Thanksgiving is a time for family, gratitude, and of course, delicious food. One of the highlights of this festive occasion is the turkey, the centerpiece of the feast. If you’re wondering how long to cook a turkey and want to ensure it turns out perfectly juicy and flavorful, you’re in the right place. Here, we’ll provide you with all the essential tips and information you need to prepare the best turkey for your holiday celebration.
Tips for Cooking a Turkey
Before we dive into the cooking times, let’s cover some important steps that will contribute to a mouthwatering turkey.
If you have a frozen turkey, proper thawing is crucial. Allow three to five days for the bird to thaw in the refrigerator. Make sure to plan ahead and give yourself enough time.
Preheat the oven
To achieve even cooking, be sure to preheat your oven for at least 15 to 20 minutes. This allows the heat to evenly disperse before placing the turkey inside. Don’t forget to rotate the turkey every hour during cooking to ensure consistent results.
Season the turkey
The day before Thanksgiving, remove the turkey from its packaging and massage kosher salt all over the bird. This not only adds flavor but also helps draw out excess moisture from the skin, resulting in a perfectly crispy finish.
While basting may seem like a traditional practice, it actually prolongs the cooking time and leads to drier meat. Opening the oven door releases heat, so it’s best to resist the temptation to baste.
Stuffing a turkey
Food safety is paramount, so we recommend not stuffing your turkey. Cooking stuffing inside the bird increases the risk of foodborne illnesses. Instead, prepare your stuffing separately to ensure it reaches a safe temperature.
After removing the turkey from the oven, let it rest for at least 30 minutes before carving. This allows the meat to cool slightly and reabsorb its juices, resulting in tender and succulent meat.
How Long to Roast a Turkey?
Now for the moment you’ve been waiting for: the cooking times. Use the following chart as a guideline for cooking an unstuffed turkey in a 325°F oven, based on its weight.
Please note that if you choose to stuff your turkey, the stuffing must reach a safe temperature of 165°F. As a result, the breast and thighs of the turkey may reach 180°F to 185°F, resulting in slightly drier meat.
How to Check the Temperature of a Turkey
To ensure your turkey is fully cooked and safe to eat, use a meat thermometer. Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the bird, typically the thighs. You’ll want a reading of 170°F to 175°F for a whole bird and 165°F for a turkey breast.
Remember to avoid touching any bones with the thermometer, as this can give a false high reading. If the temperature is not yet sufficient, wash the probe before retesting.
What Temperature to Cook a Turkey
For optimal results, our Test Kitchen recommends roasting a turkey at a steady 325°F throughout the cooking process. This temperature strikes a balance, preventing the meat from drying out while ensuring it cooks thoroughly. Before the big day, double-check that your oven is working properly to avoid any last-minute surprises.
How Long to Cook a Turkey per Pound
As a general rule, allow 15 to 20 minutes of cooking time per pound of turkey for an unstuffed bird. However, if you’re planning to stuff your turkey, refer to the chart above for cooking times based on the size of your turkey.
Once the breast reaches 165°F or the thigh reaches 175°F, check the temperature of the stuffing. If it hasn’t reached 165°F, scoop it out and microwave it separately until it reaches the appropriate temperature. This ensures that your turkey stays moist without risking overcooking.
What Size Turkey to Buy
If you’re unsure how much turkey you’ll need, a good guideline is to estimate one pound of turkey per guest. Don’t worry if you can’t find an exact match for the number of guests. It’s always better to have a bit more food than to run out of turkey, the star of the Thanksgiving table.
For those with a hearty appetite or who love leftovers, you can round up to one and a quarter pounds of turkey per person. This will give you plenty of meat to enjoy in the days following the holiday.
Remember, cooking a turkey requires some time and effort, but the end result is worth it. With these tips and guidelines, you’ll be well-prepared to create a memorable Thanksgiving feast. Happy cooking!