Thanksgiving Recipes: How Long Should You Cook a Turkey?

Thanksgiving is both a time to relax with family and friends and stress about the meal that's at risk of either burning in the oven or exposing loved ones to salmonella. While cooking a turkey can seem like a daunting task that's full of mystery, figuring out how long the bird should roast is actually quite easy.

Similarly to other pieces of poultry and meat, the cooking time is dependent on a few factors, one of which is the size. The bigger the bird, the longer the chef needs to reserve oven space. But, determining just how long the star of the Thanksgiving meal needs to cook is dependent on more than just size. Cooking time also depends on the type of oven that's being used.

If you're using a regular oven it's going to take slightly longer than a convection oven, so it's best to select the cooking method ahead of time. Butterball suggested cooking the bird at 325 degrees Fahrenheit in a regular oven.

But, the cooking time isn't just dependent on the size of the bird or the oven that's being used. It's also dependent on if the chef has decided to stuff the bird before putting it in to cook. For an unstuffed bird, Butterball recommended the following 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
how long should you cook a turkey
A chef places fresh turkeys in the oven, just a fraction of the 700 that have been prepared for Thanksgiving. Cooking times for turkey depend on the size of the bird, the oven being used and if the bird has been stuffed. TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images

Cook times increase slightly if the bird was stuffed before being cooked and change to:

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

If multiple dishes are being cooked and oven space needs to be freed up or if the chef finds themselves in a time crunch, it's better to switch the oven to the "convection" setting, if possible. It should still be set to 325 degrees Fahrenheit, according to Butterball, but it cuts down on the required cooking time. For an unstuffed turkey, Butterball recommended:

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

If the turkey is stuffed and a convection oven is being used, cooking times change to:

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

Although these are recommended cooking times, the best way to know if a turkey is done roasting in the oven and ready to be served is to look at its internal temperature. When a turkey is fully cooked, the thigh will register at 180 degrees Fahrenheit on a meat thermometer and the breast or stuffing will be 170 degrees Fahrenheit.

Turkey meat that appears pink can be worrisome to some people who believe that it means the bird isn't fully cooked. However, the United States Department of Agriculture explained that as long as the meat has reached the proper temperature, it's safe to eat.