One of the biggest dilemmas for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner is how long to cook turkey. Often, turkey dinners end up overcooked and the white meat may be particularly dry, leaving your dinner guests fighting over the dark meat. However, if you know exactly how long you need to cook your turkey, you can happily enjoy moist dark AND white meat for many turkey dinner feasts to come!
How Long To Cook Turkey – Preparations
If you have a fresh turkey, you will need to cook it within within 2 days. If your turkey is frozen, it is very important to make sure it is completely thawed before cooking it. The only safe way to do this is to thaw it in the refrigerator. An 8 – 16 lb turkey will generally take 2-4 days to thaw in the fridge, while a 17-24 lb turkey will take about 4-6 days to completely thaw, so make sure to plan accordingly.
Now you are ready to cook your turkey. You can season the turkey according to your tastes. This could be as simple as sprinkling some salt and pepper all over, or you can also add other seasonings such as rosemary and thyme. To make the breast meat nice and moist, rub some butter or olive oil BETWEEN the skin and the breast meat. You also want to tuck the wings under the breasts, and tie the legs together close to the body so that they don’t overcook.
Next, preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Now you can place your turkey into your roasting pan. You will want to cover the turkey until about the last hour of cooking. Then remove the lid/foil so that the skin can brown nicely.
The secret to knowing how long to cook turkey is to know exactly how heavy the bird is, and to use a meat thermometer. It will need to be cooked for about 15-20 minutes per pound. So, for a 20 pound turkey, you will want to cook it for about 4.5 hours, but use your thermometer to check after about 4 hours. The temperature of the breast meat should be 170 degrees, and the thigh meat 180 degrees. Once your turkey is done, you need to let it sit for about half an hour to let the juices distribute before you carve it. Doing this will ensure that your turkey is perfectly juicy – white meat and all!
Here is a general guide for how long to cook turkey:
- 8 to 12 lbs: 2 3/4 to 3 hrs
- 12 to 14 lbs: 3 to 3 3/4 hrs
- 14 to 18 lbs: 3 3/4 to 4 1/4 hrs
- 18 to 20 lbs: 4 1/4 to 4 1/2 hrs
- 20 to 24 lbs: 4 1/2 to 5 hrs
Now that you know how long to cook turkey for that perfect turkey dinner, you are sure to be the toast of your next Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner! Mmmmm enjoy!!