How To Cook A Turkey: A Full Step-By-Step Process For Beginners, Including Cooking Times And Temperature

Folks who need to know how to cook a turkey are in good company, as the annual tradition of taking to the internet for some Thanksgiving cooking tips is in full steam with hours to go until the big day.

So if you’ve reached this point, you’re one of the many people who need a bit of help getting the main piece of the Thanksgiving feast together (and there are many, so many in fact that “how to cook a turkey” was one of the top trending terms across social media on Wednesday).

Luckily, there are plenty of outlets looking to help with some simple turkey-cooking tips. The Los Angeles Times called on Test Kitchen Director Noelle Carter and former Food columnist Russ Parsons to give readers some tips.

The first step when learning how to cook a turkey is to have an idea of just how long it takes. If you wait until kickoff of the first football game to get the turkey going, you can expect to eat sometime after nightfall, so the earlier the preparation starts the better.

Thawing a turkey can take some time (about one to three days for a bird weighing between four and 12 pounds, and up to a week for a 24-pound turkey). So if you find yourself on Wednesday night with a turkey still in the freezer, you’ll have to thaw it in cold water.

Here’s a rough guide of how long thawing in cold water will take (via the USDA):

  • 4 to 12 pound — 2 to 6 hours
  • 12 to 16 pounds — 6 to 8 hours
  • 16 to 20 pounds — 8 to 10 hours
  • 20 to 24 pounds — 10 to 12 hours

The USDA gives a hand with cooking schedules, publishing an online guide to cooking times.

The Los Angeles Times sums it up:

“For a stuffed turkey, allow 3 to 3 1/2 hours for an 8- to 12-pound turkey; 3 1/2 to 4 hours for a 12- to 14-pounder; 4 to 4 1/4 hours for a 14- to 18-pounder; 4 1/4 to 4 3/4 hours for an 18- to 20-pounder; and 4 3/4 to 5 1/4 hours for a 20- to 24-pounder.

“If you’re not stuffing the turkey, allow 2 3/4 to 3 hours for an 8- to 12-pound turkey; 3 to 3 3/4 hours for a 12- to 14-pounder; 3 3/4 to 4 1/4 hours for a 14- to 18-pounder; 4 1/4 to 4 1/2 hours for an 18- to 20-pounder and 4 1/2 to 5 hours for an 20- to 24-pounder.”

So now that you’ve got the timeframe in mind, just how do you cook that turkey? There are plenty of different ways, from deep frying to cooking a turkey in a garbage can to cooking it in 90 minutes flat, but if you’re turning to the internet for advice, it’s probably best to keep it simple.

Butterball has a link to a great (and more importantly, easy) way to roast a turkey.

Here are the steps:

  1. Preheat oven to 325° F.
  2. Drain the juices and pat the turkey dry with paper towel. Place it breast side up on a flat rack in a shallow roasting pan.
  3. Grasp one wing, then lift up that side of the turkey and fold and tuck the wing underneath the turkey’s back, then repeat with the other side. This is a big help later on when it comes to carving the turkey, and it prevents the wings from burning.
  4. Brush or spray vegetable or cooking oil across the turkey
  5. Insert an oven-safe meat thermometer in the deep part of the lower thigh. If you hit the bone, you’ve gone too far. Here’s what you’ll need to look for later during cooking — When the thigh has reached the correct temperature (180° F), move it to the center of the stuffing. It will need to reach 165° F in the breast or stuffing.
  6. Place it in the oven
  7. When the turkey is 2/3 done, cover the breast and top of the drumsticks with foil so they don’t overcook and end up dried out.
  8. When it’s finished, lift the turkey out onto a platter and let it stand 15 minutes before carving.

Those who want some other hints on how to cook a turkey or are feeling a bit more adventurous can check out the Food Network, which has some hints and other recipes.

[AP Photo/Steven Senne]