Roast Turkey Guidelines

Decades of testing in our kitchens--and the experiences of great home cooks all across the country--have confirmed that simplicity is the surest route to a tender, perfectly bronzed turkey. Here's how.

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Roast Turkey Guidelines

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Directions

Buying the turkey:

  1. With birds that weigh 12 pounds or less, allow 1 pound per adult family member. With birds that weigh more than 12 pounds, count on 3/4 pound for each serving. For boneless turkey breast, figure 1/2 pound per person. To allow for leftovers, calculate the size bird you need, then buy one that is 2 to 4 pounds larger.
  2. In the store, look for the "sell by" date on the label of fresh turkeys. This date is the last day the turkey should be sold by the retailer. The unopened turkey should maintain its optimal quality and be safe to use for 1 or 2 days after the "sell by" date. For frozen turkey products, look for packaging that is clean, undamaged, and free of frost.

Thawing safely:

  1. For a whole frozen turkey, leave the bird in its wrapping; place on a tray in the refrigerator for 2 to 5 days. Plan on 24 hours for every 4 pounds; don't count the day you'll be roasting. For instance, a 15-pound bird for Thanksgiving should start thawing Saturday night. Thawed birds will keep 1 or 2 days in the refrigerator.
  2. The bird is thawed and ready for roasting if the giblets can be removed easily and there are no ice crystals in the body or neck cavities. If the center is still frozen, the bird will cook unevenly. If your turkey is not completely thawed on the day you plan to roast it, place the bird in a clean sink full of cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes. Do not thaw at room temperature, in the microwave, or in warm water; those methods will allow harmful bacteria to grow quickly to dangerous food-poisoning levels. After thawing, remove giblets and neck from the interior.

Safe stuffing:

  1. If you don't have an accurate meat thermometer, consider cooking the stuffing in a covered casserole alongside the turkey rather than in the bird. Prepare the stuffing just before you stuff and roast the bird.
  2. To stuff, first measure out the amount of stuffing that will go into the bird, allowing 3/4 cup per pound of bird. (That's 11 cups for a 15-pound bird.) Release drumsticks from band of skin, unhooking the tail or leg clamp if one is provided. The clamp may be removed if you prefer not to use it. Spoon some stuffing loosely into neck cavity. Pull the neck skin over stuffing; fasten to turkey's back with a short skewer.
  3. Loosely spoon stuffing into the body cavity; do not pack or stuffing may not be fully cooked and safe to eat by the time the turkey is done. Spoon any remaining stuffing into a casserole; cover and chill until ready to bake. (If you prefer not to stuff your turkey, place quartered onions and celery in the body cavity to add flavor to the drippings used in gravy. Pull the neck skin to back; fasten with a short skewer.)
  4. Tuck the drumsticks under the band of skin that crosses the tail, or reset into leg clamp. If there isn't a band or if you've removed the clamp, tie drumsticks to tail using kitchen string. Twist wing tips under the back.

Oven roasting:

  1. Place oven rack in lowest position; preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Place turkey, breast side up, on a rack in a shallow pan. To enhance browning, brush with cooking oil. Push a meat thermometer into the center of an inside thigh muscle, not touching bone. Cover turkey loosely with foil, pressing it over drumsticks and neck. Roast, using timings below as a guide. Since most turkeys are self-basting, it is not necessary to baste, but it will add flavor.
  2. When bird has been in the oven for two-thirds of the time listed below, cut skin or string between drumsticks. Remove foil the last 30 to 45 minutes. When done, the thigh meat should be 180 degrees F and the stuffing should be at least 165 degrees F. Check with a meat thermometer. The temperature of the meat will rise about 5 degrees F after the bird comes out of the oven.
  3. When the turkey is done, the drumsticks should move very easily in their sockets and their thickest parts should feel soft when pressed. In addition, juices from the thigh should run clear when pierced deeply with a long-tined fork. Remove from the oven and cover loosely with foil. Let stand 20 minutes. Release legs from leg clamp, if present. To avoid burns or splatters, do not remove clamp until bird has cooled slightly. Remove stuffing before carving. Nutrition information is based on a 4-ounce portion of roast turkey.

Timing Guidelines for Stuffed Whole Turkeys*:

  1. For 8 to 12 pound turkey, roast in 325 degree F oven for 3 to 3-3/4 hours
  2. For 12 to 14 pound turkey, roast in 325 degree F oven for 3-1/4 to 4-1/2 hours
  3. For 14 to 18 pound turkey, roast in 325 degree F oven for 4 to 5 hours
  4. For 18 to 20 pound turkey, roast in 325 F degree oven for 4-1/2 to 5-1/4 hours
  5. For 20 to 24 pound turkey, roast in 325 F degree oven for 4- 3/4 to 5-3/4 hours

*Note:

  1. For unstuffed turkeys of the same weight, reduce the total cooking time by 15 to 45 minutes.

Leftovers:

  1. Do not allow turkey to remain at room temperature more than 2 hours after it comes out of the oven. Cooked turkey and stuffing may be covered and refrigerated separately for up to 2 days.

From the Test Kitchen

Buying the turkey:

With birds that weigh 12 pounds or less, allow 1 pound per adult family member. With birds that weigh more than 12 pounds, count on 3/4 pound for each serving. For boneless turkey breast, figure 1/2 pound per person. To allow for leftovers, calculate the size bird you need, then buy one that is 2 to 4 pounds larger.

In the store, look for the "sell by" date on the label of fresh turkeys. This date is the last day the turkey should be sold by the retailer. The unopened turkey should maintain its optimal quality and be safe to use for 1 or 2 days after the "sell by" date. For frozen turkey products, look for packaging that is clean, undamaged, and free of frost.

Thawing safely:

For a whole frozen turkey, leave the bird in its wrapping; place on a tray in the refrigerator for 2 to 5 days. Plan on 24 hours for every 4 pounds; don't count the day you'll be roasting. For instance, a 15-pound bird for Thanksgiving should start thawing Saturday night. Thawed birds will keep 1 or 2 days in the refrigerator.

The bird is thawed and ready for roasting if the giblets can be removed easily and there are no ice crystals in the body or neck cavities. If the center is still frozen, the bird will cook unevenly. If your turkey is not completely thawed on the day you plan to roast it, place the bird in a clean sink full of cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes. Do not thaw at room temperature, in the microwave, or in warm water; those methods will allow harmful bacteria to grow quickly to dangerous food-poisoning levels. After thawing, remove giblets and neck from the interior.

Safe stuffing:

If you don't have an accurate meat thermometer, consider cooking the stuffing in a covered casserole alongside the turkey rather than in the bird. Prepare the stuffing just before you stuff and roast the bird.

To stuff, first measure out the amount of stuffing that will go into the bird, allowing 3/4 cup per pound of bird. (That's 11 cups for a 15-pound bird.) Release drumsticks from band of skin, unhooking the tail or leg clamp if one is provided. The clamp may be removed if you prefer not to use it. Spoon some stuffing loosely into neck cavity. Pull the neck skin over stuffing; fasten to turkey's back with a short skewer.

Loosely spoon stuffing into the body cavity; do not pack or stuffing may not be fully cooked and safe to eat by the time the turkey is done. Spoon any remaining stuffing into a casserole; cover and chill until ready to bake. (If you prefer not to stuff your turkey, place quartered onions and celery in the body cavity to add flavor to the drippings used in gravy. Pull the neck skin to back; fasten with a short skewer.)

Tuck the drumsticks under the band of skin that crosses the tail, or reset into leg clamp. If there isn't a band or if you've removed the clamp, tie drumsticks to tail using kitchen string. Twist wing tips under the back.

Oven roasting:

Place oven rack in lowest position; preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Place turkey, breast side up, on a rack in a shallow pan. To enhance browning, brush with cooking oil. Push a meat thermometer into the center of an inside thigh muscle, not touching bone. Cover turkey loosely with foil, pressing it over drumsticks and neck. Roast, using timings below as a guide. Since most turkeys are self-basting, it is not necessary to baste, but it will add flavor.

When bird has been in the oven for two-thirds of the time listed below, cut skin or string between drumsticks. Remove foil the last 30 to 45 minutes. When done, the thigh meat should be 180 degrees F and the stuffing should be at least 165 degrees F. Check with a meat thermometer. The temperature of the meat will rise about 5 degrees F after the bird comes out of the oven.

When the turkey is done, the drumsticks should move very easily in their sockets and their thickest parts should feel soft when pressed. In addition, juices from the thigh should run clear when pierced deeply with a long-tined fork. Remove from the oven and cover loosely with foil. Let stand 20 minutes. Release legs from leg clamp, if present. To avoid burns or splatters, do not remove clamp until bird has cooled slightly. Remove stuffing before carving. Nutrition information is based on a 4-ounce portion of roast turkey.

Timing Guidelines for Stuffed Whole Turkeys*:

For 8 to 12 pound turkey, roast in 325 degree F oven for 3 to 3-3/4 hours

For 12 to 14 pound turkey, roast in 325 degree F oven for 3-1/4 to 4-1/2 hours

For 14 to 18 pound turkey, roast in 325 degree F oven for 4 to 5 hours

For 18 to 20 pound turkey, roast in 325 F degree oven for 4-1/2 to 5-1/4 hours

For 20 to 24 pound turkey, roast in 325 F degree oven for 4- 3/4 to 5-3/4 hours

*

For unstuffed turkeys of the same weight, reduce the total cooking time by 15 to 45 minutes.

Leftovers:

Do not allow turkey to remain at room temperature more than 2 hours after it comes out of the oven. Cooked turkey and stuffing may be covered and refrigerated separately for up to 2 days.

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