?

If you’re using a gadget like an air fryer or Instant Pot, just cook the turkey at 350 degrees until cooked through. For a golden top, finish it off by broiling the surface in the oven. First things first, the USDA advises that you cook a whole turkey to 165 degrees all the way through as measured with a meat thermometer.

How early should you cook a Turkey?

Starting about 30 minutes earlier than your per-pound cooking calculations indicate, begin checking the internal temperature at regular intervals. To do so, carefully remove the roasting pan with the turkey from the oven and set it on the stovetop or counter. (Make sure to close the oven door behind you so the heat doesn’t all escape!)

How do you cook a Turkey in the oven?

Brush or spray skin lightly with vegetable or cooking oil for best appearance. Insert oven-safe meat thermometer deep into the thigh without touching the bone. Begin checking the turkey for doneness about 30 minutes before the recommended cook time. Your turkey is done when the meat thermometer reaches 140°F in thigh. Carve and serve immediately.

How do you cook a stuffed turkey in the oven?

Insert an oven-safe meat thermometer deep into the lower part of the thigh without touching the bone. If the turkey is stuffed, and the thigh is up to temperature, move the thermometer to the center of the stuffing. Place your turkey in the oven. When the turkey is about ⅔ done, loosely cover the breast with a piece of foil to prevent overcooking.

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