How to Cook a Turkey
Get all the tips you need to cook a turkey, from prepping and basting to roasting and carving.
Let's Talk Turkey
So you've decided to be in charge of the turkey this year? You've come to the right place for advice. First of all, if you haven't already purchased your bird, be sure to read all about how to buy a turkey and how to safely thaw frozen turkey. Next, let's talk about how to cook that bird.
Related: Find Your Perfect Turkey Recipe
How to Cook a Turkey: Basic Steps
You'll be glad to know that cooking a turkey is surprisingly easy. Even with just a little bit of prep, you'll get great results you can be proud of. Here's how to prepare a thawed turkey for roasting in the oven:
- Remove the packet of giblets from the cavity of the bird and save them for gravy or stuffing. Next, use paper towels to pat dry the bird inside and out.
- If you are stuffing the turkey, stuff it loosely, allowing about ½ to ¾ cup stuffing per pound of turkey. See how to stuff a turkey.
- Tie drumsticks together with string, and brush the skin with melted butter or oil. See how to truss a turkey.
- What oven temperature to cook a turkey: Place the bird on a rack in a roasting pan, and into a preheated 350 degree F (175 degrees C) oven (or follow recipe instructions). See how long to cook a turkey.
- Roast until the skin is a light golden color, then cover the breast loosely with a foil tent to prevent further browning. During the last 45 minutes of baking, remove the foil tent to brown the skin. Basting is not necessary, but helps promote even browning.
How to Tell When the Turkey is Done
The only reliable test for doneness is to check the internal temperature of the turkey meat, not the color of the skin. Insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh. The thermometer should point towards the body, and should not touch the bone. The turkey is done when the meat reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees F (75 degrees C) at the thigh. If your turkey has been stuffed, it is important to check the temperature of the stuffing as well. The stuffing should also be 165 degrees F. See our review on the best thermometer.
Optional First Steps
Brining: If you have 8 to 24 hours to spare before you put the turkey in the oven, consider using that time to brine the turkey either in a liquid saltwater brine or with a dry rub. This optional step ensures the turkey meat will be juicy and flavorful. See how to brine a turkey.
Spatchcocking (aka butterflying): Removing the backbone of the turkey and flattening it out before roasting cooks the turkey faster and more evenly. See how to spatchcock a turkey.
After The Oven
Be sure to allow at least 30 minutes between the time you take the turkey out of the oven and when you serve it. The turkey needs to "rest" for 20 to 30 minutes, and then you can carve your turkey. You can use that resting time to warm up your Thanksgiving side dishes and make the gravy.
Smart serving tip: warm your serving platter in the oven for about five minutes before you put the sliced turkey on it. You've put in too much work to serve cold turkey!
Turkey Roasting Chart by Weight
You might also want to know how long to cook a stuffed turkey.
Other Cooking Methods
Roasting a turkey is the easiest cooking method; the oven remains a constant temperature, and it's easy to baste the turkey and check the internal temperature periodically. But there are other methods that provide a different experience:
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Can I roast my turkey the day before Thanksgiving then reheat it?
A: Never partially roast a turkey the day before to save on cooking time the next day. This creates the perfect environment for bacterial growth. However, you can fully roast a turkey the day before and heat it for Thanksgiving dinner:
- Carve the roasted bird and layer the meat in a baking dish.
- Seal the baking dish with foil to reduce moisture loss, and heat in a 350 degree F oven for 20 to 30 minutes.
- Breast meat has a greater likelihood of drying out, so place it under the dark meat, and consider covering it with gravy or spritzing with a small amount of turkey stock.
Q: Can I stuff the turkey the night before baking?
A: You should never stuff a bird hours before roasting, as the cavity can provide an environment for bacteria to grow. When cooking stuffing in a turkey, it is always best to prepare it just before filling and roasting the bird. You can also opt to bake the stuffing in a separate baking dish. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake at 400 degrees F for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake the stuffing until the top is golden-brown, about 15–20 minutes more. Whether you bake it in the turkey or on the side, the internal temperature of the dressing should be 165 degrees F to ensure it's fully and safely cooked.
Q: How long can cooked turkey stay out at room temperature?
A: Turkey, or any cooked food, should not be left out for more than 2 hours. Any longer than that, and bacteria will start to develop, leading to food-borne illness. No one wants that. See more about refrigerating, freezing, and reheating Thanksgiving leftovers.