What Temp Do You Cook a Turkey?


This majestic bird has been a culinary tradition for generations, symbolizing warmth and unity. However, turkey perfection requires more than Christmas magic. Understanding turkey cooking temperature is crucial to ensuring it comes out of the oven soft, juicy, and safe to consume. This article will help you know turkey cooking temperatures and make a masterpiece that will impress your visitors.

Simplest Turkey Cooking

1. Thaw Turkey.

Depending on size, a frozen turkey should be refrigerated for a week or more. How long does a regular turkey defrost in the refrigerator?

4–12 pounds: 1–3 days

12–16 pounds: 3–4 days

16–20 pounds: 4-to-5 days

20–24 pounds: 5–6 days

There are speedier ways to defrost a turkey, but the refrigerator is the safest. 

Turkey preparation: Hands-stringing drumsticks with kitchen string.

Turkey Preparation for Thanksgiving.

2. Temperature your turkey.

When ready to cook, remove the thawed turkey from the fridge and let it sit on a rack at room temperature for an hour to dry the skin. This rack may be used to roast your turkey, so cleaning another dish is unnecessary. Your roasting shelf should sit the turkey’s bottom at or below the pan’s top. NO roasting rack? A heavy-duty cooling rack in a half-sheet pan works too.

3. Set up the oven.

Set your oven rack to the lowest rung and heat to 350°F. Some recipes require briefly roasting the turkey at high temperatures before decreasing the heat. The idea is that high heat “sears” the bird while low heat gently roasts it, making it more moist and succulent, but we haven’t discovered that it does. Plus, the skin browns quickly (sometimes too quickly). Steady heat frees you to prepare Thanksgiving side dishes like mashed potatoes without checking the oven.

4. Butter turkey.

Rub room-temperature salted butter or your favorite flavored compound butter on your turkey breast side on the roasting rack. For a 12- to 14-pound turkey, use ½ cup [1 stick] of butter. Please start at the neck and slowly slide your fingers under the skin, being cautious not to rip or separate it from the considerable cavity. Rub butter under the skin, some in the large hollow and the rest above.

5. Season your turkey if needed.

Brine your bird (wet or dry) to skip this final seasoning. The cavity of kosher turkeys is already salted, so you need to salt the skin. To do it: For a 12- to 14-pound chicken, add 1½ teaspoons of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to the cavity and 1½ teaspoons to the skin.

6. Stuff the neck but not the central cavity.

A dish of fresh pears and garlic surrounds a full-roasted dry-brined turkey.

To dry-brine a juicy turkey, stuff the neck cavity but not the central hole.

We know, random. However, stuffing the neck cavity (not the big cavity) with a half apple and pressing the sliced side against the turkey’s flesh with the rounded side facing out protects the breast from overcooking. Do not stuff the central cavity—it will slow cooking. Instead, prepare the stuffing in a side casserole.

7. Add scents.

Not stuffing your turkey leaves room for aromatics, which add flavor and complexity to gravy and pan drippings. Place onion quarters, celery stalks, parsley, thyme, and other fresh herbs inside the bird before roasting.

You can also put aromatics under the roasting pan rack. The direct heat caramelizes them, seasoning the meat and drippings. Include halved shallots, cut carrots, and celery. If you add aromatics or not, pour 2 glasses of water into your roasting pan to prevent drippings from burning.

8. Cover and uncover the turkey.

To deflect heat, gently wrap the bird with aluminum foil, shiny side out, to roast. Tenting with foil prevents premature skin darkening. To brown the skin, remove the foil halfway through cooking.

9. Avoid basting.

Traditional recipes call for basting the turkey to moisten and flavor it. Too often, opening the oven door lets heat escape, prolonging cooking. Squirting or brushing broth on the skin prevents even browning and reduces crispness. Dry-brine the bird before cooking for optimal moisture.

10. Estimate turkey cooking time and temperature.

At 350 degrees Fahrenheit, an unstuffed turkey will take 13 minutes per pound to roast (about 3 hours for a 12- to 14-pound bird), but a stuffed turkey will take 15 minutes. Roast until the thickest part of the thigh and breast meat registers 165 degrees Fahrenheit (or 150 degrees Fahrenheit; more below); check the temperature three-quarters of the way through and every 10 minutes.

Follow these instructions to roast your turkey at a higher or lower temperature. These cook times are for unstuffed chickens. Avoid filled turkeys and bake the stuffing together to reach a safe temperature.

How long does it take to cook a pound turkey?

For an unstuffed turkey, roast it for 13 minutes per pound at 350°F (3 hours for a 12- to 14-lb turkey) or 15 minutes for a stuffed turkey and 325°F for 3 to 3¾ hours.

To cook a 15-16-pound turkey, use 425°F for 3-4 hours, 400°F for 3-4 hours, 350°F for 3-4 hours, and 325°F for 3-4 hours.

For an 18-20 pound turkey, cook at 425°F for 3 – 3½ hours, 400°F for 3 – 4 hours, 350°F for 4 – 4¼ hours, and 325°F for 4 – 4½ hours.

For a 21- to 24-pound turkey, cook at 425°F for 4-4¼ hours, 400°F for 4¼-4½ hours, 350°F for 4½-4¾ hours, and 325°F for 4¾-5 hours.

For a 24-pound turkey, cook at 425°F for 4¼-4½ hours, 400°F for 4½-4¾ hours, 350°F for 4¾-5 hours, and 325°F for 5 to 5¼ hours.

To eradicate dangerous microorganisms, the USDA recommends cooking a turkey at 165°F. Remove your bird from the oven at 150°F for the juiciest meat. The turkey should reach 165°F within 30 minutes of being removed from the range as it rests. Epi’s food director Chris Morocco like dark meat cooked to 190°F, which breaks down collagen and connective fibers and tenderizes it. This higher temperature would dry out white meat, so only cook the turkey in sections.

Ensure turkey roasting temperature using an accurate meat thermometer. Home cooks considered it done if the bird juices were transparent when poked with a knife. This approach is unreliable for various reasons. Pinkness can disappear before a safe temperature. On the other hand, organic and heritage turkeys may retain their pink color even after being roasted above 165°F.

11. Check turkey temperature.

The best meat thermometer tests a Thanksgiving-cooked turkey.

To determine turkey doneness, insert your thermometer into the meatiest region of the thigh, just below the wing. The breast may reach temp before the dark meat—Photo by Chelsea Kyle, prop styling by Alex Brannian, and food styling by Cyd McDowell. Check turkey temperature.

Check the turkey’s temperature with an instant-read thermometer or a remote food thermometer (which has a probe you put before cooking and a digital readout on your counter). Either way, place the thermometer at the turkey’s thickest breast. Avoid touching the bone (it will skew the reading). Check the thigh to ensure the turkey cooks evenly.

To prevent the skin from darkening and reaching the correct internal temperature, loosely tent the browned sections with a double-thick sheet of greased aluminum foil.

12. Rest the turkey.

Rest the roast turkey for 30 minutes before carving after reaching the correct temperature. This lets the juices settle into the bird and be reabsorbed; carving it too soon can drain the fluids, leaving dried-up meat on the cutting surface. After the turkey has reached the proper temperature, let it rest for 30 minutes before carving. The meat will be dry and flavorless if you start cutting it before it has rested.

Bottom Line: 

A thoroughly cooked turkey depends on the cooking temperature. For a delicate, safe turkey, follow these steps: Bake your chicken at 325°F (165°C) until the thickest part of the thigh is 165°F (74°C). Use a dependable meat thermometer to correctly assess the turkey’s doneness for a delicate balance of delicious meat and food safety. Remember that learning and maintaining the appropriate cooking temperature will result in a turkey that not only graces your table but also lives on in the memory of those who share it.

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