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Safe Cooking
Turkey Basics:
“Timing’s NOT everything”

Turkeys Are Cooking Faster Than Before. But "timing's NOT everything." Recommended cooking techniques must also be followed. A meat thermometer should be used to ensure a sufficient internal temperature has been reached to destroy bacteria and prevent foodborne illness -- as well as to prevent overcooking.

Many variables can affect the roasting time of the whole bird:

• A partially frozen bird requires longer cooking.
Dark roasting pans cook faster than shiny metals.
The depth and size of the pan can reduce heat circulation to all areas of the bird.
The use of a foil tent for the entire time can slow cooking.
Use of the roasting pan's lid speeds cooking.
An oven-cooking bag can accelerate cooking time.
A stuffed bird takes longer to cook.
Oven may heat food unevenly.
Calibration of the oven's thermostat may be inaccurate.
The rack position can have an effect on even cooking and heat circulation.
A turkey or its pan may be too large for the oven, thus blocking heat circulation.

Figure 1: How do the weight, surface area, and thickness influence the turkey's cooking time?


Roasting Instructions for Safety and Doneness:

1. Set the oven temperature no lower than 325 °F. Preheating is not necessary.

2. Be sure the turkey is completely thawed. Times are based on fresh or completely thawed frozen birds at a refrigerator temperature of 40 °F or below.

3. Place turkey breast-side up on a flat wire rack in a shallow roasting pan 2 to 2 1/2 inches deep.

Optional steps:
Tuck wing tips back under shoulders of bird (called "akimbo").
Add 1/2 cup water to the bottom of the pan.
In the beginning, a tent of aluminum foil may be placed loosely over the breast of the turkey for the first 1 to 1 1/2 hours, then removed for browning. Or, a tent of foil may be placed over the turkey after the turkey has reached the desired golden brown.

4. If a meat thermometer is not available, cook stuffing in a casserole. Mix ingredients just before stuffing a turkey; stuff loosely. Additional time is required for the turkey and stuffing to reach a safe internal temperature (see chart below).

5. For safety and doneness, the internal temperature should be checked with a meat thermometer.
The temperature must reach 180 °F in the thigh of a whole turkey (center of the stuffing should reach 165 °F) before removing it from the oven. Cook a turkey breast to 170 °F.

6. Juices should be clear. In the absence of a meat thermometer, pierce an unstuffed turkey with a fork in several places; juices should be clear with no trace of pink.

7. Let the bird stand 20 minutes before removing stuffing and carving.

Approximate Cooking Times
8 to 12 lbs...............3 to 3 1/2 hrs
12 to 14 lbs..............3 1/2 to 4 hrs
14 to 18 lbs..............4 to 4 1/4 hrs
18 to 20 lbs........4 1/4 to 4 3/4 hrs
20 to 24 lbs........4 3/4 to 5 1/4 hrs

Food Safety and Inspection Service,
Food Safety Education & Communications Staff