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Turkey Basics: Safe Cooking of Whole Turkey

A food thermometer should always be used to ensure an internal temperature sufficient to destroy bacteria and prevent overcooking.

Some things which can affect the roasting time of a turkey:

  • A dark roasting pan will cook a bit faster than a shiny pan
  • The size and depth of a roasting pan could reduce heat circulation to all areas of the bird
  • A foil tent might slow cooking if used over the entire roasting time
  • A partially frozen turkey will take longer
  • The oven's thermostat could be inaccurate
  • An oven cooking or roasting bag can shorten roasting time
  • A stuffed turkey will take longer to cook
  • The oven might heat unevenly
  • If a turkey or pan is too large for the oven, heat circulation might be blocked

Safe Roasting

1. Roast at an oven temperature of at least 325° or more, never below. 2. Thaw the turkey completely in the refrigerator in it's own wrapping. Place in a rimmed tray or pan to catch any juices. It will take about 24 hours in the refrigerator (at 40°) for every 4 to 5 pounds of turkey.

3. Place the turkey on a rack in a shallow roasting pan about 2 to 2 1/2 inches in depth, breast side up. Tuck the wing tips back under the back of the turkey and secure the legs with kitchen twine.

4. Add about 1/2 cup of water to the bottom of the pan.

5. A tent made with aluminum foil is helpful to prevent over-browning. Tent the breast portion of the turkey with a foil tent for about an hour, removing for browning, or place the tent on the bird after the turkey has browned sufficiently.

6. If not using a meat thermometer, cook the stuffing in a separate baking dish. If stuffing the bird, stuff loosely and allow more time to reach the correct internal temperature (see below).

7. The temperature should be checked with a food thermometer. The internal temperature must reach 165° in the breast, or 175° to 180° in the thigh. If the bird is stuffed, be sure the center of the stuffing registers 165°.

8. Remove the roasted turkey from the oven and let stand for 15 minutes before carving.

Approximate Cooking Times:


  • Breast, 4 to 6 pounds ....... 1 1/2 to 2 1/4 hours
  • Breast, 6 to 8 pounds ....... 2 1/4 to 3 1/4 hours
  • Whole, 8 to 12 pounds ....... 2 3/4 to 3 hours
  • Whole, 12 to 14 pounds ...... 3 to 3 3/4 hours
  • Whole, 14 to 18 pounds ...... 3 3/4 to 4 1/4 hours
  • Whole, 18 to 20 pounds ...... 4 1/4 to 4 1/2 hours
  • Whole, 20 to 24 pounds ...... 4 1/2 to 5 hours
  • Whole, 8 to 12 pounds ............... 3 to 3 1/2 hours
  • Whole, 12 to 14 pounds .............. 3 1/2 to 4 hours
  • Whole, 14 to 18 pounds .............. 4 to 4 1/4 hours
  • Whole, 18 to 20 pounds .............. 4 1/4 to 4 3/4 hours
  • Whole, 20 to 24 pounds .............. 4 3/4 to 5 1/4 hours
USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline:
Email: mphotline.fsis@usda.gov

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