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How Long to Cook a Roast Turkey

Are you wondering how long to cook a roast turkey? Roasting it in a regular oven is one of the most popular methods. It’s simple, convenient, and gives you juicy meat with a crisp skin for that classic flavor.

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, which means it’s time to start thinking about cooking your roast turkey. But how long should you cook it for? And what temperature should you cook it at?

Whether you’re a first-time cook or a seasoned pro, we’ve got answers to all your questions.

Let your Holiday Season begin and no matter what size of the turkey or how many people you are serving, get great results every time following these simple instructions.

How Long to Cook a Roast Turkey

Roasting a Whole Turkey in an Oven

Roasting a whole turkey is quite easy if you follow these simple steps you will end up with great results.

If using a fresh or thawed turkey, follow these easy instructions.

Preheat the oven to 425° Fahrenheit.

Remove the turkey from the wrapping. Drain any juices and remove any giblets in the cavity. Pat dry with paper towels.

Place the turkey on a roasting rack in a shallow roasting pan that is approximately 2 ½ inches deep.

Tuck the winds back. This will not only provide a nicer appearance, but it will help steady the bird when carving.

Next, brush the skin with oil. You can also use a cooking spray for this.

For s stuffed turkey, insert an oven-safe meat thermometer into the middle of the stuffing.

For an unstuffed turkey, insert an oven-safe meat thermometer into the lower part of the thigh without touching the bone.

Place your turkey in the oven and bake until done. Bake at 425° Fahrenheit for 1 hour then reduce the temperature to 325° Fahrenheit and continue baking until done.

When the temperature reaches 165°Fahrenheit in the breast or stuffing, the turkey is done. Remove the turkey from the oven and let stand for 15 minutes before carving as this will help seal in the juices.

Holiday Dinner Served

How Much Turkey to Plan Per Person?

Plan on 1½ pounds of turkey per person. This will allow plenty of turkey meat for your guests. Keep in mind the amount can vary depending on how many side dishes and desserts you will be serving to round out the meal.

 Here is a quick reference on the size of bird needed to feed your guests.

Number of Guests Size of Turkey
4 to 6 people7 to 9 pound turkey
7 to 10 people10 to 15 pound turkey
11 to 16 people16 to 24 pound turkey
17 to 20 people25 to 30 pound turkey

So, whether you are serving turkey on Thanksgiving Day or Christmas Day, you can plan on enough food.

If serving a smaller group, a turkey breast is a great cut of meat to consider. Additionally, if hosting a large party with 20 or more people, you may consider making more than one turkey rather than just one large bird.

What is the best temperature to cook a turkey?

The best way to roast a perfect turkey is a two stage process. Begin at higher temperatures to brown and lower the temperature to finish baking the inside. Begin with an oven preheated to 425°F (218°C) for 1 hour, then turn down to the oven temperature to 325°F (163°C) for however long it takes until the turkey is done. The internal temperature should be 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

Baked Turkey with Crispy Skin

How Long to Cook a 16 Pound Stuffed Turkey

To cook a 16 pound turkey at 325°F in the oven, plan on 4 to 4 ½ hours. Temp at 4 hours. Once the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit, it is done. For best results, insert an instant read thermometer into the center of the stuffing. Remove from the heat and tent with aluminum foil and let the turkey rest for 15 minutes before carving. This will lend itself to a juicy turkey.

Pro Tip. If using a convection oven, the baking times will be shorter. Therefore, make sure to check for doneness 1 hour ahead of time.

Here is a guide to use for approximate baking times for common bird sizes.

  • 10 to 12 pound turkey, roast 3¼ hours to 3½ hours.
  • 13 to 16 pound turkey, roast 3½ to 4 1/2 hours.
  • 17 to 20 pound turkey, roast 4 to 4 ¾ hours.
  • 21 to 24 pound turkey, roast 4 ¾ to 5 ¼ hours.

How Long to Cook an Unstuffed Turkey at 325

A stuffed turkey will take longer to cook them an unstuffed turkey. A good estimate of time for cooking an unstuffed bird is to figure about 13 minutes per pound of turkey. Use this guide as an estimate when planning your cooking time for a thawed turkey. If you turkey is a bit frozen yet, adjust the time longer.

  • 8 to 10 Pounds, Bake for 1 ½ hours to 2 ¼ hours
  • 11 to 13 Pounds, Bake for 2 ½ hours to 3 hours
  • 14 to 16 Pounds, Bake for 3 hours to 3 ½ hours
  • 17 to 18 Pounds, Bake for 3 ½ hours to 4 hours
  • 19 to 20 Pounds, Bake for 4 hours to 4 ½ hours

How to Use a Meat Thermometer for Turkey?

The meat will cook at different rates on the turkey. Therefore, you should check three different locations to make sure that the entire bird is brought up to temperature.

Check the breast, between the thigh and the body, and the joint between the drumstick and thigh. A digital instant-read thermometer should read a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F throughout.

When is Turkey Safe to Eat?

The best way to determine if turkey is safe to eat is check to make sure it is a safe temperature. The internal temperature reading should be 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

How Long to Thaw a Turkey?

For food safety, the best place to thaw a frozen turkey is in the refrigerator. If you have a large bird, this can take up to a week, so you need to plan ahead. Use this chart to help you determine how many days ahead of time you need to start thawing your whole turkey.

Size of Frozen TurkeyThawing Time
6 to 12 pounds1 to 3 days
13 to 16 pounds3 to 4 days
17 to 20 pounds4 to 5 days
21 to 24 pounds5 to 6 days

Speed Thaw Method

If you need to get your turkey thawed the day you are making it. You can use the Speed Thaw Method. Many restaurants use running water to thaw frozen meat before cooking it to order. With a large bird that is frozen, it is much harder to use the running water method to thaw.

However, you can still achieve a quick thawing method using water. Find a large container that will hold your turkey. An idea is a large water cooler. Place the unopened turkey breast-side down in the cooler. Fill the cooler with enough cold water to cover the turkey. After an hour, you may want to replace your water. It should be thawed within 2 to 3 hours.

Pro Tip: make sure that the wrapping is still on the turkey creating an airtight seal. The turkey may float in the beginning, but as it thaws it will begin to sink.

Letting your bird sit at room temperature is okay for 1 hour, but any longer than that and it becomes unsafe.

Thanksgiving Dinner with Roast Turkey

Should You Brine Your Turkey?

Brining will lend to a tender, moist and juicy meat. However, it takes time to brine ahead of time. If you are short on time, brining is not a must.

You can totally make a whole roast turkey without taking the time to brine.

Pro Tip. Make sure to check the packaging label. If the turkey has already been pro-brined, then you should skip brining yourself. As you will end up with a bird that is too salty!

If the packaging says basted, kosher, enhanced, pre-brined, and self-basted, then it has already been brined for you.

How to Salt and Water Brine a Turkey

If you choose to brine your turkey, here are a few tips on how to do it.

First, the brine mixture of salt and water is based on the length of brining, not the size of the bird.

You can add other seasonings and spices to the brine such as granulated sugar, brown sugar, maple syrup, and Lemon or orange slices. They will all help add a subtle sweetness.  

In general, the longer you plan on brining your bird, the less sale to water ration you need. Here is a guide on salt and water ratios for a whole bird.

  • 4 hours of brining 1 Cup Kosher Salt to 1 Gallon Water
  • 8 hours of brining 3/4 Cup Kosher Salt to 1 Gallon Water
  • 12 hours of brining 1/2 Cup Kosher Salt to 1 Gallon Water
  • 24 hours of brining 1/4 Cup Kosher Salt to 1 Gallon Water

How to Dry Brine a Turkey

Dry brine involves rubbing the salt, seasonings, and/or sugar directly onto the meat and skin, and then letting the meat rest in the refrigerator for a period of time before cooking. When dry brining a turkey, the amount of salt is based on the size of the bird.

  • 2 Tablespoons of Kosher Salt for a 10 Pound Turkey
  • 3 Tablespoons of Kosher Salt for a 14 Pound Turkey
  • 4 Tablespoons of Kosher Salt for a 16 Pound Turkey
  • 5 Tablespoons of Kosher Salt for a 20 Pound Turkey

Optional Seasonings to add to the brine: 1 1/2 teaspoons dried herbs, such as thyme, sage, and rosemary. 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Dry Brining Steps

Dry brining takes 1 to 3 days.

Rub the salt and seasonings over all the skin and into all the crevices. Pro Tip. Let the turkey sit breast side up uncovered in the refrigerator. This will help dry out the skin, which will yield a crispy golden skin when roasted.

Just pat the skin dry.

Loosen the skin. Use your hands to loosen the skin from the meat; the breast, meaty part of the legs, and the thickest part of the thigh. Make sure to leave the skin itself intact.  

Add the brining seasoning. Sprinkle 2 teaspoons of the salt mixture into the body cavity of the turkey. Next rub another 2 to 4 teaspoons of the salt mixture into the meat of the breasts, thighs, and legs under the skin.

Season the outer skin. Sprinkle the salt mixture over all the skin of bird.

Let the brining happen. Place the turkey breast-side up in a rimmed baking sheet or roasting pan with an oven rack and refrigerate uncovered for 1 to 3 days. When you are ready, it will be ready to roast, grill, or deep fry.

What to Serve with Turkey?

Perfect recipes to make ahead of time for your Thanksgiving menu. In fact, you should make them ahead of time to spend more time with your guests and they will taste amazing too. 

Find over 40 side dishes for Thanksgiving potluck

Stove Top stuffing Thanksgiving recipes that use a box of stuffing. Whether it’s turkey, chicken, meatballs, meatloaf, or a slow cooker side, find great ideas for your next family gathering.

How To Cook a Turkey
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How To Cook a Turkey

This is the easiest, simplest way to roast a whole turkey. Big or small, brined or not, free-range, organic, or otherwise. Cooking times will vary, but the basic techniques will be the same.
Roasting a whole turkey is quite easy if you follow these simple steps you will end up with great results.
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time3 hrs 30 mins
Total Time3 hrs 45 mins
Course: Dinner
Cuisine: American
Keyword: christmas recipe, Holiday recipe, thanksgiving recipe
Servings: 10 Servings
Calories: 6149kcal

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Ingredients

  • 15 pound turkey
  • 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 1 Tablespoon Salt
  • 1 Teaspoon Black Pepper

Instructions

  • If using a fresh or thawed turkey, follow these easy instructions.
  • Preheat the oven to 425° Fahrenheit.
  • Remove the turkey from the wrapping. Drain any juices and remove any giblets in the cavity. Pat dry with paper towels.
  • Place the turkey on a roasting rack in a shallow roasting pan that is approximately 2 ½ inches deep.
  • Tuck the winds back. This will not only provide a nicer appearance, but it will help steady the bird when carving.
  • Next, brush the skin with oil. You can also use a cooking spray for this. Season with salt and pepper unless you are brining your bird.
  • For s stuffed turkey, insert an oven-safe meat thermometer into the middle of the stuffing.
  • For an unstuffed turkey, insert an oven-safe meat thermometer into the lower part of the thigh without touching the bone.
  • Place your turkey in the oven and bake until done. Bake at 425° Fahrenheit for 1 hour then reduce the temperature to 325° Fahrenheit and continue baking until done.
  • When the temperature reaches 165°Fahrenheit in the breast or stuffing, the turkey is done. Remove the turkey from the oven and let stand for 15 minutes before carving as this will help seal in the juices.

Your Own Private Notes

Notes

How to Salt and Water Brine a Turkey

If you choose to brine your turkey, here are a few tips on how to do it.
First, the brine mixture of salt and water is based on the length of brining, not the size of the bird.
You can add other seasonings and spices to the brine such as granulated sugar, brown sugar, maple syrup, and Lemon or orange slices. They will all help add a subtle sweetness.
In general, the longer you plan on brining your bird, the less sale to water ration you need. Here is a guide on salt and water ratios for a whole bird.
• 4 hours of brining 1 Cup Kosher Salt to 1 Gallon Water
• 8 hours of brining 3/4 Cup Kosher Salt to 1 Gallon Water
• 12 hours of brining 1/2 Cup Kosher Salt to 1 Gallon Water
• 24 hours of brining 1/4 Cup Kosher Salt to 1 Gallon Water

How to Dry Brine a Turkey

Dry brine involves rubbing the salt, seasonings, and/or sugar directly onto the meat and skin, and then letting the meat rest in the refrigerator for a period of time before cooking. When dry brining a turkey, the amount of salt is based on the size of the bird.
• 2 Tablespoons of Kosher Salt for a 10 Pound Turkey
• 3 Tablespoons of Kosher Salt for a 14 Pound Turkey
• 4 Tablespoons of Kosher Salt for a 16 Pound Turkey
• 5 Tablespoons of Kosher Salt for a 20 Pound Turkey
Optional Seasonings to add to the brine: 1 1/2 teaspoons
dried herbs, such as thyme, sage, and rosemary. 3/4 teaspoon
freshly ground black pepper
Dry brining takes 1 to 3 days. Rub the salt and seasonings over all the skin and into all the crevices. Pro Tip. Let the turkey sit breast side up uncovered in the refrigerator. This will help dry out the skin, which will yield a golden crispy skin when roasted.
Just pat the skin dry.
Loosen the skin. Use your hands to loosen the skin from the meat; the breast, meaty part of the legs, and the thighs. Make sure to leave the skin itself intact.
Add the brining seasoning. Sprinkle 2 teaspoons of the salt mixture into the cavity of the turkey. Next rub another 2 to 4 teaspoons of the salt mixture into the meat of the breasts, thighs, and legs under the skin.
Season the outer skin. Sprinkle the salt mixture over all the skin of bird.
Let the brining happen. Place the turkey breast-side up in a rimmed baking sheet or roasting pan and refrigerate uncovered for 1 to 3 days. When you are ready, it will be ready to roast, grill, or deep fry.

Nutrition

Calories: 6149kcal | Carbohydrates: 0.1g | Protein: 0.02g | Fat: 682g | Saturated Fat: 200g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 157g | Monounsaturated Fat: 294g | Cholesterol: 694mg | Sodium: 698mg | Potassium: 3mg | Fiber: 0.1g | Sugar: 0.001g | Vitamin A: 1IU | Calcium: 1mg | Iron: 0.04mg

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