How Long to Cook a Turkey?
To See Tables Explaining How Long to Cook a Turkey at Various Temperatures and Methods Scroll Down to The Tables or Choose a Cooking Method from The Box Below.
The quick answer to how long to cook a turkey is - until it is done but not over-done. You measure cooking time not so much with a clock - as with a thermometer. This is true because of the many variables associated with cooking such an odd shaped piece of meat. It has a hollow center, thick parts, thin parts, fatty parts, lean parts, bones of various shapes sizes and densities.
Choose a Cooking Temp & Method
Turkeys come in different sizes and weights. Some larger birds can weigh less than smaller ones because of the density of the meat or because of injected or absorbed additives.
Add to this the temperature of the turkey when it goes into the oven, the cooking temperature, loss of oven heat caused by opening the oven door, temperature fluctuation caused by the oven thermostat, incorrect oven temperature caused by a miscalibrated thermostat, uneven oven temperatures, even altitude will effect cooking time.
And when we move to the backyard, the list includes: outdoor temperature, wind, and numerous other factors dependant on the cooking method and type of cooker.
So how long to cook a turkey doesn't have a precise answer. There is a range of times when it might be done. To help control some variables, use an oven thermometer to double check your oven's temperature. For outdoor cooking, be sure your grill thermometer is accurate. And always use a meat thermometer. We recommend that you use the type of thermometer that is inserted in the bird during the entire cooking process (a probe thermometer) plus an instant read thermometer to check the temperature of the turkey in several places (and also because of the high failure rate of probe thermometers.)
The final temperature of the bird, after "resting" for 15 to 20 minutes, should be at least but not much more than 165 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature will continue to rise 5 to 10 degrees after the turkey is removed from the oven.
The only hard part is getting the legs done before the breast dries out. For information about overcoming this problem click here.
Do you want a guide even though you know the times are estimates?
Here is the best information we have for how long to cook a turkey. Use the charts below to get an idea of cooking times for turkey, but check the temperature up to an hour in advance to be certain you don't overcook.
A probe thermometer, designed to stay in the meat during cooking lets you keep watch on the turkey's temperature without opening the oven door. And, if you need to get it done faster you can always crank up the heat. (See more information about thermometers under the turkey cooking equipment section.)
Even if you use a good probe thermometer, we always use and recommend a good instant read thermometer to check the turkey in several places to be certain of doneness.
This is the traditional cooking temperature. It takes a little longer than higher heat methods, but there is less chance of smoke, and the results are good. To make this method work out even better check out the tips here: TRADITIONAL TURKEY COOKING TIPS.
|Weight in lbs.||
Time in hrs.
Time in hrs.
8 lb. Turkey
Unstuffed: 2 3/4 hr.
Stuffed: 3 hrs.
12 lb. Turkey
Unstuffed: 3 hrs.
Stuffed: 3 1/2 hrs.
14 lb. Turkey
Unstuffed: 3 3/4 hrs.
Stuffed: 4 hrs.
18 lb. Turkey
Unstuffed: 4 1/4 hrs.
Stuffed: 4 1/2 hrs.
20 lb. Turkey
Unstuffed: 4 1/2 hrs
Stuffed: 4 3/4 hrs.
24 lb. Turkey
Unstuffed: 5 hrs.
Stuffed: 5 1/4 hrs.
Traditionally poultry was said to be "done" when fleshy part of the thigh was soft when pressed, the leg moved easily in its socket and juices ran clear when the inner thigh was pricked with a fork or knife at its thickest part.
We recall using this approach. Too many times we returned the turkey to the oven after it kept flunking the traditional test - cooking it until it completely dried out. Not surprising - because on many large breasted birds the turkey legs take longer to cook that the breast meat.
Today using an instant read thermometer not only lets you know when the turkey is done, it also keeps you from overcooking it.