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Turkey Cooking Time per Pound: Ultimate Guide

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Cooking the perfect turkey can be a daunting task, especially in a test kitchen. But with the right recipe and a slow cooker, you can easily prepare delicious turkey with sweet potatoes. In this comprehensive recipe guide from our test kitchen, we will unravel the mystery behind achieving that much turkey savoriness that will leave your guests raving.

Understanding the importance of cooking time is crucial in ensuring a juicy and evenly cooked turkey in a slow cooker. Follow this recipe for a delicious dish: Place the turkey, sweet potatoes, and green beans in the slow cooker and cook for the recommended time. Various factors such as the size of the turkey, desired doneness, and cooking method can significantly influence the cooking time needed for this slow cooker recipe. Whether you're making a main dish or a side dish, like potatoes, it's important to consider these factors. With our expert recipe tips and tricks, you'll be able to navigate through these variables with ease. Whether it's adjusting the degrees for the perfect turkey or adding just the right amount of sweet, our advice will ensure your cooking success.

So whether you're preparing for a holiday feast or just looking to impress your family with a mouthwatering sweet potatoes side dish recipe, we've got you covered. Get ready to master the art of cooking a delicious turkey recipe in a slow cooker and serve up a memorable meal that will have everyone coming back for seconds. Don't forget to pair it with a tasty side dish of potatoes.

Understanding Turkey Cooking Fundamentals

Factors Affecting Cooking Time

The weight of the turkey is a crucial factor in determining its cooking time. Additionally, when preparing a delicious Thanksgiving meal, it's important to consider the perfect side dish to accompany the main course. One popular option is slow-roasted potatoes. These delectable spuds are best cooked at a lower temperature, around 350 degrees Fahrenheit, to ensure they become crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside.

A heavier turkey will take longer to cook compared to a smaller one. Additionally, if you're looking for a delicious side dish, consider slow-roasting potatoes at 350 degrees. When planning your meal preparation, it's important to consider the dish you want to make. For example, if you're thinking of making a slow-cooked meal, sweet potatoes would be a great choice. Different oven temperatures can also affect how long it takes to cook a turkey.

Additionally, it's important to note that the cooking time may vary based on the desired level of doneness and the size of the turkey. It's recommended to use a meat thermometer to ensure the turkey reaches the safe internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

To accompany your turkey, consider serving delicious sweet potatoes as a flavorful side dish. Higher temperatures may result in faster cooking times for the turkey, while lower temperatures may require more time for the sweet potatoes to reach the desired doneness as a side dish. Lastly, factors such as stuffing, brining, basting, and the choice of side dish, such as sweet potatoes, can impact the overall cooking time of the turkey.

Stuffing the bird can increase cooking time, while brining or basting may help retain moisture but could extend the duration of cooking. These methods are important to consider when preparing a sweet side dish.

Ideal Internal Temperature for Safety

Knowing the recommended internal temperature is crucial for ensuring safe consumption of your cooked turkey side dish. The sweet taste of the turkey side dish can be enhanced by cooking it to the appropriate temperature.

The ideal internal temperature for a fully cooked turkey dish is 165°F (74°C) as measured with a meat thermometer. This sweet and savory stuffed turkey recipe is perfect for any holiday feast. Don't forget to serve it with your favorite side dishes. This temperature ensures that harmful bacteria are killed off and that the sweet side dish is safe to eat.

Using a meat thermometer is essential for ensuring the doneness and food safety of any dish, whether it's a sweet dessert, a savory main course, or a flavorful side dish. Visual cues like color and texture can be misleading, so rely on the accuracy of a meat thermometer instead.

Inserting the thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh without touching bone will give you an accurate reading for this sweet side dish.

Thawing Techniques for Frozen Turkeys

Properly thawing frozen turkeys before cooking is essential to ensure even cooking of the main dish and avoid potential health risks.

Additionally, it is important to properly prepare a side dish to complement the turkey. There are two main methods for thawing side dishes: refrigerator thawing and quick-thaw techniques. Refrigerator thawing involves placing the frozen turkey, a dish, in a refrigerator set at 40°F (4°C) or below and allowing it to defrost slowly over several days.

This method is ideal for thawing a turkey when you need it as a side for a meal. This safe method for cooking turkey is perfect for those who want to prepare a delicious main dish. However, it does require advanced planning as it can take approximately 24 hours per 4-5 pounds (1-2 kg) of turkey.

Quick-thaw techniques for side dishes, on the other hand, are faster but require more attention. These methods include cold-water thawing and microwave thawing. Cold-water thawing involves submerging the turkey on its side in its original packaging in a sink or container filled with cold water.

Change the water on the side every 30 minutes to maintain a safe temperature. Microwave thawing is another side option, but it's important to follow the manufacturer's guidelines for defrosting poultry.

Calculating Cooking Time by Weight

Basic Turkey Cooking Time Guidelines

Estimating the cooking time for the main dish is crucial for achieving a perfectly cooked bird and its accompanying side. General guidelines suggest that you can estimate the cooking time of the turkey based on its weight.

On the side, it's important to follow these guidelines for a successful cooking experience.

As a rule of thumb, you can calculate an average of 13-15 minutes per pound for roasting turkeys on the side at around 325°F (163°C). For example, a 12-pound turkey would take approximately 2.5 to 3 hours to cook on the side.

However, it's important to note that these are just general guidelines for cooking steak and adjustments may be needed based on personal preferences and desired doneness.

For example, if you prefer your steak cooked medium-rare, you may need to cook it for a shorter time on each side.

Some individuals prefer their turkey more well-done, while others enjoy a juicier bird with slightly less cooking time. It's always best to use a meat thermometer to ensure that the internal temperature reaches the recommended safe level.

Adjusting Times for Stuffed Turkeys

If you plan on stuffing your turkey, there are additional considerations. The stuffing affects the overall cooking time as it acts as an insulator and slows down heat penetration into the bird's cavity.

To account for this, it is recommended to add an additional 30 minutes per pound when dealing with stuffed turkeys.

It's essential to ensure that both the turkey and stuffing reach safe internal temperatures simultaneously. The stuffing should reach an internal temperature of at least 165°F (74°C) in order to prevent any potential foodborne illnesses.

To achieve this, you may need to monitor both the temperature of the turkey itself and its stuffing separately throughout the cooking process.

Cooking Time for Large Turkeys (18-20 lbs)

When roasting larger-sized turkeys weighing between 18-20 pounds, special considerations must be taken into account in terms of timing and preparation techniques. As these birds are significantly bigger than average-sized turkeys, they require adjustments in cooking time to ensure even doneness throughout without drying out certain parts.

For larger turkeys, it's recommended to reduce the minutes per pound slightly. Instead of the average 13-15 minutes per pound, you can adjust it to around 12-14 minutes per pound. This adjustment allows for a longer cooking time while still maintaining a moist and tender turkey.

To further ensure even cooking, some chefs recommend using a roasting rack or elevating the turkey on a bed of vegetables like onions and carrots.

Preparing Your Turkey for Roasting

Now that you have calculated the cooking time for your turkey, it's time to prepare it for roasting. Follow these steps to ensure a deliciously cooked turkey that will be the star of your Thanksgiving feast. Try this stuffed turkey recipe for a truly memorable meal.

Steps to Cook a Delicious Turkey

  1. Preparation: Begin by patting the turkey dry with paper towels. This helps remove any excess moisture on the skin, allowing it to crisp up beautifully during roasting. Season the turkey generously with salt and pepper, both inside and out, to enhance its flavor.
  2. Seasoning: If you want to add extra flavor to your turkey, consider using herbs and spices. Create a flavorful rub by mixing together ingredients like garlic powder, paprika, thyme, rosemary, and sage. Rub this mixture all over the turkey before placing it in the oven.
  3. Roasting: Preheat your oven to the recommended temperature based on your calculated cooking time per pound. Place the seasoned turkey on a rack in a roasting pan and cover loosely with aluminum foil. This helps trap steam initially while allowing heat to circulate around the bird.
  4. Crispy Skin: To achieve that coveted golden-brown crispy skin, remove the foil during the last 30 minutes of cooking time. This allows the skin to brown and become delightfully crunchy while keeping the meat tender and juicy.
  5. Resting Time: Once your turkey is done roasting, resist carving into it immediately! Resting is an essential step that allows flavors to develop further and ensures juiciness throughout every slice. Tent the cooked turkey loosely with foil and let it rest for at least 20-30 minutes before carving.

Tips for Flavorful Gravy Preparation

A Thanksgiving feast isn't complete without rich and flavorful gravy accompanying your perfectly roasted turkey. Here are some tips for preparing a delicious gravy:

  • Pan Drippings: After removing the turkey from the roasting pan, pour off the excess fat, leaving behind the flavorful drippings. These pan drippings will be the base of your gravy and add a depth of flavor that store-bought versions simply can't match.
  • Smooth Texture: To ensure a smooth and lump-free gravy, use a whisk to gradually incorporate flour or cornstarch into the pan drippings. This creates a roux that thickens the gravy while preventing clumps from forming.
  • Flavor Enhancements

Cooking a Turkey at 325°F

Cooking a turkey to perfection requires careful consideration of the weight and cooking time. The recommended time per pound can vary depending on the size of the turkey. Here's a breakdown to help you plan accordingly:

For turkeys weighing less than 12 pounds, allocate approximately 15 minutes per pound for cooking. For example, if you have an 8-pound turkey, it would take around 2 hours to cook thoroughly.

For turkeys weighing between 12 and 16 pounds, adjust the cooking time slightly to approximately 13 minutes per pound. So, a 14-pound turkey would require around 3 hours and 40 minutes in the oven.

If your turkey weighs more than 16 pounds, reduce the cooking time further to about 12 minutes per pound. For instance, a hefty 20-pound turkey would need roughly four hours and forty minutes to cook through.

It's important to note that these times are estimates based on roasting at a temperature of 325°F (163°C). However, individual ovens may vary in terms of temperature accuracy and heat distribution. Therefore, using an internal meat thermometer is crucial for determining when your turkey is fully cooked.

Bone-in turkeys generally require more time compared to boneless ones due to the denser nature of bones affecting heat penetration. Be sure to account for this difference when calculating your cooking time.

Roasting a Frozen Turkey Safely

Roasting a frozen turkey can be done safely without compromising taste or safety precautions. When starting with a frozen bird, it's essential to make adjustments to both cooking times and temperatures:

To ensure thorough cooking while preventing dryness in certain areas, start by roasting the frozen turkey at a higher temperature of around 350°F (177°C) for the first hour. This initial blast of heat helps jumpstart the thawing process.

After the initial hour, reduce the oven temperature back to 325°F (163°C) and continue cooking until the turkey reaches a safe internal temperature of 165°F (74°C). Use an accurate meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh without touching the bone to check for doneness.

Remember that cooking times may be longer when roasting a frozen turkey compared to a fully thawed one. It's crucial to monitor the internal temperature regularly and adjust cooking time as needed.

Ensuring Perfectly Cooked Turkey Every Time

Achieving Moist and Flavorful Results

  • To ensure a moist and flavorful turkey, there are several proven tips and tricks you can employ. One effective technique is brining the turkey, which involves soaking it in a saltwater solution before cooking. This helps to enhance the moisture content of the meat and infuse it with flavor. Another option is marinating the turkey, where you can use a mixture of herbs, spices, and other ingredients to impart delicious flavors. You can inject flavors directly into the meat using a marinade injector for an extra burst of taste.
  • It's essential to avoid common mistakes that can lead to dry or bland-tasting turkeys. One mistake to avoid is overcooking the bird. Cooking times may vary depending on the size of your turkey, so it's crucial to follow recommended guidelines or use a reliable meat thermometer to check for doneness. Another mistake is not seasoning the turkey adequately. Make sure to generously season both the exterior and interior of the bird with salt, pepper, herbs, and spices for maximum flavor.

Resting Period Before Carving

  • Allowing your cooked turkey to rest before carving is crucial for achieving optimal texture and juiciness. During cooking, heat causes the proteins in the meat to contract tightly. Resting allows these proteins to relax gradually and redistribute their juices throughout the bird.
  • The recommended resting time for turkeys varies based on their size. For smaller birds (around 12 pounds), let them rest for about 20 minutes after removing them from the oven. Larger turkeys (over 20 pounds) may require up to 40 minutes of resting time. Covering loosely with foil during this period will help retain heat while allowing excess steam to escape.

Checking Internal Temperature Accurately

  • Checking the internal temperature of your turkey accurately is vital in ensuring that it's thoroughly cooked and safe to eat. To achieve this, it's crucial to use a reliable meat thermometer. Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the turkey's thigh without touching the bone. The temperature should reach 165°F (74°C) for both safety and optimal taste.
  • Different parts of the turkey may require different temperature readings for perfect doneness. For example, the breast meat tends to cook faster than the dark meat.

Addressing Common Questions and Concerns

Cooking a turkey can be intimidating, especially if you're doing it for the first time. But don't worry, we've got you covered!

Cooking Tips for Beginners

If you're a novice cook tackling your first turkey roast, here are some essential tips and tricks to keep in mind:

  1. Follow the general rule: The cooking time per pound of turkey is a helpful guide to ensure your bird is cooked to perfection. By following the recommended times, you can avoid undercooking or overcooking the turkey.
  2. Simplified instructions: Cooking a turkey doesn't have to be complicated. Stick to a simple recipe and follow the cooking instructions carefully.
  3. Use a meat thermometer: To ensure that your turkey is cooked thoroughly, use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature. The thickest part of the thigh should reach 165°F (74°C) for safe consumption.
  4. Let it rest: After removing the turkey from the oven, allow it to rest for a few minutes before carving. This resting time allows the juices to redistribute throughout the meat, resulting in a juicy and flavorful bird.

Safety Concerns with Stuffing

Stuffing is a traditional Thanksgiving favorite, but it's important to understand potential food safety risks associated with stuffing a turkey:

  1. Bacteria growth: When stuffing is placed inside the cavity of a raw turkey, it creates an environment where bacteria can thrive if not cooked properly.
  2. Alternatives: To ensure proper doneness and safety, consider cooking stuffing separately in a casserole dish or baking pan. This allows you to control its cooking time and temperature independently from the turkey.
  3. Enhancing flavors: If you prefer not to use traditional stuffed preparations, there are other ways to enhance the flavors of your stuffing. Consider adding sautéed vegetables, herbs, or even dried fruits for sweetness.

Debunking Basting Myths

Basting is a technique often associated with turkey roasting, but let's dispel some common misconceptions:

  1. Moisture retention: Contrary to popular belief, basting does not significantly impact the moisture content of the turkey. The skin acts as a barrier, preventing much of the liquid from penetrating.

Choosing the Right Turkey Size

Choosing the right size is essential for a successful and enjoyable meal. Determining the appropriate size for your gathering involves considering various factors.

Determining Appropriate Size for Your Gathering

Factors such as the number of guests, portion sizes per person, and whether you desire leftovers should be taken into account when selecting a turkey size.

To estimate portion sizes, consider that each person will typically consume about 1 pound of turkey. However, if you want generous servings or plan on having leftovers for sandwiches or future meals, you may want to increase that amount.

Balancing personal preferences, budget constraints, and practicality is also crucial in deciding on a turkey size. If you prefer larger portions or have hearty eaters in your group, opting for a bigger bird might be ideal. On the other hand, if you have a smaller gathering or are working with a tight budget, choosing a smaller turkey can be more practical.

Comparing Small vs Large Turkeys

Roasting small and large turkeys each has its pros and cons.They tend to cook faster than their larger counterparts. This means less time spent in the oven and potentially reduced chances of overcooking. Small turkeys require less oven space and can be easier to handle during preparation.

On the other hand, large turkeys (18-20 pounds) offer an abundance of meat to serve your guests. They are perfect for big gatherings where multiple servings are needed. However, keep in mind that larger turkeys require longer cooking times and may take up more space in your oven.

Considering factors like oven space availability, serving quantities required for your gathering size, and overall convenience will help you decide between small and large turkeys.

Cooking Time Adjustments for Different Sizes

While average recommendations provide general guidelines for cooking times based on turkey weight, it's important to adjust these times for different sizes. Whether you have a smaller or larger bird than usual, ensuring even doneness is crucial.

To calculate the cooking time accurately, use the minutes per pound method. For instance, if the recommended cooking time is 15 minutes per pound for a 12-pound turkey, that would equal 180 minutes or 3 hours. Adjust this time accordingly if your turkey is bigger or smaller.

Exploring Various Turkey Recipes and Techniques

Recipe Collections and Recommendations

Looking for some inspiration to elevate your turkey game? We've curated a collection of delicious turkey recipes that are sure to impress. Whether you're a fan of traditional flavors or want to try something unique, these recipes will spark your creativity in the kitchen. From herb-roasted turkeys to citrus-infused preparations, there's something for everyone.

In addition to recipe collections, we also provide recommendations for different flavor profiles, seasonings, and cooking methods.

Want to add a smoky twist? Consider trying a grilled or smoked turkey recipe. These alternative techniques infuse the meat with rich flavors and create a unique dining experience. If you're feeling adventurous, why not venture into deep-frying your turkey? This method results in crispy skin and juicy meat that is sure to be a crowd-pleaser.

Alternative Cooking Methods

While roasting is the traditional way to cook a turkey, exploring alternative cooking methods can add excitement to your culinary journey. Grilling is an excellent option for those who enjoy the smoky charred flavors imparted by an open flame. Smoking the bird over low heat infuses it with aromatic wood smoke, creating tender and flavorful meat.

If you're considering deep-frying your turkey, it's important to understand how this method affects cooking time and overall results. Deep-frying yields succulent meat with an irresistibly crispy skin; however, it requires careful attention due to safety concerns associated with hot oil. Following proper precautions and tips specific to deep-frying will ensure a safe and delicious outcome.

Seasoning and Flavor Enhancing Tips

Seasoning is key. Our experts have compiled valuable advice on seasoning techniques that will take your roast from good to extraordinary. Whether you prefer herb rubs, spice blends, marinades, or brines, we've got you covered. These flavor-enhancing methods complement the natural taste of poultry and add depth to every bite.

It's essential to consider personal preferences and dietary restrictions. For a classic approach, traditional herb rubs with garlic, thyme, and rosemary can't go wrong. If you're feeling adventurous, experiment with exotic spice blends like cumin, coriander, or smoked paprika for a unique twist. Marinades and brines offer an opportunity to infuse your turkey with additional flavors while keeping the meat moist and tender.

After the Oven: Resting and Carving Your Turkey

Importance of Letting the Turkey Rest

Resting your turkey after it's cooked is a crucial step that should not be overlooked. While it may be tempting to dive right into carving, allowing the turkey to rest for about 20-30 minutes is essential for optimal taste and texture. When you let the turkey rest, you give it time to cool down slightly, which helps retain its juices and ensures a moist and flavorful bird. During cooking, heat causes the proteins in the meat to contract, pushing out moisture. Allowing the turkey to rest allows those juices to redistribute throughout the meat, resulting in enhanced flavors.

Carving a Thanksgiving Turkey Like a Pro

Carving a Thanksgiving turkey can seem like an intimidating task, but with a little guidance and practice, you can carve your bird with finesse and confidence. To start, make sure you have a sharp carving knife and a sturdy cutting board. Begin by removing the legs by cutting through the skin between the leg and body joint. Then separate each drumstick from the thigh by slicing through the joint.

Next, move on to carving the breast meat. Make horizontal cuts along one side of the breastbone until you reach the rib cage. Use these cuts as guides to slice thin slices of breast meat parallel to the breastbone. Repeat this process on both sides of the bird until all breast meat has been carved.

For wings, simply cut through at their joints where they meet with the body. Lastly, don't forget about those flavorful bits tucked away inside - remove any remaining meat from bones or carcass for leftovers or future recipes.

Serving Suggestions and Presentation Tips

Once your turkey is expertly carved, it's time to present it beautifully at your Thanksgiving table. Consider creative ideas such as garnishing your platter with fresh herbs like rosemary or thyme for an elegant touch. You can also add colorful fruits like cranberries or pomegranate seeds to add a pop of color and freshness.

Classic options like mashed potatoes, roasted vegetables, and cranberry sauce pair well with turkey. However, don't be afraid to think outside the box and experiment with unique flavors. For example, a citrus-infused salad or a sweet potato casserole with a hint of cinnamon can complement the savory turkey perfectly.


Congratulations! You are now equipped with all the knowledge and tips you need to cook a delicious turkey every time. By understanding the fundamentals of turkey cookingcalculating cooking time based on weight, and following the steps for preparation and roasting, you can ensure a perfectly cooked bird that will impress your family and friends.

But remember, practice makes perfect. Don't be discouraged if your first attempt isn't flawless. Cooking is an art that requires experimentation and learning from experience. So keep trying different recipes and techniques until you find your own signature style.

Now it's time to put your newfound skills to the test. Gather your ingredients, preheat that oven, and get ready to create a mouthwatering masterpiece. Whether it's Thanksgiving, Christmas, or any special occasion, your perfectly cooked turkey will be the star of the show.

Happy cooking!

Frequently Asked Questions

How long should I cook a turkey per pound?

The general rule of thumb is to cook a turkey for about 15 minutes per pound at a temperature of 325°F (163°C). However, it's always best to use a meat thermometer to ensure the internal temperature reaches 165°F (74°C) in the thickest part of the bird.

Can I adjust the cooking time if my turkey is stuffed in a slow cooker?

Yes, if you're cooking a stuffed turkey, you'll need to increase the cooking time. It's recommended to add an extra 30 minutes to an hour onto the total cooking time. Make sure that both the stuffing and the turkey reach a safe internal temperature.

Should I baste my turkey while it cooks?

Basting can help keep your turkey moist and flavorful. Every 30 minutes or so, use a spoon or baster to drizzle pan juices over the bird. Just keep in mind that each time you open the oven door, you prolong the cooking time slightly.

How do I know if my turkey is done?

The most accurate way to determine if your turkey is done is by using a meat thermometer. Insert it into the thickest part of the thigh without touching bone and ensure it reads 165°F (74°C). Check that the juices run clear when you pierce between the leg and thigh.

Can I cook my turkey in a slow cooker? Our test kitchen has a recipe for cooking turkey in a slow cooker.

While it may be tempting to speed up the process by increasing the oven temperature, it's not recommended. Cooking at higher temperatures can result in unevenly cooked meat or even dry out certain parts of your bird. Stick with lower temperatures for more consistent results.

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