How Long Dies a Turkey Take to Cook


You know what they say: “All turkeys taste good on Thanksgiving.” Well, maybe not all of them. But there are ways to make sure that your turkey is moist and delicious, regardless of how long it takes to cook. In this post we’ll explore what those factors might be and give you tips for cooking a large bird so that it will turn out just right each time.

Plan ahead.

Planning ahead is one of the most important parts of any Thanksgiving meal, and it’s especially true for turkeys. If you want to avoid last minute stress and make sure your turkey comes out perfectly, plan at least one day in advance.

Planning a few days in advance will help ensure that all of your sides are ready when they need to be (and don’t forget about dessert!).

What kind of turkey do you have?


The first thing you need to know is whether your turkey is fresh or frozen. A fresh turkey will take longer to cook than one that has been frozen, because it’s bigger and older. Also, if there are no ice crystals in the meat when you put it in the oven (i.e., if it was just defrosted), then that means that your bird has been stored at a higher temperature–and ice crystals form when water freezes out of food at low temperatures. If there are no ice crystals present in your bird when you cook it, then its moisture content will be higher than normal as well as drier overall; this makes for tougher meat and less juicy results overall!

So how long does it take? Well…it depends on what kind of birdy goodness we’re talking about here:

Size matters.

One of the biggest factors affecting how long it takes to cook a turkey is its size. A large turkey will take longer than a small one, and this can be seen in the prices as well — larger turkeys tend to cost more than smaller ones.

If you’re looking for a tender, juicy bird that’s ready in under three hours (a perfect time frame if you don’t have time on Thanksgiving), consider buying a small turkey instead of going with something larger. The same goes if you want something with more flavor; smaller birds are often more flavorful than their larger counterparts because they have more room for marination and brining before being cooked.[1]

How do you want the turkey cooked?

How do you want the turkey cooked?

  • Cook the turkey at 325 degrees for 15 minutes per pound. When the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees, pull it out and let it rest for 15 minutes before carving. The USDA recommends cooking until an instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part of thigh registers 170 degrees for safety reasons (although some cooks prefer to go by feel). You can also use a meat thermometer inserted into center of breast or wing; this will take about 2 1/2 hours to reach 160 degrees F., which is well below what most people consider “done”–but if this is your approach, make sure that nothing else has been added to marinate or season with salt before cooking because otherwise you may end up with salted meat!
  • If using an oven bag: Preheat oven as directed on bag packaging; remove giblets from cavity of turkey (these are usually located inside neck), then place turkey inside bag and seal securely; place in roasting pan with rack if desired (not required); roast according to instructions above but decrease cooking time by 30% due to shorter cooking time required in bags versus free-range birds!

If you’re stuffing, prepare it, stuff your bird and refrigerate.

If you’re stuffing, prepare it, stuff your bird and refrigerate.

Stuffing should be prepared ahead of time because it can dry out during cooking if not refrigerated. You can make your favorite Thanksgiving stuffing recipe ahead of time and store it in the fridge until ready to cook. Just be sure to keep an eye on how long your stuffing sits at room temperature before putting it into the turkey–the USDA recommends no more than two hours at room temperature after preparation (so don’t forget about those potatoes!).

Roast your bird at a high temperature to brown and crisp the skin. Take it down to low heat to finish cooking it through.

It’s not just about the skin. Turkey is a lean meat, so it needs time to cook through without drying out. This can be achieved by roasting your bird at a high temperature to brown and crisp the skin, then taking it down to low heat to finish cooking it through.

The key here is balance: don’t let your turkey burn on one side while remaining raw in other places; make sure all parts of your bird get equal amounts of time under those hot flames!

Cook on an elevated rack or on a roasting pan with legs so air can circulate all around the turkey’s skin and drippings don’t drip down onto the bottom of the oven and cause smoke. Rotate the bird every hour or so. Keep an eye on this thing! It might need more time if cooking at a low temp. Or if some parts are thicker than others and may not cook as quickly.

  • Cooking at a high temperature will brown and crisp the skin, but it may not cook through. If you don’t want to risk your turkey being undercooked, cook at a low temperature instead.
  • Rotate the turkey every hour or so for even cooking throughout all parts of the bird. Keep an eye on this thing! It might need more time if cooking at a low temp. Or if some parts are thicker than others and may not cook as quickly.

The length of time depends on several factors, but cooking a large bird will take longer than cooking smaller ones

As you can imagine, the length of time that it takes to cook a turkey depends on several factors. Some of these are:

  • The size of your bird. A larger turkey will take longer to cook than a smaller one because there is more meat and fat in its body cavity.
  • How long you cook it for. Even if you use the same method (e.g., roasting), cooking times vary depending on how hot your oven is set at, how thickly sliced your bird’s legs and breasts are, etcetera.
  • How much fat there is on your turkey’s skin–this makes things easier for heat transfer during roasting as well as making sure that every part gets cooked evenly without drying out too much before being finished off with basting or pan gravy later on in cooking time!


I hope this guide has helped you understand the basics of how long it takes to cook a turkey. As I mentioned earlier, there are many factors that will affect your cooking time and the best way to determine when your bird is done is by using a thermometer.

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