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Roast Turkey Time: How Long Should You Roast Your Turkey?

Roast Turkey Time: How Long Should You Roast Your Turkey?

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Cooking the turkey to the right temperature is crucial

Cook a delicious and moist turkey this holiday.

Thanksgiving is right around the corner and it’s time to get the menu finalized and organize the day’s festivities. With the holiday comes added stress, and while trying to split your time between entertaining guests and cooking about a dozen dishes, sometimes it’s hard to not feel overwhelmed and let a few things slip. But it’s important to not overlook one of the most important parts of the day — the turkey. Cooking the turkey to the right temperature is crucial to achieving moist and succulent meat. We’ve rounded up a helpful and easy-to-follow chart to ensure you cook the best turkey.

If you are roasting your turkey, cook it until it reaches a light golden color. Then loosely cover it with a foil tent. During the last 45 minutes of roasting, remove the foil tent and brown the skin. Basting frequently throughout will also promote even browning. These temperatures are based on a 350-degree oven.

Turkey Weight

Roasting Time (Unstuffed)

Roasting Time (Stuffed)

4 to 6 pounds

1½ to 2 ½ hours

2 ½ to 3 hours

6 to 8 pounds

2 ½ to 3 hours

3 to 3 ½ hours

8 to 12 pounds

3 to 4 hours

3½ to 4½ hours

12 to 16 pounds

4 to 5 hours

4½ to 5½ hours

16 to 20 pounds

5 to 5½ hours

5 ½ to 6 hours

20 to 24 pounds

5½ to 6 hours

6 to 6½ hours

Although your turkey may be golden brown, remember that the only true test to tell if a turkey is done is by taking the internal temperature. Insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh, making sure that the internal temperature reads 165 degrees. To get an accurate reading, make sure that the thermometer is calibrated correctly and is not touching bone. If your turkey is stuffed, the temperature of the stuffing should read 165 degrees. When the turkey is done, let it rest for 20 to 30 minutes before carving to redistribute the juices and make carving easier.

Emily Jacobs is the Recipe editor at The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @EmilyRecipes.

For more turkey talk, head over to The Daily Meal's Guide to Thanksgiving

The Best Way to Cover Your Turkey While It Cooks

Here’s the thing about turkey: Everyone has an opinion on the best way to pull off a showstopper. Some people are devotees to deep-fried or even grilled birds. But if you’re going the traditional route, you'll want to roast your turkey. And if you're roasting a whole bird in the oven, you'll want to make sure it emerges moist and golden. To achieve that balance, the ideal is to let the bird spend time both covered and uncovered: We recommend covering your bird for most of the cooking time to prevent it from drying out, then removing the cover for the last 30 minutes or so to allow the skin to crisp.

There are a few different schools of thought about the best way to cover a turkey. Some people are devoted to cooking turkey in a big roaster with a lid. Others advocate a roasting pan and tinfoil or cheesecloth. Because there’s more than one way to — er — skin a turkey, no method is wrong. Each can yield gorgeous, crispy-skinned succulent results. We’re here to add a little clarity to the conversation by walking you through the pros and cons of each.

Although turkey roasters are not as common as they once were, many supermarkets still carry them. Typically oval-shaped, lightweight and enameled, the inexpensive vessels come with tight-fitting lids. If you’re in the market for one, make sure to check the roaster’s capacity the label will usually say the largest size of turkey it can accommodate. It's important to make sure your turkey will fit without touching the lid.

Here’s the beauty of covered roasters: They roast and braise your turkey at the same time, making for mind-blowingly moist results. Recipes that instruct you to cook your turkey covered will often tell you to add a cup of liquid (water or broth) halfway through roasting. The water will gently steam your bird. Just make sure you uncover the lid about 30 minutes before the turkey’s done roasting so the skin has a chance to get crispy.

Many recipes today will instruct you to cook your bird in a roasting rack tented with foil. Because roasting racks have shallower sides than roasters, more hot air can circulate around the turkey and make for extra-crispy skin. Covering the bird with foil mimics what a roaster lid would do — it traps steam and moistness so the turkey doesn’t dry out — all the while allowing the skin to crisp up. Some recipes will instruct you to cover up the turkey breast instead of the whole bird because it cooks more quickly than the dark meat and is prone to drying out. In either case, you’ll usually remove the foil tent during the last 30 minutes of roasting time to encourage the crispiest skin possible.

We’ve found that covering a turkey in foil yields much moister results than roasting it without foil, and we favor simply covering up the breast to even out cooking time. Some people swear that roasting a turkey breast-side down and flipping it halfway through achieves the same results as a foil covered breast. However, it’s pretty darn hard to flip a heavy, piping-hot bird. And sometimes the roasting rack can leave marks or indentations on the breast that detract from a stunning centerpiece presentation.

Finally, you can also cover your bird in several layers of cheesecloth soaked in butter, herbs and perhaps even a little bit of wine (again, removing it during the last 30 minutes). Cheesecloth turkeys are delightfully moist with crispy skin, although cheesecloth can be expensive and hard to find, as well as messy to apply once it's wet with melted butter — and there’s a small risk that it’ll start smoking in the oven.

At the end of the day, roasting your turkey in a covered roaster will most likely yield the moistest meat out of the three techniques above, while roasting it in a roasting pan covered in foil or cheesecloth will probably make for crispier skin. Whichever way you choose to cover your turkey, we guarantee that everyone will be clamoring for thirds.

Calm Down, Roasting a Turkey Is Easy!

Thanksgiving wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without turkey. Being the one responsible for roasting *THE* turkey for Thanksgiving is like the ultimate job. A lot of pressure rides on you. You either give everyone food poisoning or you dry that sucker out. Well, believe it or not, there is a happy medium! You can get a juicy, thoroughly cooked bird with minimal effort that everyone will surely love. Read on, my loves, a gorgeous golden bird is at the end of this road.

Let’s start at the very beginning:


Step 1

PREHEAT oven to 450°F. Remove neck and giblets from turkey rinse turkey and pat dry. If desired, loosely stuff turkey. Brush with oil.

Step 2

TEAR off a sheet of Reynolds Wrap® Heavy Duty Aluminum Foil 2 1/2 times longer than turkey. Place turkey lengthwise in center of aluminum foil sheet to cook.

Step 3

CLOSE foil loosely by overlapping the ends. Turn up short sides of aluminum foil to hold in juices. Do not seal airtight. Place foil wrapped turkey in roasting pan at least 2 inches deep. Insert meat thermometer through foil into thickest part of inner thigh, not touching bone.

Step 4

ROAST turkey until meat thermometer reads 180°F. For approximate roasting times, see chart above. For stuffed turkey, add 30 minutes to roasting time. To brown turkey, open and turn back foil 30 minutes before roasting is finished. For easy slicing, cover turkey with aluminum foil after removing and let stand 15 minutes.

Additional Tip

Estimate 1 pound per person for generous servings with leftovers. *Large amounts of drippings will collect in the roasting pans when roasting large turkeys. Check the turkey 1 hour before the end of the roasting time and remove excess drippings, if necessary, with a baster or ladle. At the end of the roasting time, remove enough drippings to safely lift roasting pan from the oven.

Should I cover my turkey with foil?

Roasting a turkey with heavy duty aluminum foil is a method that helps lock in moisture to prevent drying out while in the oven. It's an easy step to help ensure your turkey is tender and moist for dinner.

Step 1

PREHEAT oven to a temperature 325°F. Line roasting pan, at least 2 inches deep, with Reynolds Wrap® 18-inch Wide Heavy Duty Aluminum Foil set aside.

Step 2

REMOVE neck and giblets from turkey rinse turkey and pat dry. Place turkey in foil–lined roasting pan. If stuffing is desired, loosely stuff turkey. Brush with oil. Insert meat thermometer into thickest part of thigh, not touching bone.

Step 3

MAKE a foil tent by placing a sheet of foil over turkey, leaving 1 inch between top of turkey and foil tent for heat circulation. Crimp foil onto long sides of pan.

Step 4

ROAST turkey until meat thermometer inserted in thickness part of the thigh not touching the bone reads a temperature of 180°F. For approximate roasting times see chart. For stuffed turkey, add 30 minutes to roasting time. To brown turkey, remove foil tent after 1 hour of roasting. For easy slicing, cover turkey with foil and let stand 15 minutes.

Turkey Cooking Times by Size

An 8 to 12 pound turkey cooks for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. A 12 to 16 pound turkey cooks for 3 to 3 1/2 hours. A 16 to 20 pound turkey cooks for 3 1/2 to 4 hours. A 20 to 24 pound turkey cooks for 4 to 5 hours. A 24 to 28 pound turkey cooks for 5 to 6 1/2 hours. A 28 to 32 pound turkey cooks for 6 1/2 to 7 hours.

Turkey Cook Times

How long should I cook my turkey ? To be 100% sure your turkey is done use a meat thermometer. When the bird reaches 165 degrees F it’s done. The following will give you a rough idea of how long to expect it to take:

  • 10 – 18 lbs: unstuffed 3-3.5 hours: stuffed 3.5-4.5 hours
  • 18 – 22 lbs: unstuffed 3.5-4 hours: stuffed 4.5-5 hours
  • 22 – 24 lbs: unstuffed 2-2.5 hours: stuffed 5-5.5 hours
  • 24 – 29 lbs: unstuffed 4.5-5 hours: stuffed 5.5-6.5 hours

BE SURE to stick your thermometer into the thickest part of the bird & make sure it’s at least 165 degrees.

How to Roast Fully Cooked Whole Turkeys

Fully cooked turkeys are an easy way to get a great tasting turkey on the table in less time. Follow these special directions for a delicious meal:

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Remove wrapper.
  2. Place thawed turkey, breast side up, on flat rack in shallow roasting pan 2 to 2½ inches deep. DO NOT stuff.
  3. Brush or spray skin lightly with vegetable or cooking oil for best appearance.
  4. Insert oven-safe meat thermometer deep into the thigh without touching the bone.
  5. Begin checking the turkey for doneness about 30 minutes before the recommended cook time.
  6. Your turkey is done when the meat thermometer reaches 140°F in thigh.
  7. Carve and serve immediately.

Is it Ready?

With the savory aroma filling your kitchen, you wonder how much longer. The timer still says 15 minutes but it looks crispy and ready? The pop-up timer has popped but the timer hasn’t gone off? How can you really be sure when the turkey is done?

Pop-up timers are a good indicator that you’re there or nearly there and it’s time to get the meat thermometer. Popped or not, they aren’t a foolproof method. A meat thermometer is your safest bet. Insert the thermometer into the deepest part of the breast as well as the thigh. It should read 165°F in the breast and in the thigh.

Always rely on a meat thermometer. Don’t rely on smell, sight, or moving the leg.

For Less Stress, Roast Your Thanksgiving Turkey Ahead

Turkey is the star of most Thanksgiving dinners, but it can also be the most stressful component of the meal for home cooks. How many times have all of us wondered: Will it be ready when the guests arrive? Will the meat be dry? What if the bird isn’t actually cooked throughout?

If roasting a turkey under pressure sounds intimidating, consider another strategy: Cook the turkey ahead. Roasting your turkey ahead will save you the time spent testing and carving, allowing you to spend more time with your guests.

It’s easy: Simply cook it a day or two in advance, let it cool completely, then carve the bird into large pieces—breasts, wings, thighs and drumsticks. Store in a container in the refrigerator until the big day.

If you’re traveling, this is an easy way to transport your turkey. Then complete the following steps to reheat it once you reach your destination.

To reheat the turkey, put the meat back in a roasting pan, pour a bit of chicken stock over the turkey to keep it moist, and cover. Bake in a 325ºF oven alongside side dishes for about 45 minutes to an hour, depending on the size of the bird. Once it’s warm, carve the turkey into slices you’ll find that this is much easier to do with segments than it is with a whole bird.

Though a reheated turkey may lack the crispy skin of one right out of the oven, the method described here can actually result in juicier meat—and an infinitely more relaxed host.

Variations and substiutions

I love this recipe as is and almost always make it as written. But in case you'd like to vary the basic recipe, here are a few ideas for you:

  • You can try different spice combinations. Onion powder is a nice addition. You can also try using smoked paprika instead of regular paprika.
  • Instead of butter, you can rub the meat with olive oil. However, make sure to use light olive oil which can withstand a high cooking temperature. You can also use avocado oil, but that's not as flavorful.