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Turkey Cooking Times & Temperatures – All You Need to Know

We had a beautiful turkey this Thanksgiving – we in Canada celebrate the holiday in October – and when I tweeted out photos, everyone asked the secret to such a gorgeous, juicy bird. We roast turkeys at least twice a year, and regardless of new techniques – bringing, deep-frying, cajun-spicing – we find the best way to roast a turkey is straight-up, stuffed with my Mom’s bread, celery, onion and sage stuffing, rubbed with butter, salt and pepper, and simply cooked.

Let’s walk through, shall we? Roasting a turkey isn’t much different than roasting a chicken. Once you get the hang of it, it’s really no big deal.

If you have a frozen bird, you’ll need to thaw it – keep the turkey in its original wrapper – on a tray if it’s in the fridge, to catch any juices that may leak. Allow approximately 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds in the refrigerator, and approximately 30 minutes per pound in cold water. Once thawed, your turkey can remain in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days.

When you’re ready to roast, unwrap your turkey and set it on a large cutting board or in your roasting pan, on a rack, if possible. Pat the skin dry with paper towel to ensure a crisp, golden skin. If you stuff your turkey, fill the cavities loosely and cook the turkey immediately. (Make sure you first remove the giblets!) Some people cook their turkey upside down (breast-down in the roasting pan) – this won’t produce a picture-perfect turkey, but means the juices will run down into the breast during cooking. Some people start it this way and then flip it halfway through to brown the breast skin, but it’s sometimes awkward to flip a half-cooked turkey, as you can imagine. It seems fairly unanimous that a turkey should be roasted at 325 °F.

There’s no real reason to truss your turkey (that is, tie the legs together), except for aesthetics – I like to leave mine as is. Less work, and the legs brown more evenly on the inside.

Turkey Roasting Chart (at 325 °F)

Unstuffed Turkey:
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

Stuffed Turkey:
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

For stuffed turkeys, the stuffing should reach an internal temperature of 165 °F. If you’re unsure, scoop it out into a baking dish and return it to the oven while the turkey rests.

According to the USDA, a whole turkey is safe when cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165 °F – measure it with a food thermometer poked into the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast.

For information about safely buying, handling, thawing, cooking, storing and reheating your turkey, check out the USDA’s Let’s Talk Turkey—A Consumer Guide to Safely Roasting a Turkey.

Still have questions? The USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline can personally answer your food safety questions on weekdays year-round. Call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at: 1-888-MPHotline or 1-888-674-6854.

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