Wondering how long to cook a turkey? We answer all of your burning questions about making turkey for Thanksgiving! (Hopefully it’s just your questions that are burning, not the bird!)
Thanksgiving only comes once a year, so even if you’ve hosted it many times before, every time you cook turkey, it can feel like the first time.
Turkey isn’t like making burgers or chicken—it’s not an everyday thing! Which means even the most seasoned hosts can have questions about how long to cook a turkey and how to know when it’s done. (It’s no wonder there’s a hotline for cooks who need Thanksgiving turkey advice!)
How Long Does It Take to Cook a Turkey?
Assuming you are cooking your bird at the recommended 350ºF, here’s how long to cook a turkey:
How long to cook a turkey at 350ºF?
An unstuffed whole turkey should cook for about 13 minutes per pound in a preheated oven. Not in the mood to do math? Here’s what that means:
How long to cook a 12 pound turkey?
A 12 pound turkey takes 2 3/4 to 3 hours to cook.
How long to cook a 13 lb. turkey?
A 13 lb. turkey takes about 3 hours to cook.
How long to cook a 14 lb turkey?
A 14 lb. turkey takes just over 3 hours to cook.
How long to cook a 15 pound turkey?
A 15 pound turkey takes 3 1/4 to 4 hours to cook.
How long to cook a 20 pound turkey?
A 20 pound turkey takes 4 1/4 to 4 3/4 hours to cook.
How Do You Know When Turkey Is Done Cooking?
The only way to know is to use a meat thermometer to check. According to USDA guidelines, turkey is done roasting and safe to eat when the thigh meat reaches an internal temperature of 165ºF. But turkey will continue to cook after it’s removed from the oven, so experts recommend removing the turkey when the temperature reads 155ºF, then checking to make sure the temperature reaches 165ºF after 10 minutes.
How Long to Cook a Stuffed Turkey?
Stuffed turkey takes longer to roast than an unstuffed turkey, so keep this in mind for your dinner planning! A stuffed turkey filled with vegetables like onions, carrots, and celery and your favorite stuffing must be cooked for 15 minutes per pound, or until the temperature of the stuffing reaches 165ºF.
How Long Does It Take to Cook a Frozen Turkey?
First, for food safety reasons, you should only cook a frozen turkey (that is, a frozen turkey fresh from the freezer that you do not thaw before cooking) in the oven, rather than grilling or deep frying. You should also cook the stuffing separately, rather than putting it inside the cavity of the bird, and pull out the gravy packet if there is one.
With that out of the way, you will need to roast the turkey until it thaws for about 2 1/2 hours, then remove the giblets, season with kosher salt, black pepper, and anything else you like, and continue cooking for the approximate times listed above, or until it reaches a safe temperature of 165ºF.
More Questions About How to Cook Turkey
Is it better to cook a turkey at 325ºF or 350ºF?
This is up for debate! People who go with 325ºF claim that it keeps turkey from drying out, but it’s also harder to ensure that the turkey reaches a safe internal temperature when it’s cooking at a lower temp. I think it’s best to err on the side of food safety when you’re feeding a crowd Thanksgiving dinner and cook turkey at 350ºF. You can minimize the risk of dry turkey by pulling it out of the oven at 155ºF, as described above.
Do you cover turkey while cooking?
You want to achieve the perfect balance of moist turkey with crisp skin, so to do this, you’ll want to cook the turkey covered and uncovered. Cover your turkey with aluminum foil to start, then uncover it during the last 30 minutes of cooking time.
Should a turkey be basted?
It’s up to you! The key to moist, tender turkey is not over-cooking it, so basting with drippings is more about the flavor, not preventing it from getting dry. If you’ve done other things to amp up your turkey’s flavor, like stuffing it with aromatics like rosemary, sage, and thyme or slathering it in herbed garlic butter, you might want to skip the basting to streamline your cooking time.
How often do you baste the turkey?
Baste your turkey every 30 to 40 minutes. The more you open the oven, the longer it takes to finish cooking the bird, which is why some experts recommend every 40 minutes instead of 30.
Is a little pink in turkey OK?
Don’t judge a book by its cover, and don’t judge a turkey by its color! The only way to know if turkey is done is to take its temperature. A smoked turkey will always be pink, and even a non-smoked turkey might remain pink in places even after it reaches an internal temperature of 165ºF. How long to cook a turkey doesn’t change based on the color; the temperature is always most important.
Can you put an undercooked turkey back in the oven?
You can! Just make sure you cover it in the roasting pan to help it retain as much moisture as possible. If everyone’s ready to eat and your turkey isn’t, you can speed things up by slicing the turkey, then putting it in the oven until it reaches an internal temperature of 165ºF.
How long should a turkey rest before carving?
Let your turkey rest for at least 20 minutes or up to 40 minutes for a larger bird. The flavor and juices are best after a rest—plus this will give you the time you need to put the finishing touches on your mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts salad, and other side dishes!
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