How long to cook turkey?

HotbotBy HotBotUpdated: June 20, 2024

Cooking a turkey is both an art and a science. The time it takes to cook a turkey depends on various factors including the weight of the bird, whether it is stuffed or unstuffed, and the cooking method used. This guide will delve into these variables and more, ensuring your turkey is perfectly cooked.

Key Factors Affecting Cooking Time

Weight of the Turkey

The most significant factor in determining the cooking time of a turkey is its weight. The general rule of thumb is that the larger the bird, the longer it will take to cook. Below are some standard guidelines for cooking times based on the weight of an unstuffed turkey:

- 8 to 12 pounds: 2.5 to 3 hours

- 12 to 14 pounds: 3 to 3.75 hours

- 14 to 18 pounds: 3.75 to 4.25 hours

- 18 to 20 pounds: 4.25 to 4.5 hours

- 20 to 24 pounds: 4.5 to 5 hours

Stuffed vs. Unstuffed

Whether your turkey is stuffed or unstuffed also affects the cooking time. A stuffed turkey will take longer to cook because the stuffing acts as an insulator. Here are some guidelines for stuffed turkeys:

- 8 to 12 pounds: 3 to 3.5 hours

- 12 to 14 pounds: 3.5 to 4 hours

- 14 to 18 pounds: 4 to 4.25 hours

- 18 to 20 pounds: 4.25 to 4.75 hours

- 20 to 24 pounds: 4.75 to 5.25 hours

Cooking Method

The cooking method you choose will also affect cooking time. The three most common methods are roasting, grilling, and frying.


Roasting is the traditional method and typically requires the longest cooking time. When roasting, the oven should be preheated to 325°F (163°C). The cooking times provided above are specifically for roasting.


Grilling a turkey can save you some cooking time and impart a delicious smoky flavor. A 12 to 16-pound turkey will take approximately 2.5 to 3 hours to grill over medium heat (about 350°F or 177°C).


Deep frying a turkey is the quickest method. A 12 to 14-pound turkey will take only about 45 minutes to an hour. The oil should be heated to 350°F (177°C) and the turkey should be fully thawed and dried before frying.

Internal Temperature and Doneness

Regardless of the cooking method or weight, the most reliable way to determine if your turkey is done is by checking its internal temperature. The USDA recommends an internal temperature of 165°F (74°C) for both the thickest part of the breast and the innermost part of the thigh and wing.

Using a Meat Thermometer

A meat thermometer is indispensable for ensuring your turkey is cooked to perfection. Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the breast and the innermost part of the thigh without touching the bone. If the temperature reads at least 165°F (74°C), your turkey is done.

Resting Time

Once your turkey reaches the desired internal temperature, it’s crucial to let it rest. Resting allows the juices to redistribute throughout the meat, making it more succulent and easier to carve. A resting period of 20 to 30 minutes is ideal.

Special Considerations

High-Altitude Cooking

If you are cooking at a high altitude (above 3,000 feet), the cooking time will be longer. This is due to the lower atmospheric pressure, which causes water to boil at a lower temperature and can affect cooking times. It’s advisable to add about 5-10 minutes per pound when cooking at high altitudes.

Brining the Turkey

Brining can also affect cooking time. A brined turkey typically cooks faster because the salt in the brine breaks down some of the turkey's muscle proteins, making it cook more quickly. You may need to reduce the cooking time by about 15-30 minutes.

Frozen vs. Thawed

Never cook a partially frozen turkey, as it will not cook evenly. If you must cook a frozen turkey, you can, but the cooking time will be at least 50% longer. For example, a 12-pound frozen turkey will take approximately 6 hours to cook.

Common Pitfalls and Tips


One of the most common mistakes is overcooking, which results in dry, tough meat. Always keep an eye on the internal temperature, and start checking it about 30 minutes before the expected cooking time is up.


Equally problematic is undercooking, which poses a health risk. Make sure to use a meat thermometer and ensure the internal temperature reaches 165°F (74°C).

Covering the Turkey

To prevent over-browning, you can cover the turkey loosely with aluminum foil. Remove the foil during the last 30-45 minutes of cooking to allow the skin to become golden and crispy.


While basting is a traditional method to keep the turkey moist, it can actually prolong cooking time because it requires opening the oven frequently. If you baste, do it sparingly.

Using a Roasting Pan

A shallow roasting pan allows better air circulation around the turkey, which can promote more even cooking. Avoid using deep pans, as they can hinder proper heat distribution.

The journey to a perfectly cooked turkey involves understanding various factors such as weight, stuffing, and cooking method. Employing a meat thermometer is critical to achieving the ideal internal temperature, ensuring both safety and deliciousness. Remember, allowing the turkey to rest and considering special conditions like altitude or brining can make a significant difference. As you navigate the culinary nuances, each detail brings you closer to mastering the art of cooking turkey.

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