How To Cook A Turkey: A Step-By-Step Guide For The Thanksgiving Beginner, Including Full Cooking Times And Safety Tips

Do you need to know how to cook a turkey? You're not alone, as the day before Thanksgiving brings a flood of people to the internet to learn how to properly roast the Thanksgiving bird.

Searches for "how to cook a turkey" and "turkey cooking times" peak in the day before Thanksgiving, and those looking for the answers are in luck. Below is a step-by-step guide on how to cook a turkey, along with some tips for keeping the process safe and a full list of cooking times for both stuffed and unstuffed turkeys.

One of the most popular sources for instructions on how to cook a turkey comes from Butterball, the company supplying the bird for millions of American meals.

Butterball breaks down the process on how to cook a turkey into some simple steps.

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Drain the juices and use a paper towel to pat the turkey dry. Place it on a flat rack in a shallow roasting pan with the breast side facing up.
  3. Hold onto one wing, then lift up that side of the turkey and tuck the wing underneath the turkey's back, repeating the process for the other side. This prevents the wings from burning and makes it easier to carve the turkey later on.
  4. Brush or spray the turkey with vegetable or cooking oil.
  5. Insert an oven-safe meat thermometer in the deep part of the lower thigh, stopping before you hit the bone. This will be an important to check later -- when the thigh has reached 180 degrees, you need to move the thermometer to the center of the stuffing. It will need to reach 165 degrees in the breast or stuffing.
  6. Place it in the oven.
  7. When the turkey is two-thirds of the way done, cover the breast and top of the drumsticks with foil. This prevents them from getting overcooked and dried out.
  8. When it's reached the final temperature, lift the turkey out onto a platter and let it stand 15 minutes before carving.
For those who learn better by seeing the process, Butterball also has a full video on how to roast a turkey.

Turkey safety cooking tips

Now that you know how to cook a turkey, it's important to also know some Thanksgiving cooking tips that keep the entire process healthy and prevents you from catching a nasty post-Thanksgiving stomach bug.

The Boston Globe suggests not washing the turkey before cooking it, as this can spread bacteria across kitchen counters and on utensils. If the turkey needs to be thawed before cooking it, you should place it a plastic bag and submerge it in the kitchen sink, but remember to change the water every 30 minutes.

The report also suggests testing your meat thermometer for accuracy by filling a glass with crushed ice and water and dipping the probe about two inches down. The thermometer should register 32 degrees.

This will be important when it comes time to make sure the entire turkey is properly cooked, the report noted.

"When you think the bird is cooked, use the thermometer to check the turkey for doneness. Measure the temperature in three places: in the innermost portions of the thigh and wing, and in the thickest part of the breast. It should read at least 165 degrees in all three places.

"No matter what the turkey flesh registers, if the bird is stuffed, you have to make sure the center of the stuffing also reaches 165 degrees."

Turkey cooking times

As Thanksgiving veterans know, cooking a turkey is not a quick process. Sure, there are deep fryers that can seal in the taste in a fraction of the time, but the vast majority of Thanksgiving chefs will be throwing the turkey into the oven.

Here are some turkey cooking times from the Boston Globe, but take note that these are not hard-and-fast rules for cooking the turkey. Some ovens may take longer, so it's best to keep track with a meat thermometer. Check the bird in three different places, and once it reaches 165 degrees you can take it out and put it in a warm place. If it still needs to brown on the outside, the report suggests turning the oven up to 400 degrees for another 20 minutes.

Cooking times for an unstuffed turkey8-12 pounds, 2¾ to 3 hours12-14 pounds, 3 to 3¾ hours14-18 pounds, 3¾ to 4¼ hours18-22 pounds, 4¼ to 4½ hours

Cooking times for a stuffed turkey8-12 pounds, 3 to 3½ hours12-14 pounds, 3½ to 4 hours14-18 pounds, 4 to 4¼ hours18-22 pounds, 4¼ to 5 hours

Those looking for how to cook a turkey by other methods will find plenty of help, with instructions on cooking a turkey in a garbage can or in just 90 minutes flat. The Food Network also has some other recipes.

[Featured Image by Matthew Mead/AP Images]