Once you’ve chosen your Thanksgiving turkey recipe and selected your bird, it’s time to think about cooking. If you’re using a specific recipe, you can follow the instructions outlined in the directions—but if you’re keeping it simple, here are some all-purpose guidelines to successful turkey roasting every time.
Your Roasting Pan
For best results, roast your turkey on a wire rack in an open roasting pan. Because of the turkey’s weight, a sturdy pan with good handles is recommended. Should you decide to use a foil roasting pan, double it for extra strength and take special care when transferring it into and out of the oven. Keep these rules in mind when picking a pan to fit the size of your turkey.
- Up to 12 pounds: 14″ x 10″ x 2 3/4″ high (small)
- Up to 16 pounds: 15 3/4″ x 12″ x 3″ high (medium)
- Up to 20 pounds: 16″ x 13″ x 3″ high (large)
First, Bring Your Bird to Room Temp
Your turkey will cook more evenly and faster if you start it out at room temperature so remove the turkey from the refrigerator 1 hour before roasting. If you plan to stuff your turkey, wait until you’re ready to put it in the oven before putting the stuffing in the turkey.
Figure out Your Bird’s Time & Temperature
Creating a loose tent of aluminum foil over your turkey can keep the bird moist and avoid over-browning the skin. If you’re concerned about over-cooking, start roasting the bird with the foil for the first hour, then remove it for the remainder of the cooking time.
For an unstuffed turkey, start with an oven preheated to 400ºF. Here’s the trick: start roasting the bird breast side down for the first 45 minutes, then flip it breast side up and reduce the temperature to 325ºF to finish cooking. Since cooking times depend on the size of the turkey, use these guidelines.
- 10 to 12 pounds: 2 1/2 to 3 hours
- 12 to 14 pounds: 2 3/4 to 3 1/4 hours
- 14 to 16 pounds: 3 to 3 3/4 hours
- 16 to 18 pounds: 3 1/4 to 4 hours
- 18 to 20 pounds: 3 1/2 to 4 1/4 hours
- 20+ pounds: 3 3/4 to 4 1/2 hours
To ensure that a stuffed turkey cooks evenly, roast the bird slowly, breast side up, at 325ºF, covering the breast loosely with foil for the first two-thirds of the roasting time. Using the chart above, add about 30 minutes to the total cooking time for stuffed birds weighing 16 pounds or less, and about 1 hour for birds weighing more than 16 pounds.
Test Your Turkey for Doneness
Turkey breast and thighs must reach different internal temperatures for ideal doneness. The breast should register 165ºF and the thigh, 175ºF. Begin testing for doneness about 30 minutes before the total roasting time is reached.
- To test the breast: Using an instant-read thermometer, insert it into the meatiest part, several inches above the wings.
- To test the thigh: Insert the instant-read thermometer away from the bone, alongside the opening of the main cavity underneath the drumstick. This is the meatiest part of the thigh.
For an easy video tutorial on taking the temperature of a turkey, click here. The turkey will continue to cook internally after you remove it from the oven, so you may take it out when the thermometer registers 3-4ºF below the minimum temperature. Then cover the bird loosely with aluminum foil. If roasting a stuffed bird, be sure the stuffing reaches 165ºF.
Give It a Rest
After taking the turkey out of the oven, let it rest for 20 to 30 minutes. This allows time for some of the juices to be absorbed back into the meat, which makes it juicier and easier to carve.