When it comes to cooking a turkey, you don’t want to play guessing games.
If you cook your turkey for too short a time, you’ll end up with an undercooked bird that could make your loved ones sick. If you cook your bird for too long, you’ll recreate the famous dry turkey scene from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. There’s not enough gravy in the world to fix that!
Unfortunately, the answer to “How long does it take to cook a turkey?” doesn’t have a quick answer. Your timing is going to depend on several factors, including weight, stuffing, and cooking method.But don’t worry because we’ve rounded up all the answers you need for a crash course in cook times that’ll help you make sure the bird comes out picture-perfect on Turkey Day.
Let’s get started.
To Roast: The best temperature to cook a turkey is 325 degrees Fahrenheit. This consistent temperature will cook the interior of the bird while the outside crisps nicely. At higher temperatures, the exterior of the bird can start to burn before the interior is cooked.
To Smoke: One very low-and-slow method of cooking a turkey is smoking. If you smoke a turkey, cooking at 180 degrees Fahrenheit will deliver the best results.
If you’re cooking a 20-pound turkey at 325 degrees Fahrenheit, you should plan for a cooking time from 4 ½ hours to 4 ¾ hours. The exact length of time you’ll need to cook your bird depends on whether it’s stuffed, though.
An unstuffed 20-pound turkey will naturally cook faster, so it will take around 4 ½ hours. By stuffing your bird, you’re adding that extra 15 minutes onto your wait for a cooking time of closer to 4 ¾ hours.
To be clear, these cooking times are approximate, and they’ll vary a little bit based on your cooking method. That’s why you should always use a food thermometer and check the internal temperature of your turkey before calling time. It's best to plan an hour of extra cooking time into your day, just in case.
For turkey, the USDA recommends an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit in the innermost part of the thigh, the innermost part of the wing, and the thickest part of the breast. Hit that temp, and your bird is properly roasted.
You should cook a 15-pound turkey at 325 degrees Fahrenheit anywhere from 3 ½ to 4 ½ hours. Bear in mind this time range is for a bird of between 14 and 18 pounds, and the exact timing will (again) depend on whether your turkey is stuffed.1
An unstuffed bird of 15 pounds will likely finish at around the 4-hour mark (or just before). A stuffed turkey will take at least 4 hours to cook, and typically takes an extra 15 minutes until you’ve hit that desired internal temperature.
But no matter what method you’ve used, the same USDA rules on inner temperature apply for a 15-pound turkey. Don’t stop cooking your bird until your thermometer reads 165 degrees Fahrenheit in the thickest part of the thigh, wing, and breast.
You should cook a 12-pound turkey at 325 degrees Fahrenheit for 3 to 3 ½ hours. If you want to break down those times and get more precise, it will all depend on whether your turkey is stuffed or unstuffed (see a pattern here?).
An unstuffed 12-pound turkey will take around 3 hours to cook at 325 degrees. Meanwhile, a stuffed 12-pound bird will take closer to 3 ½ hours. The exact timing is going to vary depending on cooking method, your oven, and other factors, but this is a pretty good range.
Just like other turkey sizes, knowing when your 12-pound turkey is cooked is based on internal temperature. When in doubt, stick with the USDA guidelines: 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Be sure to gauge your temps in the thickest part of the thigh, wing, and breast to be sure you’re not misreading.
From 3 to 5 hours is the approximate time to roast a turkey in the oven which is the most common method. The exact timing will depend on the size of the turkey and the temperature of the oven.
If you choose a different cooking method, the timing can be quite different. To help you decipher all these variables, we’ll do a quick dive into all three cooking methods and cover the cooking times you should generally expect.
A traditional smoked turkey will take approximately one hour per pound with your smoker's temperature at 175 degrees Fahrenheit. The low-and-slow method will give you a very tender turkey, but it's an all-day effort. If you are serving a very large party, you'll save a lot of time by smoking two smaller-size turkeys rather than one gigantic one.
Traeger owners can deliver incredible smoke flavor without the all-day effort. In a pellet grill, set at 325 degrees Fahrenheit, a turkey will be cooked in 3 to 4 hours. The exact cooking time will depend on the size of your bird.
A deep-fried turkey should cook within 30 to 45 minutes. This range is for a turkey of between 12 and 14 pounds which is the size a lot of experts recommend you stick with when frying a bird on Thanksgiving. How long you deep fry a turkey will depend on the size of your bird.
Although most deep fryers on the market claim they can handle anything up to an 18-pound turkey, you could run into trouble frying a bird that size. If you go too much bigger than 14 pounds, fryers aren’t always able to penetrate the inner meat quickly enough. That means in order to make sure your bird is fully cooked, your outer meat could get charred in the process.
If you go for a deep-fried turkey, your thermometer will be your BFF. Keep it close at all times. You want the cooking oil to stay between 325 and 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
In terms of cooking times, budget for 3 to 5 minutes per pound. But once you’ve reached the 30-minute mark, you’ll want to be ready to remove the turkey from your frying oil, and check its temperature for a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Once you’ve hit a temp of 165, you’re good to drain your bird and let it rest.
If you’re cooking a turkey in the oven, you should plan for around 20 minutes per pound. It will normally take from 4 ½ hours to 4 ¾ hours to cook an 18 to 20-pound turkey in the oven. But as with all other bird sizes and cooking methods, be aware that a stuffed bird will take slightly longer.
An unstuffed turkey in the relatively plump 18 to 20-pound weight class, will be on the lower end of the cooking time scale. You’re looking at 4 ¼ hours to 4 ½ hours. Stuff your bird, and you’ll need to add an extra 15 minutes. Your turkey could take anywhere from 4 ¼ hours to 4 ¾ hours.
These times are all based upon an oven temperature of 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
With oven roasting, you’ve got more leeway in terms of cooking times than with a deep fryer. You can afford to add a few minutes or take it out a minute early without disaster striking. That being said, the USDA’s recommended internal temperature of 165 degrees applies to all cooking methods.
Before you take your turkey out of the oven, break out your thermometer and check the thickest parts of your thigh, wing, and breast. Be sure your thermometer isn’t touching the bone because the bones get way hotter and it will mess up your reading.
Once fully-cooked, you can take your bird out of the oven. Plan for at least 15 to 20 minutes so the bird can rest, and the juices can get settled before carving.
If you’re cooking a stuffed turkey, it will normally take anywhere from 4 hours and 15 minutes to 4 ¾ hours. This range is based on the assumption that you have a bird weighing in at 18 to 20 pounds. But as with all other cooking methods, you’ll need to keep tabs on the internal temperature of your turkey in order to know whether it’s done.
Just like an unstuffed bird, you’ll know your stuffed turkey is done cooking when it’s reached that target internal temp of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. But because you’ve chosen to stuff your turkey, you’ll need to add an extra step when monitoring your temperatures. In addition to registering the innermost part of the thigh, wing, and breast, you’ll also have to check the center of your stuffing. With the stuffing temperature, you’re looking for that same 165-degree mark.
After you’ve hit the USDA recommended internal temperature, let your turkey stand for 15 to 20 minutes before carving.
Now that we’ve covered cooking times and all of your basic methods, it’s time to fire up your Traeger and get started down the path to Thanksgiving glory. And if you need a traditional turkey recipe, we’ve got you covered.
Our Traditional Thanksgiving Turkey recipe is absolutely foolproof. It calls for simple spices and only takes 15 minutes of actual prep work. Best of all, your bird will soak up all those primal, wood-fired autumnal flavors with an extra kick from natural, hardwood cherry pellets. Traeger is your recipe for success, and this recipe will not disappoint.
Start by combining butter with minced garlic, thyme, rosemary, black pepper, and kosher salt in a bowl. Then, get the turkey ready by separating the skin from the breast in order to create a pocket. That pocket is where you’ll need to stuff all that lovely butter-herb mixture you’ve made. Cover the turkey breast with one-quarter inch of the butter mixture, too.
Next, season the entire bird with salt and black pepper, and stuff your turkey cavity with our Traditional Stuffing (if that’s the route you want to go).
Preheat your Traeger to 300 degrees Fahrenheit with the lid closed for 15 minutes, place your turkey on the grill, and let that bird roast for 3 to 4 hours.
This next bit’s important, so pay attention. Once you have an internal temperature of 175 degrees around your thigh bone and 160 degrees in the breast, take the bird off the grill. Because the bones are a bit hotter than the meat, your turkey will continue to cook a tiny bit off the grill and reach the USDA recommended final temp of 165 degrees without any further heat.
Let the turkey rest for 10 to 15 minutes, carve, and enjoy. It’s that simple.
When it comes to Thanksgiving dinner, timing is everything. Knowing beforehand exactly how long it’s going to take to cook your turkey means a better chance of everything coming together at exactly the right time, and it means you won’t have any hangry guests.
Looking for more Thanksgiving tips? Check out our collection of Turkey Day recipes and get inspired with all sorts of weird, wonderful, and downright delicious sides, gravies, desserts, and cocktails that will make your holiday totally epic.