Turkey is the star of the Thanksgiving table. In fact, without turkey, it just isn’t Thanksgiving in many homes. Given the extreme importance of the center stage, celebratory bird, turkey cooking times are crucial to the success of the feast.
Safety first. Before considering turkey cooking times and cooking your turkey, you must be aware of a few important points. Turkeys should be defrosted and cooked immediately or kept no longer than a day or two defrosted in the refrigerator. Always remove the giblets from the turkey cavity after thawing and before cooking.
Important temperatures. For best health, it’s recommended by the United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service to cook stuffing outside of the turkey in a casserole dish. Always cook your turkey in a 325-degree or higher oven and until a meat thermometer reads at least 165 degrees or more, even if your turkey has a pop-up timer. Many people prefer their turkey to be cooked to 180 degrees.
Turkey cooking times. Place your cleaned and dried turkey in a large roasting pan. If desired, you can use a roasting rack. Be sure the turkey is breast side up. Place the turkey and pan in the preheated 325-degree oven and calculate the cooking time. Times are approximate, so always use the handy meat thermometer to double-check that the turkey is fully cooked before removing it from the oven. Turkey breast from 4 to 8 pounds will need from 1 1/2 to 3 1/4 hours of cooking time. Turkeys from 8 to 12 pounds will need 2 3/4 hours, 12- to 14-pound turkeys should cook for 3 3/4 to 4 1/4 hours, 18- to 20-pound turkeys should cook from 4 1/4 to 4 3/4 hours, and big birds of 20 to 24 pounds will require 4 1/2 to 5 hours in the oven. Once the turkey is cooked to temperature, let it sit for at least 20 minutes before carving to redistribute the juices and for easier carving.
Note: You can cook a frozen turkey without defrosting first, but the cooking time will need to be adjusted. Expect up to 50 percent longer cooking time than if the bird was defrosted prior to cooking. It is important to remove the giblet package once the bird has cooked enough that it is no longer frozen and the package can be easily removed. Use tongs or a fork carefully as to avoid breaking the bag apart and making a mess.