Home | Cooking & Dining | Cooking | How long to cook a turkey per pound

How long to cook a turkey per pound

Font size: Decrease font Enlarge font

How long to cook a turkey per pound depends up on whether your turkey is frozen, stuffed or not stuffed, the size of the bird, and what oven temperature you are going to use.  Generally speaking, frozen, stuffed, large, and low cooking temperature will require a longer time to finish the cooking.
Here are a few tips about how to decide these cooking or roasting parameters.
1. You can cook a turkey directly from a frozen status. But if you thaw your turkey in a refrigerator before cooking, be sure to allow 24 hours for each 4 or 5 pounds of turkey.
Here is the thawing time for different sizes of turkey in the Refrigerator (40 °F or below)

·         4 to 12 pounds 1 to 3 days
·         12 to 16 pounds 3 to 4 days
·         16 to 20 pounds 4 to 5 days
·         20 to 24 pounds 5 to 6 days
2. The U.S. government does not recommend cooking a stuffed turkey as stuffed turkeys are not as safe as unstuffed turkeys. In case you want to stuff your turkey and then cook it, you will need longer time for the cooking.
3. You can decide what size of turkey you want to cook.
4. You need to decide what temperature to cook a turkey.  Cooking temperature or oven temperature is often set at least 325 degrees F, which is the lowest you can use, according to the U.S. government.  
In principle, you can use lower temperature as long as inner temperature of your turkey reaches a minimum of 165 degrees F.  At that temperature, your turkey is safe to eat.  When you roast a turkey, the oven temperature cannot be too low or you will not obtain the characteristic roasted brown color or flavor, not to mention the cooking time will be much longer.
Now you need to decide how long to cook a turkey. The timetables for turkey roasting below are provided by the U.S. government and they are applicable for the cooking at 325 degrees F.  These can help you determine how long to cook a turkey per pound, but remember that these times are approximate.  When you roast your turkey, you will need to use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of your turkey and stuffing to decide whether the cooking is done or not and the turkey is safe to eat.  Basically, the inner temperature of the whole turkey should be measured in the deepest part of thigh and it should reach at least 165 degrees F.
Some other variables that may affect the turkey cooking time include
- Dark roasting pans cook faster; the depth and size of the pan can reduce heat circulation.
- Using foil to cover the turkey for the entire cooking time can slow the cooking process.
- An oven cooking bag can allow for faster cooking.
- The rack position can have an effect on heat circulation.
- When the turkey and the pan are too large, the cooking time can be longer.
Turkey cooking times and temperatures:
The general guidelines on the turkey cooking time per pound are as follows, given by the U.S. government.  Note that time estimates are based on a few assumptions:  first that the oven temperature is 325 degrees F, and second, that the whole turkey is thawed.
For unstuffed turkeys:
Size --- cooking time
·         4 to 8 pounds (breast) --- 1½ to 3¼ hours
·         8 to 12 pounds --- 2¾ to 3 hours
·         12 to 14 pounds --- 3 to 3¾ hours
·         14 to 18 pounds --- 3¾ to 4¼ hours
·         18 to 20 pounds --- 4¼ to 4½ hours
·         20 to 24 pounds --- 4½ to 5 hours
For stuffed turkeys:
Size --- cooking time
·         4 to 6 pounds (breast) --- Not usually applicable
·         6 to 8 pounds (breast) --- 2½ to 3½ hours
·         8 to 12 pounds --- 3 to 3½ hours
·         12 to 14 pounds --- 3½ to 4 hours
·         14 to 18 pounds --- 4 to 4¼ hours
·         18 to 20 pounds --- 4¼ to 4¾ hours
·         20 to 24 pounds --- 4¾ to 5¼ hours
As we said earlier, it is safe to cook a turkey from the frozen state. However, the turkey cooking time will take at least 50 percent longer than recommended for a fully thawed turkey. Also remember to remove the giblet packages and cook them separately.
The U.S. government also recommends the following:
1. Tuck wing tips under the shoulders of the turkey for more even cooking. This is referred to as "akimbo."
2. Add ½ cup of water to the bottom of the pan. This can keep the oven full of moisture so the turkey won't be dried during the roasting process. It also helps the cooking.
3. If your roasting pan does not have a lid, it is always a good idea to cover the turkey with heavy-duty aluminum foil for the first 1 to 1 ½ hours. This helps heat circulation, keeps the turkey moist, and reduces oven splatter.
4. Place your food thermometer in the turkey at the start of the cooking cycle and you can watch the reading to see when the cooking is done.  For a whole turkey, place the thermometer in the deepest part of the thigh. When the temperature reaches 165 degrees F, then check the temperature of the wing and the thickest part of the breast to make sure the temperature in these parts also reaches the safe target.
5. If using an oven cooking bag, make sure to follow the manufacturer's guidelines on the package.
Hopefully, this should give readers enough about how long to cook a turkey.

Jimmy Downs and edited by Denise reynolds

(Send your news to [email protected], Foodconsumer.org is part of the Infoplus.com ™ news and information network)

  • email Email to a friend
  • print Print version
Rate this article