How to Cook a Thanksgiving Turkey: What Temperature? How Long? How to Take Temperature?

November 21, 2018 Updated: November 21, 2018

Thanksgiving is Nov. 22, and we’ll get to the basics of how to cook a turkey.

1. First, preheat the oven to 325 degree F, and check the wrapper on the turkey to see how much it weighs (if it weighs more, then it will take longer to cook uniformly). Then remove the giblet bag from the breast and remove the turkey’s neck from the cavity. Pat the turkey skin dry with paper towels (don’t wash it).

Some people roast it at 350 degrees (see times below).

Plan on 20 minutes per pound in a 350 degree F oven for a defrosted turkey, and plan for 10 to 15 minutes per pound for a fresh turkey.

Remember: The cooking time for a stuffed turkey takes longer.

2. Then mix the stuffing in and lightly fill the cavity. Use 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup of stuffing for a pound of turkey. It’s better to understuff than to overstuff the turkey.

3. Place the breast side of the turkey in a shallow roasting pan that’s 2 inches deepor around that. Insert the heat thermometer in the turkey’s thigh and add up to a 1/2 cup of water in the bottom of the pan.

4. Then cover the turkey with a tent of heavy-duty aluminum foil.

5. Before roasting, coat the outside of the turkey with olive or a type of vegetable oil, then season it with salt and pepper.

6. Resist the temptation to open up the oven door to look at the turkey, as that increases the chance of the turkey getting dried out.

7. After approximately 1 to 1/2 hours of cooking, remove the foil cover to allow the turkey to get brown.

8. A whole turkey is done when the temperature of the innermost part of the thigh hits a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees F with a food thermometer. The stuffing also has to hit 165 degrees F or higher. If not, return it back to the oven and keep on cooking it.

9. When the turkey is done, take it out of the oven and allow it to stand for 20-30 minutes before carving it.

Epoch Times Photo
Turkeys need ample time to roast. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead)

The USDA roasting time is as follows:

8 to 12 pounds 2 3/4 to 3 hours
12 to 14 pounds 3 to 3 3/4 hours
14 to 18 pounds 3 3/4 to 4 1/4 hours
18 to 20 pounds 4 1/4 to 4 1/2 hours
20 to 24 pounds 4 1/2 to 5 hours

8 to 12 pounds – 3 to 3 1/2 hours
12 to 14 pounds – 3 1/2 to 4 hours
14 to 18 pounds – 4 to 4 1/4 hours
18 to 20 pounds – 4 1/4 to 4 3/4 hours
20 to 24 pounds – 4 3/4 to 5 1/4 hours

Here’s how long to cook a turkey at 350 degrees:

10 to 18 pounds — 3 to 3-1/2 hours not stuffed — 3-3/4 to 4-1/2 hours stuffed

18 to 22 pounds — 3-1/2 to 4 hours not stuffed — 4-1/2 to 5 hours stuffed

22 to 24 pounds — 4 to 4-1/2 hours not stuffed — 5 to 5-1/2 hours stuffed

24 to 29 pounds — 4-1/2 to 5 hours not stuffed — 5-1/2 to 6-1/4 hours stuffed


If you went with a Butterball turkey, according to the Butterball website:

1. Preheat oven to 325° F. Drain juices and pat dry with clean paper towels.

2. Place turkey breast side up on a flat rack in a shallow roasting pan 2 to 2½ inches deep.

3. Turn the wings back to hold the neck skin in place. (Tucking the wings will help stabilize the turkey in the pan and when carving) Brush or spray skin lightly with vegetable or cooking oil for best appearance.

4. Insert an oven-safe meat thermometer deep into the lower part of the thigh without touching the bone. When the thigh is up to temperature, and if the turkey is 5. stuffed, move the thermometer to the center of the stuffing.

5. Place your turkey in the oven.

6. When the turkey is about ⅔ done, loosely cover the breast with a piece of foil to prevent overcooking.

7. Your turkey is done when the temperature with a meat thermometer is 180° F in thigh and 170° F in breast or stuffing.

8. Lift turkey onto platter, and let stand for 15 minutes before carving.