Skip to Content

How Long to Cook a Turkey: The Ultimate Guide

If you’re wondering how long to cook a turkey, you’re in the right place. I have answers! That’s answers, plural. The oven-roasting time for a whole turkey varies greatly, depending on the size of your turkey and your oven temperature. I’ll break it all down for you below, and share some extra cooking tips to ensure your turkey is moist, delicious, and — importantly — fully cooked.

Here are some of the answers you’ll find in this turkey cooking guide.

Whole turkey cooking in the oven.
Seasoning your turkey before cooking with butter or oil should add flavor and provide a beautiful brown texture on the outside.

The target internal temperature for turkey

What is the cooked temperature for a whole turkey? The USDA recommends a minimum internal temperature of 165F. Note that the turkey’s innermost breast meat might read 165F, while the wing and thigh will be higher — around 175F or 180F.

How do I check my turkey’s temperature while it’s cooking? Knowing the target internal temperature of 165F is only half the battle. The other, harder half is measuring your turkey’s temperature while it cooks. You have three options here: Buy a turkey with a pop-up timer, use an external thermometer, or lean on both methods.

Pop-up turkey timers

A pop-up turkey timer is a plastic device that’s already in the turkey when you buy it. Confession time: The first time I bought a turkey with a pop-up timer, I didn’t know what the plastic thing was. I tried to remove it, thinking I shouldn’t cook a turkey that has plastic in it. They don’t come out easy!

In any case, if your turkey has a white prod with a colored top inserted near the wing or breast, that’s your pop-up timer. When the turkey is done, the colored top pops up.

Pop-up timers are handy and I’ve had good luck with them. Still, you should know that a Consumer Reports study concludes that these timers can pop before your turkey is fully cooked. That’s why it’s smart to validate the pop-up timer with an external thermometer.

Meat thermometer

Meat thermometers can be tricky to use. The cheap ones, unfortunately, aren’t accurate. And then, you have to insert the thermometer in the right place to get a good reading.

I’ve tried many thermometers. In my experience, most of them seem to work fine at the beginning and then fail after a few uses. The only one I’ve found that keeps working is Thermapen. This is an instant-read, digital thermometer — which means you don’t leave it in the bird while it cooks. You just pop it in periodically to check the temperature.

Thermapen retails for $79. It’s a lot, I know. There are cheaper Thermapen knock-offs available on Amazon. I can’t vouch for them, but they may be worth trying if you’re on a budget.

Where to insert the meat thermometer in a whole turkey? Place your meat thermometer deep in the breast horizontally, starting near the neck cavity.

The size of your turkey

Bigger turkeys take longer to cook. That’s why there are multiple answers to the turkey cook time question. You can roast a 6-lb. turkey breast in a couple hours, while a 24-lb. bird will need up to 5 hours to cook. See turkey cook times below for more information.

How many pounds of turkey do I need? Assuming you want a whole turkey, and not just the breast or legs, you’ll need to purchase about 1 pound per person. So if you’re expecting 10 guests, a 10-pound turkey should suffice. If you want leftovers, or plan to serve larger portions, then aim for 1.5 pounds per person. That equates to a 15-lb turkey for 10 people.

Best oven temperature for roasting turkey

For best results, roast your turkey low and slow at 325F. At this temperature, turkey’s cook time per pound is about 15 to 20 minutes.

If you need the turkey to cook faster

If you need to, you can raise your oven temperature to get your bird done faster. Here are the approximate per-pound roasting times at different temperatures. These times are only to help you plan your day of cooking — always check for doneness with a meat thermometer.

  • 325F: 15-20 minutes per pound
  • 350F: 13-14 minutes per pound
  • 375F: 10-12 minutes per pound
  • 400F: 9-10 minutes per pound

Know that the higher the oven temperature, the greater risk you have of drying out your turkey.

Another option if you haven’t already bought a whole turkey is to oven-roast turkey breast. These are easier to prepare and faster to cook. See how to roast a turkey breast here.

About stuffing your turkey

You might be wondering how stuffing your turkey affects the cook time. Here’s my advice: Don’t stuff the turkey. It’s too hard to know if every bit of your stuffing has reached the minimum 165F temperature. Cooking your stuffing in a separate dish, outside the turkey, is easier and safer.

How long to cook a turkey by weight

Below are approximate cook times based on the weight of your turkey. These times assume you are roasting the turkey in your oven at 325F, without basting. Check for doneness with a meat thermometer about 1 hour short of the times shown below, or use a leave-in thermometer.

  • Cook a 20-lb turkey at 325F for about 5 hours.
  • Cook an 18-lb turkey at 325F for about 4 1/2 hours.
  • Cook a 16-lb turkey at 325F for about 4 hours.
  • Cook at 14-lb turkey at 325F for about 3 1/2 hours.
  • Cook at 12-lb turkey at 325F for about 3 hours.

Roasting your turkey in an oven bag

Roasting your turkey in an oven bag can deliver a juicy turkey with less mess — but the oven bag method does shorten your cooking time. The moisture trapped in the bag bastes your turkey, so you can roast it at a hotter temperature, faster.

To roast your turkey in a bag, use these approximate cook times with your oven set at 350F.

  • 12- to 16-lb turkey in an oven bag: 2 to 2 1/4 hours
  • 16- to 20-lb turkey in an oven bag: 2 1/4 to 2 1/2 hours
  • 20- to 24-lb turkey in an oven bag: 2 1/2 to 3 hours

To prepare the oven bag with flour, add 1 tablespoon of flour to the bag and shake it well. Place the bag in a roasting pan and add the celery, onion, and carrots to the oven bag.

Place your seasoned turkey on top of the vegetable layer. Close the oven bag and cut 6 holes over the top of the oven bag to allow steam to escape, then tuck the ends of the oven bag into the pan.

You can now bake the turkey until the thickest part of the breast registers 165F in multiple places and the thigh registers 175F.

Cooking a turkey in the crockpot

If you have a smaller turkey that’s 8 or 10 pounds, you can put the whole bird into a crockpot. The cook time will be 6 or 7 hours on low heat. Rest the turkey for 20 minutes. Optionally, you can then broil it for 5 minutes for crispy skin.

Resting your turkey after cooking

Plan on resting your turkey for 30 minutes after cooking and before carving. If you cooked the turkey in an oven bag, leave it in the bag to rest.

This is the time to make your gravy and finish any last-minute meal prep.

Turkey prep cheats

Beautifully roasted whole turkey in a serving dish.
Knowing the right cook time is only part of preparing a delicious turkey.

Knowing the right cook time is only part of preparing a delicious turkey. Here are a few more tips about thawing, brining, seasoning, basting, and carving your bird.

How to thaw a turkey

The safest way to thaw a turkey is in the refrigerator. This is not an overnight project, however. Refrigerator thawing takes several days. Assume 1 day for every 5 pounds of turkey.

If you need to thaw your turkey faster, use the cold water method. Leave your turkey in its packaging and dunk the whole bird into cold water. You might have to put a weight on top to hold it under water. Change out the water every 30 minutes or so.

Can you thaw a turkey in the microwave? Yes, you can thaw a turkey in the microwave — if it will fit. Use the defrost setting on the microwave that sets cook time according to weight. Rotate, turn, and flip the turkey several times as it defrosts. With this method, you do risk defrosting the bird unevenly or cooking it slightly in the microwave.

Brining your turkey

Brining is not required, but it does result in a juicier, more flavorful bird. Note that the benefits of brining are negligible if you’re going to roast the bird in an oven bag.

You can make a simple turkey brine by mixing 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup of salt into a gallon of water. Unwrap your turkey, remove the giblets, and submerge the whole bird into the brine. Let the bird soak in the refrigerator overnight.

If you don’t want to mess with a liquid brine, you could also salt the turkey inside and out the day before you cook it.

Seasoning your turkey

The basic formula for seasoning a turkey is simple. Combine a fat with your favorite seasonings and rub them all over the bird. Softened butter adds delicious flavor, but any oil would work also.

To take your roasted turkey to the next level, gently loosen the skin and carefully rub butter and your seasonings under the skin, too. You can pop some quartered onions and fresh herbs inside the bird’s cavity.

Should you baste a turkey?

Basting adds nice flavor to the skin, but it can alter the cooking time. Every time you open the oven door to baste, the temperature will dip slightly. I recommend not basting, because those tiny temperature changes can affect your end result.

Carving a turkey

Carving a turkey is like carving a huge chicken: Pull out the joints that hold the wings and thighs to the bird and cut straight through them. You should remove the wings first, then the thighs. You can split the thighs into thighs and drumsticks once the meat has been removed.

Carve through the breast in slices, from the outside in.

And that’s it! Your complete guide for how long to cook a turkey — plus some extra cheats to ensure your bird turns out right. Enjoy!

Oven-roasted Whole Turkey

How Long To Cook A Whole Turkey

Ingredients

  • 1 whole turkey, thawed
  • 2 to 3 medium-sized onions
  • 3 celery ribs
  • 4 to 5 medium-sized/baby carrots
  • ½ tbsp of nutmeg
  • 1-2 Tbsp of sea salt
  • 1-2 Tbsp of black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp of ground ginger
  • 1 Tbsp of garlic or onion powder
  • Unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 Tbsp of vegetable oil
  • Potatoes

Instructions

  1. Thaw your turkey in the refrigerator. This can take 1 day for every 5 pounds of turkey. That's 3 days for a 15-lb turkey. Start an extra day early if you plan to brine your turkey.
  2. Remove giblets.
  3. Optionally, mix 1 cup of salt and 1 cup of sugar into 1 gallon of water. Submerge the turkey in the water and refrigerate overnight.
  4. Preheat your oven to 325F.
  5. Pat your turkey dry.
  6. Mix softened butter with your seasonings.
  7. Cut your vegetables into bite-size chunks.
  8. Rub the butter seasoning mix all over the turkey, inside and out. Gently loosen the skin on the breast and use your fingers to smear the seasoned butter under the skin. Take care not to tear the skin.
  9. Place your vegetables in the bottom of your roasting pan.
  10. Place a roasting rack in the pan above the vegetables. Put your turkey on the rack.
  11. Roast the turkey for 15 minutes per pound. Check the temperature in the breast an hour or so before your expected completion time or when the pop-up timer pops.
  12. When the turkey is done, remove it from the oven and let it rest for 30 minutes before carving.

Notes

  • You can use dried spices as noted, or swap them out for fresh herbs. Try thyme, sage, and/or rosemary.
  • If you use an oven bag, expect the turkey to be done one hour earlier.

Nutrition Information:


Amount Per Serving: Calories: 0Total Fat: 0gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 0mgCarbohydrates: 0gFiber: 0gSugar: 0gProtein: 0g

Last update on 2022-11-29 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Skip to Recipe