While no holiday meal is complete without scrumptious side dishes and an entire table full of festive pies, the real star of Thanksgiving is the turkey. The only thing about turkeys is that, well, most people don’t make them all that often. This big bird can be quite intimidating to cook correctly, and one of the biggest Thanksgiving dinner questions is: How long do I cook the turkey?
Of course, how long you need to cook your turkey for will depend on how many people you're cooking for and how big of a turkey you buy. It will also depend on which method you use for cooking your turkey. But to keep things simple, let's assume you're going to be classic and roast your bird in the oven.
Though turkey recipes will vary, the general advice is to set your oven to 325 degrees. If cooking it at this temperature, here are the times the USDA recommends for unstuffed turkey:
4-8 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
It's not generally recommended you stuff your turkey, but if you choose to, the time for roasting is increased:
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: ¼ to 4¾ hours
20 to 24 pounds: 4¾ to 5¼
These timelines are just a general recommendation. While your grandma may have cooked by look and taste, the only way to ensure your turkey is cooked all the way through is to take the temperature at the thickest part of the breast and thigh; it’s done when your meat thermometer reads 165 degrees. Don’t rely on those little plastic pop-up timers or the time table alone. Doing so would be one of the biggest turkey cooking mistakes.