How long to cook a turkey?

HotbotBy HotBotUpdated: June 20, 2024

Introduction to Cooking a Turkey

Cooking a turkey is an integral part of holiday feasts and family gatherings. Whether you're a first-time cook or a seasoned kitchen veteran, understanding the nuances of cooking a turkey is essential for achieving the perfect bird. This guide will delve into various aspects of turkey cooking, from preparation to cooking times, ensuring your turkey is both delicious and safe to eat.

Factors Influencing Cooking Time

Several factors can influence how long it takes to cook a turkey. These include the turkey's weight, whether it's stuffed or unstuffed, the cooking method used, and even the oven's accuracy. Let's explore these factors in detail:

Weight of the Turkey

The most significant factor influencing cooking time is the turkey's weight. Generally, larger turkeys require more time to cook. Here's a basic guideline for cooking an unstuffed turkey at 325°F (165°C):

  • 8-12 pounds: 2.75 to 3 hours
  • 12-14 pounds: 3 to 3.75 hours
  • 14-18 pounds: 3.75 to 4.25 hours
  • 18-20 pounds: 4.25 to 4.5 hours
  • 20-24 pounds: 4.5 to 5 hours

Stuffed vs. Unstuffed

A stuffed turkey will take longer to cook than an unstuffed one because the stuffing inside the cavity acts as an insulator. Here's how stuffing impacts cooking time:

  • 8-12 pounds: 3 to 3.5 hours
  • 12-14 pounds: 3.5 to 4 hours
  • 14-18 pounds: 4 to 4.25 hours
  • 18-20 pounds: 4.25 to 4.75 hours
  • 20-24 pounds: 4.75 to 5.25 hours

Cooking Method

Different cooking methods can significantly impact cooking times. Here are some common methods:

Oven Roasting

Oven roasting is the most traditional method. As outlined above, it typically involves cooking an unstuffed turkey at 325°F (165°C) for a specific time based on weight.

Deep Frying

Deep frying a turkey significantly reduces cooking time. A general rule is to cook the turkey for about 3-4 minutes per pound at 350°F (175°C). Ensure the turkey is completely thawed and dry before frying to avoid dangerous oil splatters.


Smoking a turkey imparts a rich, smoky flavor but takes longer. Plan for about 30-40 minutes per pound at 225°F (107°C). This method requires patience but rewards with a uniquely flavorful bird.


Spatchcocking involves removing the backbone and flattening the turkey, which allows for more even cooking. This method can reduce cooking time by up to 30%. Roast a spatchcocked turkey at 400°F (204°C) for approximately 1.5 to 2 hours, depending on the bird's size.

Preparation Tips

Proper preparation is key to ensuring your turkey cooks evenly and tastes delicious. Here are some essential tips:


Thawing your turkey correctly is crucial. A frozen turkey needs about 24 hours for every 4-5 pounds to thaw in the refrigerator. If you're short on time, you can use the cold water method, allowing 30 minutes per pound and changing the water every 30 minutes.


Brining involves soaking the turkey in a saltwater solution, which helps keep the meat moist and flavorful. A basic brine consists of water, salt, sugar, and various spices. Brine the turkey for 12-24 hours in the refrigerator before cooking.


Seasoning the turkey generously with salt, pepper, and your favorite herbs and spices enhances its flavor. Be sure to season both the inside and outside of the bird.


Trussing involves tying the turkey's legs together to ensure even cooking. While not strictly necessary, it helps the turkey maintain its shape and cook more uniformly.

Checking for Doneness

Determining when your turkey is done is critical for both flavor and safety. Use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature. The turkey is done when the thickest part of the thigh and breast reaches 165°F (74°C). If stuffed, ensure the stuffing also reaches this temperature.

Resting the Turkey

Allowing the turkey to rest after cooking is essential. Resting helps the juices redistribute throughout the meat, making it more moist and flavorful. Tent the turkey with foil and let it rest for at least 20-30 minutes before carving.

Carving the Turkey

Carving a turkey properly can seem daunting, but with a few tips, you can make it look easy:


Use a sharp carving knife and a sturdy cutting board. A carving fork can help stabilize the bird as you work.


Begin by removing the legs and thighs, then the wings. Next, carve the breast meat into thin slices against the grain. Finally, scoop out the stuffing if you used it.

Additional Tips and Tricks

Here are some lesser-known tips to elevate your turkey-cooking game:

Butter Under the Skin

Placing pats of butter under the turkey's skin before roasting adds moisture and flavor. Mix the butter with herbs and spices for an extra flavor boost.


Fill the turkey's cavity with aromatic vegetables and herbs like onions, garlic, and rosemary. These infuse the meat with subtle flavors as it cooks.

High Heat Start

Start roasting the turkey at a high temperature (450°F or 232°C) for the first 30 minutes, then reduce the heat to 325°F (165°C). This method helps achieve crispy skin while ensuring the meat remains juicy.

Cooking a turkey is both an art and a science, requiring attention to detail and a bit of patience. Whether you opt for traditional roasting, deep frying, smoking, or spatchcocking, understanding the factors that influence cooking time and following proper preparation and cooking techniques will ensure a turkey that's moist, flavorful, and perfectly cooked. So, gather your ingredients, prep your bird, and embark on your turkey-cooking adventure.

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