how to cook turkey bird

To some, turkey is a succulent holiday centerpiece. To others, it’s a vehicle for gravy. But turkey can be great (delicious even) if you know how to cook a turkey properly so that it hits the ideal internal temperature without going over. Whether you’re a longtime Thanksgiving pro feeling bogged down by the year’s newest trend (Is it spatchcocked or dry-brined turkey this year? Turkey breast only? Or maybe confit? We can’t keep up!) or a holiday-hosting newbie who’s preparing a whole turkey for the first time, you can rely on this foolproof guiding principle: You don’t need a special recipe if you just stick to the basics. Ahead you’ll find everything you need to know, including step-by-step instructions, to make the perfect turkey.

In a hurry? Scroll down to get right to our table of turkey cook times. Or scroll even further for our guide to cooking a turkey that’s still frozen solid.

The Simplest Way to Cook a Turkey1. Thaw your turkey.

A frozen turkey should be thawed in the refrigerator; this process may take a week or longer, depending on the size of the bird. The average time for a turkey to thaw in the refrigerator is as follows:

  • 4–12 pounds: 1 to 3 days
  • 12–16 pounds: 3 to 4 days
  • 16–20 pounds: 4 to 5 days
  • 20–24 pounds: 5 to 6 days

While there are quicker methods available if you’re pressed for time, the safest option when it comes to cooking is to thaw a turkey in the refrigerator. See our guide for advice on how to cook a turkey for Thanksgiving:

When it’s time to cook your bird, remove the now-thawed turkey from the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature for one hour in order to remove any moisture and dry out the skin. (You don’t need to dirty another dish; you can use this rack to roast your turkey.) The turkey’s bottom should be able to rest at or slightly below the top of the pan on your roasting rack. If you don’t have a roasting rack, you can use a sturdy cooling rack inside a half-sheet pan. 3. Prep your oven.

Adjust the oven temperature to 350°F and place the rack on the lowest rung. According to some recipes, you should briefly roast the turkey at a high oven temperature before lowering the heat to cook it for the full amount of time. Though we haven’t discovered that it makes much of a difference, the theory is that the high heat “sears” the bird and the low heat gently roasts it, producing a more moist and succulent bird. Plus, the skin gets browned very quickly (often too quickly). You can prepare your mashed potatoes and other Thanksgiving side dishes and spend more time doing other things by using steady heat instead of constantly checking the oven. 4. Butter your turkey.

Place the breast side of your turkey on the roasting rack and brush it with room temperature salted butter or your preferred flavored compound butter. To coat a 12- to 14-pound turkey, approximately ½ cup [1 stick] of butter is required. ) Starting at the neck, carefully work your fingers under the skin, taking care not to rip it or completely separate it at the large cavity. Apply the butter to the skin in three areas: under the skin, inside the large cavity, and on the skin. 5. Season your turkey (if necessary).

This last seasoning can be omitted if you’ve decided to brine your bird (either a wet or dry brine). There’s no need to salt the cavity of kosher turkeys because they’re already salted, but you should salt the skin. How to do it: For a 12- to 14-pound bird, dust the large cavity with 1½ teaspoons of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, then sprinkle the skin with another 1½ teaspoon of each seasoning.

Sounds random, we know. However, stuffing the neck cavity (as opposed to the large cavity) with a halved apple, with the rounded side facing out, helps prevent overcooking and acts as a heat buffer for the breast. However, avoid stuffing the main cavity as this will prolong the cooking process. Use a casserole dish to prepare your stuffing recipe and bake it on the side instead. 7. Add some aromatics.

By leaving some space in the cavity of your turkey for aromatics, you can enhance the flavor and fragrance of the bird as well as the complexity of the pan drippings used to make gravy. Before roasting, try stuffing the turkey with chopped onions, celery stalks, parsley, thyme, and other fresh herbs.

Additionally, you can add some aromatics directly to the roasting pan, underneath the rack. In the more direct heat, these will caramelize, giving the meat a stronger flavor and enhancing the flavor of the drippings. Add a few halved shallots, sliced carrots, and some celery. To keep those drippings from burning, add two cups of water to your roasting pan whether you decide to add aromatics or not. 8. Cover (and then uncover) the turkey.

When roasting, loosely cover the bird with aluminum foil, shiny side out to deflect heat. Using foil tents prevents the skin from becoming overly dark too quickly. About halfway through cooking, take off the foil to allow the skin to brown. 9. Skip the basting.

In some traditional recipes, basting the turkey is recommended as a way to flavor and moisten it. It has been observed that excessive oven door opening prolongs cooking times by allowing excessive heat to escape. In addition, sprinkling or brushing broth on the skin will hinder even browning and may even cause it to become less crisp. Dry brining the bird before cooking is a better way to guarantee that it is moist. 10. Calculate turkey cooking time and temperature.

The easiest method for estimating turkey roasting times is to use the following formula: 13 minutes per pound at 350°F for an unstuffed turkey, or roughly 3 hours for a 12- to 14-lb bird. turkey), or 15 minutes per pound for a stuffed turkey. Check the temperature about three quarters of the way through that time, and then every ten minutes after that. Roast until the thickest part of the thigh meat and the thickest part of the breast meat register 165°F (or 150°F, depending on the situation; more on that below).

However, if you would rather roast your turkey at a different temperature, then adhere to these instructions. (The following cook times are for unstuffed birds. As a general rule, we advise against stuffing turkeys and to bake the stuffing separately so that it can easily come to a safe temperature. )How long to cook a turkey per pound:

  • For an 8- to 12-pound turkey:
  • 325°F for 2¾ to 3 hours
  • For a 12- to 14-pound turkey:
  • 425°F for 2¼ to 2½ hours
  • 400°F for 2½ to 2¾ hours
  • 350°F for 2¾ to 3 hours
  • 325°F for 3 to 3¾ hours
  • For a 15- to 16-pound turkey:
  • 425°F for 3 to 3¼ hours
  • 400°F for 3¼ to 3½ hours
  • 350°F for 3½ to 3¾ hours
  • 325°F for 3¾ to 4 hours
  • For an 18- to 20-pound turkey:
  • 425°F for 3½ to 3¾ hours
  • 400°F for 3¾ to 4 hours
  • 350°F for 4 to 4¼ hours
  • 325°F for 4¼ to 4½ hours
  • For a 21- to 24-pound turkey:
  • 425°F for 4 to 4¼ hours
  • 400°F for 4¼ to 4½ hours
  • 350°F for 4½ to 4¾ hours
  • 325°F for 4¾ to 5 hours
  • For a turkey that weighs 24 pounds or more:
  • 425°F for 4¼ to 4½ hours
  • 400°F for 4½ to 4¾ hours
  • 350°F for 4¾ to 5 hours
  • 325°F for 5 to 5¼ hours

The USDA states that in order to eradicate dangerous bacteria, a turkey must be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165°F. When the temperature reaches 150°F, you should take your bird out of the oven for the juiciest meat. After the turkey is taken out of the oven, the temperature will rise further while it rests and should reach 165°F in about 30 minutes. A temperature of 190°F is preferred by some chefs, such as Chris Morocco, the food director of Epi, for cooking dark meat because it breaks down more collagen and connective tissues, resulting in more tender meat. However, white meat would become dry at this temperature, so it’s best to only aim for it when cooking turkey portions.

Make sure you use an accurate meat thermometer to confirm the final temperature, regardless of the turkey roasting temperature you decide on. Home cooks used to judge when turkey was done by looking at its color. After piercing the bird with a knife, they would know if the juices were clear or pink. But this is not a reliable method for several reasons. First, pinkness can disappear before a safe temperature is reached. Conversely, some turkeys (particularly heritage and organic birds) might never go pink even after cooking to well over 165°F.

You can use a remote food thermometer (the kind with a probe you insert before cooking, which connects to a digital display that sits on your counter) or an instant-read thermometer to check the temperature of the turkey. In either case, position the thermometer so that the thickest area of the turkey’s breast is where its tip is. Avoid touching the bone at all costs as this will distort the reading. To make sure the turkey is cooking evenly throughout, you should also check the thigh.

Loosely tent the browned sections with a double-thick layer of buttered aluminum foil to protect them from the heat if you notice that the skin is becoming too dark and the desired internal temperature has not been reached.

It’s crucial to give the roast turkey at least 30 minutes to rest after it reaches the ideal temperature before slicing. This allows the bird’s juices to settle and be reabsorbed; if you carve it up too soon, the moisture will simply evaporate, leaving you with dried-out meat that sits atop a puddle on your cutting board. Aluminum foil is not required to be placed over the turkey while it is resting, and doing so will simply result in the skin becoming limp. When it’s time to carve, the turkey will still be hot after resting for up to 90 minutes. Which means you’ve got plenty of time to make gravy.

Dry brining ratio and method:

  • ¼ cup kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar (white sugar works fine, too)
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
  • 2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon ground star anise
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • 10 juniper berries, ground to a powder

Dry brining instructions:

Put everything in a bowl, stir, and set aside for half an hour. Apply all over your turkey (or chicken!), then refrigerate for two to four days.

Should you stuff your turkey?

Short answer: NO.

If you stuff your turkey with dressing or stuffing, it is almost hard to ensure that the stuffing is cooked through unless you take it out of the bird and let it finish cooking on its own. Salmonella bacteria are particularly harmful to poultry, so anything that comes into contact with a raw bird must be cooked to 160°F (71°C) before it can be consumed.

You would need to cook the turkey for an EXTRA long time, which would definitely dry out the meat, in order to get the stuffing or dressing to 160°F (71°C).

In the end, cooking the stuffing separately from the turkey is simpler, safer, and yields a more appetizing meat texture.


How long does it take to cook a turkey bird?

The simplest way to figure out turkey roasting times is to calculate 13 minutes per pound at 350°F for an unstuffed turkey (that’s about 3 hours for a 12- to 14-lb. turkey), or 15 minutes per pound for a stuffed turkey.

What cooking method is best for turkey?

Grilling your turkey is a great option if you love crispy, charred skin. Breaking down the bird first into breast halves, leg quarters and wings decreases the cooking time and ensures that each part is cooked to the right temperature. Grilling will keep the heat out of your kitchen and free oven space for the sides.

How is a turkey supposed to be cooked?

Whole turkey: On your meat thermometer, a whole cooked turkey should reach an internal temperature of 165°F in the breast and 175°F in the thigh. Whole turkey, stuffed: The center of the stuffing must reach 165°F. Turkey breast, boneless: The thickest portion of the turkey breast should reach 165°F.