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

Chapter 2. Storing an Uncooked Turkey

Chapter 3. Thawing a Frozen Turkey

Chapter 4. Stuffing (or Not Stuffing) a Turkey

Chapter 5. Preparing the Turkey for Roasting

Chapter 6. Roasting the Turkey

Chapter 7. How to Tell When It's Done

Chapter 8. Making the Gravy

Chapter 9. Carving the Bird

Chapter 10. Storing Leftovers & Food Safety After Cooking


FoodWine's Perfect Turkey Handbook
Using a Meat Thermometer


This page modified November 2006