Cooking Turkey

How to Cook a Turkey

Real Restaurant Recipe

Cooking Turkey or How to Cook a Turkey was written at the request of one of the restaurant guests. He asked that we be as specific as possible. He considers, as many Americans do, a roast turkey to be a true comfort food.

Then the two guests he was with asked for an article on How To Carve A Turkey. We have always been “guest driven."  Just click the link!

Cooking Turkey

General Information

If you are roasting a frozen turkey, allow one day for every 4 pounds that your turkey weighs and defrost in the refrigerator.

If you are roasting a fresh turkey, do not hold more than two days or past the date on the label. The roasting process will reduce the moisture content of any type of meat, so it is important to follow the steps for roasting to ensure the best results.

Day before Cooking the Turkey

  • Potatoes may be peeled, covered with cold water and stored in the refrigerator.
  • Bake pies. Pumpkin pie should be stored in the refrigerator.

Night before Dinner:

  • If possible, set the dinner table.
  • Plan the serving dishes you will use for dinner.
  • Ask your sister (like I do) or a friend to come a little early to help with the final preparations.

Variables That Affect Cooking Turkey :

  • A partially frozen turkey requires a longer cooking time
  • Dark roasting pans cook food faster than shiny metals
  • The depth and size of the pan can reduce heat circulation to all areas of a turkey
  • The use of a foil tent for the entire cooking time can slow cooking
  • Use of a roasting pan lid speeds cooking
  • An oven cooking bag can accelerate cooking time
  • A stuffed turkey requires more time to cook
  • The oven may heat food unevenly

Roasting times may vary greatly depending on a number of variables that affect the cooking time such as the shape of the turkey, the proportion of meat to bone, the variations in different ovens, the altitude, and if the turkey is fresh or frozen and then thawed.

Listed below are roasting times that can be used as a general guideline, but the only true gauge for determining proper doneness is with a meat thermometer. The breast must reach an internal temperature of 170° F and the thigh must reach 180° F.

Roasting Times for a Whole Turkey Cooked in a 325° F Conventional Oven Note: Using a convection oven will cut as much as 25% off the cooking times.

Weight Unstuffed Stuffed
8 to 12 pounds 2 3/4 to 3 hrs 3 to 3 1/2 hrs
12 to 14 pounds 3 to 3 3/4 hrs 3 1/2 to 4 hrs
14 to 18 pounds 3 3/4 to 4 1/4 hrs 4 to 4 1/4 hrs
18 to 20 pounds 4 1/4 to 4 1/2 hrs 4 1/4 to 4 3/4 hrs
20 to 24 pounds 4 1/2 to 5 hrs 4 3/4 to 5 1/4 hrs

Read all the directions before you begin cooking turkey preparations. Let the turkey sit out at room temperature for 2 hours before putting it in the oven.

Roast Turkey with Gravy


  • 1 Turkey
  • Salt and pepper
  • Butter or vegetable oil
  • 8 ounces onions, chopped medium
  • 4 ounces carrots, chopped medium
  • 4 ounces celery, chopped medium
  • 3 quarts chicken stock, hot
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 6 ounces fat from roasting turkey
  • 3 Bay leaves
  • 10 whole peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Instructions For Preparing and Cooking Turkey:

  • Remove the neck and giblets, which are usually placed inside the body cavity
  • Rinse the turkey inside and out and pat dry with paper towels
  • Season the turkey with salt and pepper inside and out and with any herbs and spices that are desired

I prefer to bake the dressing separately instead of stuffing the turkey because it cooks more quickly and there is no time consumed removing dressing from the turkey. These directions address both options.

If you are going to stuff the turkey, do it right before the bird is placed in the oven. Do not stuff the bird early as harmful bacteria may grow if the turkey is not cooked right after stuffing.

Don't pack the stuffing tightly because it expands as it cooks. 

If you are baking the dressing separately, prepare it shortly before baking by spooning lightly into low, greased  baking pans.

  • Brush the cooking turkey with melted butter to help the browning process.
  • Place the turkey breast side up on a rack in a shallow roasting pan and place the pan in the center of the lowest rack of a 325-350 degree F preheated oven
  • Roast uncovered. Keep the oven door closed as much as possible to keep a constant temperature in the oven.
  • While the turkey is roasting, place turkey heart, gizzard, and neck in a saucepan with onions, carrots, celery, bay leaves, whole peppercorns and salt. (do not use the liver)
  • Add just enough chicken stock to cover and simmer until very tender (about 1 1/2-2 hours)
  • Reserve the broth and the giblets for gravy. If you do not want to add the giblets to the gravy or dressing, just discard them.
  • Baste the turkey with drippings (fat only) every 30-45 minutes for a crisp skin.

(The more times the oven door is opened, the longer the cooking time will be due to loss of heat)

You may tent the turkey with foil towards the end of the roasting time to keep it from browning too much.

  • Use a meat thermometer when cooking turkey to find out the temperature (remove at 165 degrees F for the breast and 175 degrees F for the thigh). The temperature will rise about 5 degrees as the turkey sits. Do not overcook. The total roasting time depends on the size of your turkey (see chart).

You can use lifting forks to remove the turkey from the oven and place it on a large cutting board and tent it with foil.

  • Let it sit in a warm place about 20-30 minutes. This distributes the juices and makes carving easier. Place the lifting forks as shown in the photo for minimum loss of juices.
  • Drain drippings from the pan into a large measuring cup or bowl. The fat will rise to the top. Spoon the fat into a measuring cup and save for the gravy.
  • Pour 1 quart of chicken stock into roasting pan over medium heat and stir to loosen brown bits in the pan. When all the brown bits are loosened, pour into a large pan with the rest of the chicken stock and the giblet broth enough to equal 3 quarts. Bring to a simmer.
  • Skim the fat off the surface with a large spoon
  • Make a roux by placing 6 ounces of reserved fat (from the roasting pan) in a sauce pan over medium heat. Add 1 1/2 cups of flour and stir using a wire whip until the mixture is smooth. Brown lightly but do not burn.
  • Beat the roux into the saucepan of stock to thicken it. 
  • Simmer at least 15 minutes, until the gravy is smooth and no raw flour taste remains (strain if necessary and correct seasoning)
  • Chop or dice the giblets very fine and add to the gravy, if desired (otherwise dispose of them)

An oven-safe bag may also be used for preparing and cooking turkey.  The preparation and roasting steps are identical to the steps used for preparing and cooking turkey without an oven bag except for the following additional steps:

  • Add a small quantity of flour to the bag and shake it to coat the inside of the bag
  • Place the turkey inside the bag and close the opening with the twist tie provided
  • A few holes should be punctured in the bag to allow some steam to escape during the roasting process

The oven-roasting bag keeps the turkey very moist and it speeds up the roasting time. The following cooking times can be used as a guideline for an unstuffed turkey roasted in an oven bag in a 350° F conventional oven.

8 to 12 pounds 1 1/2 to 2 1/4 hours
12 to 14 pounds 2 1/4 to 2 3/4 hours
14 to 18 pounds 2 3/4 to 3 1/2 hours
18 to 20 pounds 3 1/2 to 4 hours
20 to 24 pounds 4 to 4 1/2 hours

An additional 30 minutes or more may be required for a stuffed turkey.

Remember, the only reliable gauge for determining proper doneness when cooking turkey is with a meat thermometer - the breast must reach an internal temperature of 170° F and the thigh must reach 180° F.

Yes, cooking turkey takes a little work. I think that is why the restaurant is busy on Thanksgiving. But if you follow the directions carefully and are reasonably organized, you'll do great.

Enjoy cooking turkey with your friends and family. Enjoy this comfort food and the company of those you share it with! - Donna

"No more turkey, but I'd like another helping of that bread he ate."