- Roasting a turkey to perfection with crispy skin and moist, tender meat isn't as difficult as it seems.
- Estimate 15 minutes per pound at an oven temperature of 325 degrees Fahrenheit for your bird.
- To keep larger turkeys moist, cook them under an aluminum foil tent.
For many home cooks, the Thanksgiving turkey is among the biggest meals they'll prepare all year, both in size and significance. With friends and family gathering for the holiday and an over-10-pound bird taking up valuable fridge and counter space, the pressure is high. The lofty goal is to roast this notoriously-tricky poultry without overcooking the meat or, even worse, undercooking it and potentially getting someone sick.
To make this major cooking project a little easier, we consulted three pro chefs — chef and partner Tyler Akin of Le Cavalier in Wilmington, Delaware, corporate chef Rodney Freidank of Table 301 in Greenville, South Carolina, and TV chef and cookbook author Mareya Ibrahim of The Fit Foodie — to find out exactly how long to cook a turkey for flavorful, juicy, and leftover-friendly results.
How long to cook a turkey
The University of Illinois reports that the most commonly-purchased turkey size in the United States is 15 pounds. However, small-group Thanksgiving hosts will be happy to know that full turkeys (hens specifically, according to the USDA) can be as small as 8 pounds. In order to calculate the cook time for your bird, estimate 15 minutes per pound at an oven temperature of 325 degrees Fahrenheit, says Rodney Freidank.
|Turkey weight||Feeds # of people||Cook temperature||Cook time|
|8-9 lbs||4-9||325°F||2.25 hours|
|10-12 lbs||5-12||325°F||2.5-3 hours|
|13-15 lbs||6-15||325°F||3-3.75 hours|
|16-19 lbs||8-19||325°F||3.75-4.75 hours|
|20-24 lbs||10-24||325°F||4.5-6 hours|
What size turkey to buy
The number of people who can be served by a turkey depends on your group's appetite and your desire for leftovers. The USDA's baseline is 1 pound per person, though this rule works best for families with light appetites and no interest in leftovers. If your party likes big helpings and if you're a fan of turkey and cranberry sandwiches, then 2 pounds per person may suit you better.
Generally speaking, our experts don't recommend purchasing a huge turkey for your Thanksgiving roast, even if you'll be hosting a large group. "[When you] get a bird that's too big, the meat can be too tough. I'd prefer two smaller birds than one mammoth-sized turkey. [I] try not to go over 18 lbs," says Ibrahim. But if you're determined to feed your whole party with one roast, you're looking at a cook time of over four and a half hours.
How to know when your turkey is done
To check the doneness of your turkey, "be sure to use a meat thermometer," says Mareya Ibrahim. Tyler Akin recommends removing the turkey from the oven "when the leg's internal temperature reaches 158 F," as the carryover cooking during the resting process will bring it up to 165 F (the safe temperature for consumption) by the time you carve the bird.
For larger birds that are prone to drying out, Akin says, "I recommend tenting any turkey over 15 pounds with aluminum foil over the breast." This will prevent the breast meat from drying out, resulting in a more satisfying texture.
Different ways to cook a turkey
How long to cook a stuffed turkey?
The USDA points out that stuffing a turkey can be risky due to bacteria and that, for the safest experience and the most even cooking, you should cook your stuffing outside of the bird. That said, if you do decide to roast a stuffed turkey, add 15 minutes to your total roasting time.
How long to cook a turkey breast?
A turkey breast is an ideal choice for small a Thanksgiving, and it's one of the easiest cuts to roast. It can take as little as 1.5 hours to roast a turkey breast (depending on its size), and the largest versions take 3.25 hours, according to the USDA.
How long to cook a spatchcocked turkey?
Spatchcocking involves removing the turkey's backbone and laying the bird flat in its roasting pan. "This offers more surface area of exposed skin to crisp and offers a faster cook time," Tyler Akin says.
Akin goes on to say that a spatchcocked turkey is generally cooked at 350 F for 7-8 minutes per pound: "it cooks faster because it is far shallower and is being exposed to heat along [a greater] surface area."
When roasting a whole turkey, 15 minutes of cook time per pound in a 325 F oven is the sweet spot. Spatchcocked turkeys can cook at a quicker rate, while stuffed turkeys take longer (and come with safety concerns). Whatever you do, make sure to let your turkey rest for 20-30 minutes before carving the bird.