Cooking Times for Turkey – It Depends on Weight and Temperature

If your cooking times for turkey are exactly right, your guests for dinner will benefit in many ways:

  • there will be more turkey for everyone
  • the meat will be moist, not dry
  • no concern about food poisoning
  • the leftovers will taste just as good
  • they’ll come back for seconds or additional meals
  • your reputation as a great chef improves

We all have had turkey that is so dry that we have to “wash it down” with wine, water, juice or milk. And although we don’t really think about it, turkey that is dry is overcooked; it’s not the way turkey is supposed to taste.

What is the best cooking temperature for turkey? How long should a turkey be cooked? What happens when turkey is cooked at high temperatures for too long?

The Shrinking Turkey

Put two turkeys in separate roasting pans. Place one in an oven at 450 degrees F. and the other at 350 degrees F. Which one cooks faster? Which one has more meat?

The answer is that the turkey cooked at 450 degrees cooks faster, but if you cut off all the bones and skin and weigh the remaining meat, you’ll find there is less meat. It’s possible to even have up to 25% less meat!

You may already have noticed that if you leave the turkey in the oven too long and then look at the turkey legs, the meat has shriveled away from the end of the drumstick. Where did it go? It actually was destroyed – essentially vaporized – by the excessive heat. Protein is destroyed by heat.

Besides shrinking in total amount of meat, a turkey cooked at high temperatures results in dry meat.

And dry meat is the main reason why more people don’t eat turkey that often during the year, with the exception at holiday times.

Cooking Times for Turkey

Cooking times for turkey aren’t set in stone. That’s because all ovens are not the same. If an oven temperature monitor went from house to house measuring and recording how long it takes an oven to reach 350 degrees and test how accurate the ovens were, he’d report chaos. All ovens say 350 degrees but they aren’t that hot. Some are hotter. This becomes one of the big differences in cooking times for turkey.

With this in mind, there are some basic guidelines for cooking turkey at 325 degrees F, basic guidelines that can eliminate the shrinking turkey effect.

1. Turkey size can be divided into four categories:

  • a. 8 to 12 pounds
  • b. 12 to 14 pounds
  • c. 14 to 18 pounds
  • d. 18 to 20 pounds

If you find a turkey bigger than 20 pounds, you have to wonder just how that turkey got that big! Too many hormones?

2. Next, consider whether or not you are stuffing the turkey. If you stuff it, it takes longer to cook.

3. And lastly, memorize the cooking times for turkey.

Turkey size Unstuffed Stuffed
8-12 pounds 2-3/4 to 3 hrs 3 to 3-1/2 hrs
12-14 pounds 3 to 3-3/4 hrs 3-1/2 to 4 hrs
14-18 pounds 3-3/4 to 4-1/4 hrs 4-1/4 to 4-3/4 hrs
18-20 pounds 4-1/4 to 4-1/2 hrs 4-3/4 to 5-1/4 hrs

Did you notice that you add about 30 minutes extra to the cooking time for turkey when it’s stuffed?

The cooking times for turkey end up being around 15 to 20 minutes per pound bird, with a minimum of 2-3/4 hours cooking time for any bird.

See how easy it really is?

Now how can you be sure you won’t poison your guests? Just get out your trusty meat thermometer, insert it into the thickest part of the breast without touching the bone, and make sure the temperature reaches 170 degrees. Then sigh, put a smile on your face, and go serve turkey!

Click the following link if you want to learn some turkey trivia.



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