Have you ever been to a Thanksgiving meal and ended up having to drool over the side dishes while waiting for the turkey to be cooked all the way? Avoiding cold sides and hangry family members is easy when you know how long to cook a turkey. The length of time will depend on a few factors like the size of the turkey and the method of cooking it, so you'll want to be prepared ahead of time so that you don't make the mistake of not having the turkey cooked by dinner time.
How Long to Cook a Turkey Per Pound
The easiest way to estimate the length of time it will take to cook a turkey is to use the weight of the bird. You can count on turkey taking about 20 minutes per pound in the oven at 325 degrees. If you are smoking a turkey, plan on about 30 minutes per pound at 225 to 250 degrees. Frying turkey is the fastest way to make a turkey, taking only about 3.5 minutes per pound.
How to Check the Temperature of a Turkey
The only way for you to accurately check the temperature of a turkey is to use a meat thermometer. We use a meat thermometer probe inserted into the thickest part of the thigh so that we can monitor the internal temperature of the turkey while it is cooking. The thigh meat is the best spot to test because it is the slowest cooking part. You'll want to make sure that the thigh registers at least 165 degrees. Be careful if you decide to cook the turkey more than to an internal temp of 165 as the breast meat tends to dry out.
Tips for Cooking a Turkey
- The best tip that you'll ever learn is to plan ahead. Start by making sure that you thaw your turkey out ahead of time. The only safe way to thaw a frozen bird is to put it in the refrigerator on a roasting rack. It takes several days and up to a week to thaw a turkey, so you'll need to make sure you set that bird out early. Forgetting to thaw a turkey is the fastest way to make sure you don't get Thanksgiving dinner on the table on time.
- Brining a turkey not only allows your bird to get great flavor, but it also helps the turkey cook faster and more evenly. Brining is easy to do and can be as simple as water, salt, and oil. Adding herbs, spices, and flavors will help your bird get great flavor. Here is our favorite recipe.
- Injecting a turkey with marinade won't change the cooking times much, but it will allow the bird to stay moist and juicy, even when you cook it a little too long. Always inject marinade at least 12 hours and no more than 36 hours ahead of time. If you are using a brine, do not inject salty marinades into the turkey because it will be too salty. Many store-bought turkeys are pre-injected – you don't want to inject an injected turkey. We usually try and find a turkey that is free from additives for the best results.
- Don't forget to remove the giblets from the cavity. Some processors package these parts in plastic bags that can melt and contaminate the turkey meat during the cooking process.
- Don't forget to let the turkey rest after cooking. Regardless of the method you use to cook the turkey, letting it rest for about 45 minutes will allow the turkey to reabsorb juices and helps keep the meat from becoming dry.
How Do I Get Crispy, Brown Skin on My Turkey?
You can employ a few tricks to enhance the crispy, brown skin you are looking for. The way you cook your turkey will determine what works best, but there are a few tricks that work regardless of the method.
- While roasting or smoking your turkey, you can brush melted butter onto the skin. The butter will help the skin get crispy and turn a deep, russet brown.
- Smoking your turkey will also give it great, crispy skin. We recommend using hickory wood chips or apple wood chunks for smoking turkey to get a great flavor.
- A deep-fried turkey will almost always come out with beautiful, golden skin that is delicate and crispy. Deep frying is the fastest way to cook evenly and get great results.
A mistake that many people make is to tent or wrap the turkey in aluminum foil while it is resting. This causes the skin to get rubbery. The turkey will be plenty hot enough that it won't cool off in the brief resting period.
Getting the turkey cooked in time for Thanksgiving dinner requires planning ahead and understanding how long it takes for a turkey to cook. It is always best to make sure you have plenty of time. We usually start our turkey so that it will be ready about an hour before we are planning to serve dinner. That gives us the perfect amount of time to let the bird rest and carve it perfectly before it's time to sit at the table.