Holiday Feature


Chapter 7.
How to Tell When the Turkey Is Done


Rule #9: Always use a meat thermometer to check for doneness.
See our section on Using a Meat Thermometer.


Q: My turkey comes with a plastic pop-up timer. Can't I use that instead?

A: You can, but many cooks have found them unreliable, usually resulting in overcooked turkey. The best method is to use an accurate meat thermometer, whether it be the oven-safe or instant read variety.

Turkey Tip: To test the accuracy of your instant read thermometer, insert the tip about 2 inches deep into boiling water. At sea level it should register 212 degrees F. If it does not, replace it; or if it has a calibration device, reset it for accuracy.

Q: How accurate are "recommended cooking times"?

A: None of us want an undercooked turkey—or an overcooked one! with so many variables, it's best to check your turkey with a meat thermometer before you estimate the bird to be done. Don't ever serve an undercooked bird, but in some instances, we've found the USDA recommended cooking times to be longer than necessary, resulting in an overcooked bird, so start checking your bird about 3/4th of the way through the total recommended cooking time.

Q: How can I tell when the turkey is done?

A: There are several ways to determine if the turkey is cooked through. For safety and doneness the internal temperature, as registered on a meat thermometer, must reach a minimum of 165 degrees, though most cooks will prefer up to 180 degrees F. in the thigh. The center of the stuffing should reach 165 degrees F in the cavity, and the center of the breast is done at 165 to 170 degrees. You can also prick the leg joint with a fork, and if the juices run just slightly pink or clear, the turkey is done.


USDA Timetable for Turkey Roasted at 325 degrees F.

Note: These times are approximate and should always be used in conjunction with a properly placed thermometer. Be sure to check the thermometer about 3/4th of the way through the time indicated so as not to overcook.

Unstuffed Weight Roasting Time
8 to 12 lbs 2-3/4 to 3 hours
12 to 14 lbs 3 to 3-3/4 hours
14 to 18 lbs 3-3/4 to 4-1/4 hours
18 to 20 lbs 4-1/4 to 4-1/2 hours
20 to 24 lbs 4-1/2 to 5 hours
Stuffed Weight Roasting Time
8 to 12 lbs 3 to 3-1/2 hours
12 to 14 lbs 3-1/2 to 4 hours
14 to 18 lbs 4 to 4-1/4 hours
18 to 20 lbs 4-1/4 to 4-3/4 hours
20 to 24 lbs 4-3/4 to 5-3/4 hours

our Perfect Turkey Handbook

Preface: Safety Tips Before Cooking

Chapter 1. Buying a Turkey

  • What size turkey should I buy?
  • Is it better to buy one large turkey or two small ones?
  • Should I buy fresh or frozen?
  • What about turkeys that have been injected with fats and seasonings?
  • What about turkey parts and frozen stuffed turkeys?

Chapter 2. Storing an Uncooked Turkey

  • How long can a whole turkey be kept frozen?
  • How long can a fresh turkey be kept refrigerated?

Chapter 3. Thawing a Frozen Turkey

  • Thawing Rules
  • Thawing Methods
  • Turkey Thawing Charts

Chapter 4. Stuffing (or Not Stuffing) a Turkey

  • Is it best to cook the stuffing inside the bird, or separately in a baking dish?
  • If I do want to stuff the bird, what's the best way to do it?
  • How much stuffing do I need?
  • Do I need to close up the cavity after it has been stuffed?

Chapter 5. Preparing the Turkey for Roasting

  • Preparations Step-by-Step
  • Stuffing & Trussing
  • Do I need to truss the bird's legs, or can I just roast it the extra effort?

Chapter 6. Roasting the Turkey

  • Roasting Step-by-Step
  • How do I keep the breast meat moist when cooking?

Chapter 7. How to Tell When It's Done

  • Use a Meat Thermometer
  • My turkey comes with a plastic pop-up timer. Can't I use that instead?
  • How accurate are "recommended cooking times"?
  • How can I tell when the turkey is done?
  • USDA Timetable for Turkey Roasted at 325 degrees F.

Chapter 8. Making the Gravy

  • Rules for Making Gravy
  • Making the Basic Gravy
  • Additions to Gravy

Chapter 9. Carving the Bird

  • Basic Carving steps
  • Removing the Thigh, Drumstick & Wings
  • Carving the breast

Chapter 10. Storing Leftovers & Food Safety After Cooking

  • Storing leftovers
  • Reheating leftovers


FoodWine's Perfect Turkey Handbook
Using a Meat Thermometer


This page modified November 2006

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