How To Cook a Turkey

Image of raw chicken

Cooking a turkey for the first time can be intimidating, but it does not need to be difficult. These instructions will put you on the path to a delicious, moist turkey you can be proud of.

  1. Safety - Thoroughly clean any surfaces the raw turkey or its juices touch with hot soapy water to avoid contamination with bacteria.
  2. Thaw - If your turkey is fresh (not frozen), proceed to the preparation. Frozen turkeys must be thawed before cooking. Do not thaw a turkey on the counter at room temperature because this will cause bacteria to grow. Place the frozen turkey (still in the wrapper) in a dish in the refrigerator for about 1 day for every 5 pounds of turkey. For example, a 20 pound turkey will take about 3 to 4 days to thaw.

    You may also thaw a turkey in cold water. Immerse the turkey (still in the wrapper) in cold water and change the water every 30 minutes. This will take about 2 ½ hours for every 5 pounds of turkey. A 20 pound turkey thawed with this method would take about 10 hours to thaw.

  3. Preparation - When you are ready to cook your turkey, remove the sack of giblets from the cavity. You may either set these aside for cooking separately later or dispose of them. Rinse the outside and the cavity of the turkey in cool water and pat it dry with a paper towel.

    You may stuff your turkey with dressing or roast it unstuffed. If you choose to stuff it, then do so just before you cook your turkey, taking care not to overstuff it. Place the turkey in a shallow roasting pan with a rack, breast side facing up. Tuck the legs into the skin at the tail and tuck the wings under the back. Brush the breast with melted butter or olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

  4. Roast - Place the turkey on the lowest rack in a preheated 325 degree oven and roast for the approximate time listed below. Times given are estimates, so it's best to begin checking doneness with a meat thermometer at the low end of the time range. A turkey is finished cooking when the meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast and the thigh (not touching the bone) reads 165 degrees. The drumsticks should move easily and the juices should run clear.

    Turkey (lbs) Unstuffed Stuffed
    8-12 2 ¾ - 3 hr 3-3 ½
    12-14 3-3 ¾ 3 ½-4
    14-18 3 ¾-4 ¼ 4-4 ¼
    18-20 4 ¼-4 ½ 4 ¼-4 ¾
    20-24 4 ½-5 4 ¾-5 ¼

  5. Rest - After removing your turkey from the oven, allow it to sit, or rest, for 20 to 30 minutes before carving. This allows the juices to be reabsorbed into the meat and makes for a moister turkey.


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