What Temperature to Cook a Thanksgiving Turkey and How Long?

TIMENovember 28, 2013

First, if the turkey is frozen, one will have to thaw it for between one and six days depending on how large the bird is.

In a refrigerator (40 °F or below):
Allow approximately 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds:
4 to 12 pounds 1 to 3 days
12 to 16 pounds 3 to 4 days
16 to 20 pounds 4 to 5 days
20 to 24 pounds 5 to 6 days

But one can cook a turkey from a frozen state but it takes about 50 percent longer to fully cook. Remember to remove the giblet packages before cooking via a fork or tongs. It’s also possible to thaw the turkey out via a microwave but it’s recommended to check the power level and minutes per pound on the microwave’s manual before doing so. After the turkey is thawed, it should be immediately cooked.

If the turkey is fresh, one will have to buy it between one and two days before cooking it. It’s also recommended by the USDA to not buy fresh and pre-stuffed turkeys due to bacteria risks.

In a conventional oven, set the temperature to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

Then put the turkey or turkey breast on a rack in a shallow roasting pan.

The USDA recommends not stuffing a turkey before its cooked. It is recommended to cook the stuffing outside the turkey in a casserole. The stuffing needs to reach a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees. Use a food thermometer to see the temperature outside or inside the turkey.

But if the turkey is to be stuffed, mix the dry and wet ingredients right before filling the turkey. Fill the turkey loosely and then cook the turkey right away.

A whole turkey is safe when cooked to a minimum of 165 degrees F measured via a food thermometer. Check the internal temperature in the inner thigh, the wing, and the thickest part of the breast area. Consumers can cook the turkey to higher temperatures. Until 2006, the USDA recommended consumers to cook their turkey to 180 degrees but that was bumped down to 165.

Here are the cooking times for a turkey:

4 to 8 pounds (breast) 1½ to 3¼ hours
8 to 12 pounds 2¾ to 3 hours
12 to 14 pounds 3 to 3¾ hours
14 to 18 pounds 3¾ to 4¼ hours
18 to 20 pounds 4¼ to 4½ hours
20 to 24 pounds 4½ to 5 hours

4 to 6 pounds (breast) Usually isn’t done
6 to 8 pounds (breast) 2½ to 3½ hours
8 to 12 pounds 3 to 3½ hours
12 to 14 pounds 3½ to 4 hours
14 to 18 pounds 4 to 4¼ hours
18 to 20 pounds 4¼ to 4¾ hours
20 to 24 pounds 4¾ to 5¼ hours

Other tips include adding a half-cup of water to the bottom of the pan, and tucking the bird’s wing tips underneath the shoulders for more even cooking. And if the pan has no lid, one can place heavy-duty aluminum foil shaped like a tent over the turkey for 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

After it’s done, let the turkey stand for approximately 20 minutes before carving; this is to allow the juices to set.

Then remove the stuffing from the turkey if applicable.

And the USDA says that people should always wash their hands and anything that comes into contact with raw turkey.


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Jack Phillips
Breaking News Reporter
Jack Phillips is a breaking news reporter at The Epoch Times based in New York.