How Long to Cook a Turkey

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Roasting pan with a Roasted Thanksgiving Turkey.

So you’re the one making the Thanksgiving turkey this year — lucky you! That also means you’re the one who will get most of the leftovers! Rule number one: make a turkey that will yield generous leftovers for you, for your guests, for pot pies and soup. You can freeze whatever is left over. Here is what you need to know about cooking whatever size bird you bought to perfection!

Now, where is my gravy fat separator

Woman removing a roasted turkey from the oven.

How Long to Cook Turkey in Oven: Here is everything you need to know about cooking any size Thanksgiving turkey to perfection!

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How to Know What Size Turkey to Buy

Most birds sold for Thanksgiving dinners in U.S. supermarkets are in the 16-pound range, and some are much larger. A 16-pound turkey will serve 10 to 12 people, with leftovers. When buying a turkey, the general rules it aim for about 1 ½ pounds per person, especially if you want leftovers.

A 12-pound turkey is not too large for eight people; everyone will get more than enough and allow for leftovers. And leftover turkey is the perfect springboard for all kinds of dishes.

Turkey with gravy and stuffing on a plate.

Turkey Cooking Times

The following times are for a turkey roasted at a continuous 325-degree temperature. The USDA does not recommend cooking a turkey at a lower temperature than 325 degrees to prevent foodborne illness. Below are the times recommended by the USDA, and they can be taken as a good rule of thumb for roasting turkey.

You should find the lowest cooking time for your size bird and start checking the internal temperature about 45 minutes ahead of that suggested time. Don’t rely completely on the pop-up timer; the turkey may have reached the desired temperature before it pops up.

How Long to Cook a Turkey at 325 Degrees F

8 to 12 pounds2 ¾ to 3 hours3 to 3 ½ hours
12 to 14 pounds3 to ¾ hours3 ½ to 4 hours
14 to 18 pounds3 ¾ to 4 ¼ hours4 to 4 ¼ hours
18 to 20 pounds4 ¼ to 4 ½ hours4 ¼ to 4 ¾ hours
20 to 24 pounds4 ½ to 5 hours4 ¾ to 5 ¼ hours
Turkey cooking times based on weight.

The basic rule of thumb for cooking turkey is 20 minutes per pound. However, a larger bird may take slightly less time per pound to cook, whereas a smaller bird might take more.

Woman pouring gravy over sliced turkey on a green platter.

Tips for Cooking a Whole Turkey

  • If your turkey is still partially frozen, it will take longer to cook.
  • Remember to remove the giblets and the neck from the interior of the turkey and save them to make gravy.
  • It is possible to cook a stuffed turkey safely, but more difficult, as by the time the stuffing is cooked to a safe temperature, the meat of the bird might be overcooked. It is also more likely that you might have bacteria that are not killed when cooking a stuffed turkey. A stuffed turkey takes longer to cook, and you should plan to add at least 30 minutes to a bird 14 pounds or under and an hour for a bird over 14 pounds. Do not let the stuffing sit for more than an hour in a cooked turkey.
  • Your oven may have hot spots, and the bird may cook unevenly. Rotate the pan to prevent that.
  • Your oven temperature might run hotter or cooler than what it is set for — use a thermometer to check.
  • If you use a dark roasting pan, your turkey may cook a bit faster.
  • The depth and size of the pan can affect the heat circulation to all parts of the turkey.
  • If your turkey is browning too quickly, you can tent it with aluminum foil. Make sure to remove the foil for the last 15 minutes of cooking, allowing the skin to crisp up again. If you cover the bird with foil or a roasting pan lid, it can affect the cooking time.
  • An oven cooking bag can speed up the cooking time.
  • The position of the rack in the oven can affect the cooking time.
  • A turkey or a roasting pan that is proportionately too large for the oven may slow the cooking time.

Should I Truss a Turkey?

It is not necessary to truss a turkey, but some people feel it makes the bird more compact and easier to carve. I think it adds cooking time to the roasting process. When the thighs are pressed against the body of the bird, it slows down the thighs from cooking to a safe temp at a similar speed to the breast meat. So, I prefer to leave the turkey untrussed. But if the turkey comes with a small plastic gadget holding the legs together, I would just leave that on.

A trussed turkey does look a lot neater pre-carving if you’re looking for a tidier presentation. And, some chefs think holding the legs against the bird actually keeps the breast moister. It’s definitely a subject for debate, with smart arguments on both sides.

Uncooked trussed turkey smeared with butter on a baking sheet.

To truss a turkey, simply tuck the wing tips underneath the turkey, securing the wings. Double a long piece of kitchen twine. Bring the legs together and cross the drumsticks at the base. Place the middle of the string under the bottom of the legs, then bring the string up, cross it over, wrap it around once more, and tie it securely.


How do I know my turkey is done cooking?

Your turkey is safe to eat when the internal temperature is 165 degrees. Use a meat thermometer to take the temperature by inserting it into the thickest part of the turkey leg and the breast. Testing the turkey in multiple spots will make sure you don’t get a false reading, which can happen if your thermometer hits the bone. In fact, the temperature actually rises while the turkey is resting, so it is okay to remove your turkey from the oven at 160 degrees. It will reach 165 degrees while resting and be safe to eat.

Should turkey be rinsed in water?

No, don’t wash your turkey! The USDA does not recommend rinsing the turkey because that can spread bacteria in your sink and in your kitchen. By the time the turkey is cooked to a safe temperature, any bacteria should be killed.

Can you roast a turkey without trussing it?

Yes, you can roast a turkey untrussed. The turkey will turn out okay but may cook less evenly than if it was trussed — the wings and the legs will cook faster if they are not tied to the body. It’s so easy to truss a turkey, though. There is no reason not to do it! If you can tie a knot, you can truss a turkey.

Easy Roasted Thanksgiving Turkey in roasting pan.

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About Katie Workman

Katie Workman is a cook, a writer, a mother of two, an activist in hunger issues, and an enthusiastic advocate for family meals, which is the inspiration behind her two beloved cookbooks, Dinner Solved! and The Mom 100 Cookbook.

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