Thanksgiving turkey is not something that you want to get wrong!
All of that planning and cooking is building up to the main event – a beautiful, bronze, juicy turkey.
Knowing how to cook your bird and how long to cook it for can be tricky, especially if it’s your first time. We have put together this quick guide to guarantee that your turkey is perfect every time.
How Long Does A Turkey Take To Cook?
The time a turkey takes to cook will depend on its weight. The following timings are correct for an oven that is set to 325°F (160°C).
4-6lb Turkey Breast: 1 hour 30 minutes to 2 hours 15 minutes
6-8lb Turkey Breast: 2 hours 15 minutes to 3 hours 15 minutes
8-12lb Whole Turkey: 2 hours 45 minutes to 3 hours
12-14lb Whole Turkey: 3 hours to 3 hours 45 minutes
14-18lb Whole Turkey: 3 hours 45 minutes to 4 hours 15 minutes
18-20lb Whole Turkey: 4 hours 15 minutes to 4 hours 30 minutes
20-24lb Whole Turkey: 4 hours 30 minutes to 5 hours.
How To Check If A Turkey Is Cooked?
There Are Two Commonly Used Methods To See If A Turkey Is Cooked.
The first method is to insert a skewer or knife into the thickest part of the meat at the breast. Take out the skewer or knife and press it against the bottom of the small hole you have just made.
This will make juices come out of the meat and run along the skewer or knife.
You can also do the same with the turkey thighs. Insert the skewer or knife into the top of the thickest part of the thighs and pull out when you can feel the bone. Press at the bottom of the incision to see the juices.
A turkey is cooked if the juices are clear. An undercooked turkey will have pink juices.
If you think that the juices are pink then you need to put the bird back in the oven and come back in a little while.
The second method is to use a thermometer. This is a little easier and more accurate.
Simply insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the turkey. You need to use the thickest part of the bird as this will have the most meat and take the longest time to cook.
If this part of the turkey is cooked, you can assume that the whole bird is too. This will either be at the widest part of the breast or the widest point of the thighs.
A whole turkey will be cooked if the temperature reads between 170°F and 175°F (75°C and 80°C). You need to make sure that you do not touch any of the bones in the turkey.
Taking this temperature is going to give a false reading and suggest that the turkey is hotter than it is. This can be dangerous as undercooked meat carries a host of harmful bacteria.
If the temperature was not high enough, just return the turkey to the oven and check again in a little while.
Be sure to thoroughly wash the meat thermometer in hot and soapy water before using it again.
We do not recommend that you use a pop-up timer to time your bird in the oven. These are not accurate.
A pop-up timer will ‘pop’ far too late, meaning that you will overcook your turkey. An overcooked turkey is a dry and unpleasant thing to have.
Use a thermometer or look at the color of the juices to avoid disappointment!
What Temperature Do You Cook A Turkey?
There are so many different recipes that cook whole turkeys available. Some of which do crazy witchcraft to the oven temperatures and will have you cooking the turkey at one temperature for a while, then another, then another.
If you want a nice, simple turkey cooking method, we recommend that you cook your bird at 325°F (160°C). Keep the oven at this temperature for the whole of the cooking time.
This is a fairly low temperature. The lower temperature will help prevent your turkey’s moisture from evaporating too quickly and help guarantee you a moist bird.
But this temperature is warm enough to thoroughly cook the turkey in a reasonable time window.
Just check that your oven is working properly before the big day! We recommend that you invest in an oven thermometer if you are unsure.
Per Pound, How Long Do You Cook A Turkey?
As a general rule, you cook a turkey for 15 to 20 minutes per pound. This timing is for an unstuffed turkey.
Be aware that it is now considered unsafe to cook a turkey with stuffing inside. This is because it is not guaranteed that the turkey’s cavity, where you put the stuffing. Will reach hot enough temperatures to kill any harmful bacteria.
Not willing to give up your stuffing? Try cooking it in a separate dish in the oven. This will mean you still get your delicious stuffing, the turkey gets a hint of its aroma while it cooks,
but no one gets food poisoning. A recipe for a winning Thanksgiving if there ever was!
Do I Need To Baste My Turkey?
If you are cooking it at 325°F (160°C) then no, you should not baste your bird.
This is because the oven temperature is already fairly low to keep the bird moist. Constantly opening the oven door to baste the bird will lower the temperature.
Heat will be let out immediately once the door is open and your turkey will cool a little. This means that you need to wait longer to get it to a safe temperature, increasing the overall cooking time.
We have found that cooking for too long leads to tough and dry turkey meat. Besides, it does not help keep the bird moist. Cooking at 325°F (160°C) for 15 to 20 minutes per pound is the best way to go.
How Do I Get Bronze Turkey Skin?
Crispy, bronzed, delicious skin is the highlight for many people at Thanksgiving. Want guaranteed deliciousness every time? We have the secret.
The day before Thanksgiving – or whatever day you plan to cook your turkey – take it out of all of its packaging and remove the giblets. What you do with those is up to you!
Once out, you need to rub kosher salt all over the skin of the bird. Be quite generous here. Now carefully cover the turkey so that the salt isn’t rubbed off, and return to the fridge until it is time to roast.
The salt will season the meat and draw out water from the skin. No water means that the skin will get lovely and crisp even at a low-temperature setting.
Make sure that you leave enough time for your frozen turkey to properly thaw. This can take anything from 3 to 5 days in the fridge. An unthawed turkey will not be safe to cook.
Let your oven preheat properly. It is tempting to bung the turkey in the oven as soon as it gets to temperature but this is a bad idea.
Waiting an extra ten minutes after your oven says it’s at the right temperature will correct any unequal heat distribution. Be sure to rotate your turkey every hour or so for the same reason.
Finally, make sure that your turkey has enough time to rest before you carve it. This will give the meat time to reabsorb any lost juices, keeping it delicious, plump, and tender.
Cooking a turkey breast will take around an hour and a half. Cooking a large, whole turkey can take up to five hours.
We recommend that you cook low and slow for the best results. Around 325°F (160°C) for 15 or 20 minutes per pound is ideal.
This will help prevent excess evaporation and a dry bird, whilst being warm enough to get the meat to a safe temperature.