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What temperature to Cook a Turkey - Safe Cooking

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When it comes to what temperature to cook a turkey, there are two things you need to know.  they are the oven temperature and the inner temperature of the turkey when the cooking is done. 

The U.S. government recommends the oven temperature be set at at least 352 oF and the inner temperature in the deepest part of the thigh of the whole turkey or the thickest part of the turkey breast should be at least 165 oF when the cooking is finished. 

Turkey when its inner temperature reaches such a temperature is considered safe to eat. At that temperature, bacteria and foodborne pathogens in the turkey get killed.

Turkey Cooking Time

Now the turkey cooking time of a whole turkey is determined by a variety of variables including, but not limited to oven temperature and configuration, the size of the turkey, whether the bird is frozen or stuffed. 

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, 

  • A partially or completely frozen turkey requires longer cooking. 
  • A stuffed turkey takes longer to cook than an unstuffed turkey.  
  • The oven may heat food unevenly. 
  • Dark roasting pans cook faster than shiny metals. 
  • The depth and size of the pan can reduce heat circulation to all areas of the turkey. 
  • The use of a foil tent for the entire time can slow cooking. 
  • Use of the roasting pan's lid speeds cooking. 
  • An oven cooking bag can accelerate cooking time. 
  • The rack position can have an affect on even cooking and heat circulation. 
  • A turkey or its pan may be too large for the oven, thus blocking heat circulation.

Turkey Cooking Times and Temperatures

How long to cook a turkey depends on a number variables including the size of turkey, pan size and configuration, oven temperature among other things.

Here is a turkey cooking time table for cooking an unstuffed turkey at the condition given below.

Size of turkey - Cooking time for unstuffed turkey - cooking time for stuffed turkey

  • 4 to 6 pounds (breast) - 1 1/2 to 2 1/4 hours - Not usually applicable
  • 6 to 8 pounds (breast) - 2 1/4 to 3 1/4 hours - 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours 
  • 8 to 12 pounds - 2 3/4 to 3 hours - 3 to 3 1/2 hours 
  • 12 to 14 pounds - 3 to 3 3/4 hours - 3 1/2 to 4 hours 
  • 14 to 18 pounds - 3 3/4 to 4 1/4 hours - 4 to 4 1/4 hours 
  • 18 to 20 pounds - 4 1/4 to 4 1/2 hours - 4 1/4 to 4 3/4 hours 
  • 20 to 24 pounds - 4 1/2  to 5 hours - 4 3/4  to 5 1/4  hours

Cooking condition for the cooking time table:

- Turkey is thawed or fresh

- The oven temperature is set at at least 325 °F.

- Target inner temperature in turkey is at least 165 °F. 

Remeber that these are estimate on how long to cook an unstuffed turkey.  Stuffed turkeys need longer time to cook.

How to Cook a Turkey

1. Set the oven temperature at 325 °F or higher.  It can be as high as 350 oF.

2. Be sure the turkey is completely thawed. A frozen turkey doubles the cooking time for cooking a thawed turkey.

3. Place the turkey breast - side up on a flat wire rack in a shallow roasting pan 2 to 2 1/2 inches deep.

Optional steps:

Tuck wing tips back under shoulders of the turkey (called "akimbo"). This can help the cooking.

Add one-half cup water to the bottom of the pan. This can help heat circulation and prevent loss of moist.

In the beginning, a tent of aluminum foil may be placed loosely over the breast of the turkey for the first 1 to 1 1/2 hours, then removed for browning. Or, a tent of foil may be placed over the turkey after the turkey has reached the desired golden brown color.

4. For optimum safety, cook stuffing separately in a casserole. If you want to cook a stuffed turkey, mix all ingredients just before stuffing it; stuff loosely. Additional time is required for the stuffed turkey and the stuffing to reach a safe minimum internal temperature.  Using a food thermometer to check the temperature in the stuff to make sure the turkey is completely cooked and is safe to eat. 

5. Also a food thermometer is needed to use to check the temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast.

6. Let the turkey sit 20 minutes before removing stuffing and carving. 

David Liu

The article may contain content from USDA.

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