Thanksgiving Recipes 2019: How Long Should You Cook A Turkey?

Avoiding politics at the dinner table may seem like the most stressful part of Thanksgiving, but failing to properly cook the turkey could leave family and friends wondering if dinner will ever be served or even send them to the doctor.

Thanksgiving takes place on the fourth Thursday of November, and unlike other holidays that focus on presents, the festivities center on an integral part of American life: enjoying the holiday feast.

Menus vary based on the household's individual traditions, but families and friends usually gather around the table to enjoy stuffing, potatoes, green beans and, of course, turkey. Cooking the main dish isn't difficult, but it is important to do it properly, a task that requires planning ahead to accommodate the hours-long process.

Salmonella bacteria can exist on raw turkey, and eating undercooked meat from the bird can make people sick. After eating contaminated food, a person will develop diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps within eight to 72 hours, according to the Mayo Clinic. Fortunately, most people recover on their own within two to 10 days, but the symptoms can cause dehydration so severe that it requires medical attention.

how long cook turkey thanksgiving recipes
Fresh turkeys fill a refrigerator case at a Whole Foods Market store in San Ramon, California. Cooking a Thanksgiving turkey properly takes hours and depends on the size of the bird and the oven being used. Smith Collection/Gado/Getty

Unlike Thanksgiving side dishes, which often have a one-size-fits-all cooking approach, ensuring that the turkey is thoroughly heated requires attention to the oven being used and the characteristics of the bird being prepared for the table.

Whether the turkey is fresh or recently thawed doesn't affect the cooking time, according to Butterball, but the oven type and whether the turkey is stuffed does. For a stuffed turkey being cooked in a regular oven at 325 degrees Fahrenheit, Butterball recommends the following cooking times:

  • 6-7 pounds: 2¼ - 2¾ hours
  • 7-10 pounds: 2¾ - 3½ hours
  • 10-18 pounds: 3¾ - 4½ hours
  • 18-22 pounds: 4½ - 5 hours
  • 22-24 pounds: 5 - 5½ hours
  • 24-30 pounds: 5½ - 6¼ hours

The fan and exhaust in a convection oven allow hot air to surround the food so it cooks quicker than it would in a regular oven. When using a convection oven to cook a stuffed turkey (also at 325 degrees Fahrenheit), Butterball lists the cooking times as:

  • 6-10 pounds: 1¾ - 2½ hours
  • 10-18 pounds: 2½ - 3¼ hours
  • 18-22 pounds: 3¼ - 3¾ hours
  • 22-24 pounds: 3¾ - 4¼ hours

Not everyone decides to stuff their turkey, though, because it can increase cooking times and potentially be unsafe if bacteria from the turkey seep into the stuffing. If the chef is cooking an unstuffed turkey at 325 degrees Fahrenheit in a regular oven, Butterball recommends following these cooking times:

  • 6-7 pounds: 2 - 2½ hours
  • 7-10 pounds: 2½ - 3 hours
  • 10-18 pounds: 3 - 3½ hours
  • 18-22 pounds: 3½ - 4 hours
  • 22-24 pounds: 4 - 4½ hours
  • 24-30 pounds: 4½ - 5 hours

As is the case with a stuffed turkey, an unstuffed bird will cook faster in a convection oven, compared with a regular one. So Butterball recommends the following cooking times:

  • 6-10 pounds: 1½ - 2 hours
  • 10-18 pounds: 2 - 2½ hours
  • 18-22 pounds: 2½ - 3 hours
  • 22-24 pounds: 3 - 3½ hours

While these cooking times are a good indicator of about how long a turkey should be in the oven, they aren't definitive. Knowing a turkey is done cooking and safe to eat requires the chef to insert a meat thermometer into the bird. The thigh needs to be at least 180 degrees Fahrenheit, while the breast or stuffing should be 170 degrees.

Thinking about your guests becoming so dehydrated that they have to go to the doctor can cause some people to panic. But don't worry. It's easy to avoid ruining Thanksgiving for your family and friends because you didn't cook the turkey properly. Plan ahead so you have hours to cook the bird and have that meat thermometer on hand.

And if you're wondering how much the cost of that Thanksgiving dinner will set you back, Statista has prepared this graph showing the rising price of turkey and trimmings over the years.

Thanksgiving Dinner Cost
Thanksgiving Recipes 2019: How Long Should You Cook A Turkey? | U.S.