How to Roast a Turkey

Roast turkey

Minimum Cooking Turkey Temperature

Ensure the thickest part of a whole turkey (usually in the breast) reaches 165°F for safe consumption. Turkeys can be purchased fresh or frozen so be sure the bird is completely thawed before roasting to have thorough, even cooking.

How to thaw a Turkey

  • The safest way to thaw a turkey is in the refrigerator. For every 4-5 pounds of turkey, allot 1 day of thawing. For example, a 16 pound turkey would take between 3 to 4 days to thaw completely.
  • A quicker option is to submerge a wrapped, leak-free turkey into cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes and allot half an hour for every pound of frozen turkey. For example, an 18 pound turkey would take 9 hours to thaw.
  • The last option which is the least recommended is to use a microwave. The power of microwaves vary so follow the instructions of the microwave to defrost the turkey. Microwaves do not thaw evenly so parts of the turkey may begin to cook. It is important to cook the turkey immediately after thawing and to cook it completely. Storing partially cooked turkey can lead to bacterial contamination that causes foodborne illnesses.

Please refer to the chart below for approximate thawing times:



Refrigerator Thawing Cool Water Thawing

4-12 lbs

1 to 2 days

2 to 6 hours

12-16 lbs

3 to 4 days

6 to 8 hours

16-20 lbs

4 to 5 days

8 to 10 hours

20-24 lbs 5 to 6 days

10 to 12 hours

Stuffing a Turkey

  • The safest way to cook stuffing is separately from the turkey. However, if you do plan on cooking a turkey with stuffing inside, the most important rule of thumb is to ensure the temperature of the stuffing reaches 165°F. Use a thermometer to ensure accurate temperature measurement. Stuffing that has not reached this temperature is at risk of containing bacteria that has survived the cooking process.
  • It is recommended that high risk ingredients such as seafood, raw meat, or poultry be cooked before mixed into stuffing for baking inside a turkey. These inputs are linked to causes of foodborne illness.
  • Stuff a turkey right before cooking. The stuffing should be moist as wetter environments are more ideal for killing off pathogens.
  • Leftovers should be refrigerated within 2 hours of cooking and consuming.

How long to cook a Turkey

For roasting a turkey:

  • Oven temperature should be no less than 325°F
  • The turkey should be fully thawed for even cooking
  • Foil may be used to cover the breast to prevent overcooking. The foil should be removed for browning near the end of cooking.
  • Place the bird breast up with wings tucked under the shoulders of the turkey

Please refer to the chart below for approximate cooking times at 325°F.



Unstuffed (in hours) Stuffed

4-6 lb


6-8 lb


8-12 lb



12-14 lb



14-18 lb



18-20 lb



20-24 lb 4½-5