Turkey Cooking Times & Temperature: How Do You Know if It’s Done?


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Friends and family gather every year to give thanks and eat a holiday feast. Turkey is a traditional staple of the Thanksgiving dinner table. The food has been tied to salmonella outbreaks in the past, making proper cooking essential.

New and experienced cooks may have some questions when preparing the poultry dish. How long should you cook it? What temperature should it be?

Here is what you need to know for cooking a turkey:

Turkey Cooking Temperatures

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It is time to cook your turkey, but at what temperature? McCormick suggests an oven temperature of 325 degrees Fahrenheit, adjusting the time based on weight. The only way to know when it is done is to use a meat thermometer,  Butterball explained.

The poultry manufacturer broke their instructions down based on whether you have an oven-safe, leave-in thermometer or an instant-read thermometer.

For cooks using an oven-safe, leave-in thermometer, Butterball instructs to “insert the probe into the thigh. The tip of the thermometer should be placed into the thick part of a thigh without touching the bone.”

The turkey should be removed when it reaches an internal temperature of 180 degrees Fahrenheit, the instructions continue. “The breast must reach 170 degrees F and if the turkey is stuffed, check the temperature of the center of the stuffing to make sure it’s cooking to 165 degrees F.”

For anyone with an instant-read thermometer, Butterball suggests checking the turkey “30-60 minutes before the estimated finish time, then about every 15 minutes thereafter.”

However, Williams-Sonoma noted that a turkey should be removed 3 to 4 degrees below the minimum temperature and then loosely covered in aluminum foil since it will continue cooking internally outside of the oven.

Turkey Breasts Cooking Times

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Having an intimate dinner or simply not wanting to cook a whole turkey, many Americans turn to turkey breasts on Thanksgiving. FoodSafety.gov broke down the time it takes when cooking at an oven temperature of 325 degrees Fahrenheit with a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

For unstuffed breasts weighing between four and six pounds, the site says cooking time could be between 90 minutes and 135 minutes.

If your turkey breast weighs between 6 and 8 pounds, it can take 135 minutes to 195 minutes to cook it unstuffed. However, if the turkey breast is stuffed, it can take between 180 minutes and 210 minutes.

Ovens should still be set to 325 degrees Fahrenheit if you are cooking turkey legs, thighs or wings, explained Love to Know. “Place in pan and cover. Bake 1 to 1 ½ hours depending on size,” according to the publication. “Uncover and bake another 30 minutes or until the bone moves easily and the temperature on an instant-read thermometer not touching bone registers 165 F.”

The publication added that “if using a dark roasting pan or oven-roasting bag, reduce the heat to 300 F.”

Whole Turkey Cooking Time

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Many Americans will choose to cook a whole turkey, which increases in cooking time based on its weight. FoodSafety.gov broke down the cooking time for stuffed and unstuffed turkeys when cooking at an oven temperature of 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

Unstuffed turkeys weighing between eight and 12 pounds take between 2 ¾ and 3 hours. But stuffed turkeys at that same weight take between 3 and 3 ½ hours.

If your turkey weighs between 12 and 14 pounds, cook it unstuffed between 3 and 3 ¾ hours or cook it stuffed between 3 ½ and 4 hours.

Turkeys weighing between 14 and 18 pounds can take between 3 ¾ and 4 ¼ hours to cook unstuffed. For stuffed turkeys of the same weight, it can take between 4 and 4 ½ hours to cook.

An unstuffed turkey weighing 18 to 20 pounds can take between 4 ¼ and 4 ½ hours to cook, whereas a similarly sized stuffed turkey can take between 4 ¼ and 4 ¾ hours.

For those who have a big turkey to cook, between 20 and 24 pounds, it can take 4 ½ and 5 hours to cook unstuffed or 4 ¾ and 5 ¼ hours to cook stuffed.

Deep Frying Turkey Time & Temperature

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Deep frying a turkey has more variables that can affect the time it takes to cook: type of oil, the temperature of the oil and if the turkey has to be broken down. Butterball has provided some general guidelines, which suggest you will need between 2 ½ and 3 gallons of oil. The oil should be preheated to a temperature of 375 degrees Fahrenheit, which may between 25 and 30 minutes.

According to the turkey manufacturer, if the oil is 325 degrees Fahrenheit, it will take between 4 to 5 minutes per pound to cook to reach an internal temperature of 175 to 180 degrees Fahrenheit for dark meat and 165 to 170 degrees Fahrenheit for white meat.

Butterball does note that a turkey weighing 14 pounds or less can be fried in its entirety while a turkey weighing 15 pounds or more should fry the legs and thighs separately.

State Farm issued some safety guidelines for deep-frying a turkey which include not leaving the fryer unattended, keeping the fryer off decks, making sure the turkey is thawed and dry, and wearing protective gear.

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