If you plan to present a whole roast turkey for your Thanksgiving
dinner–or any other occasion–you want a beautifully browned bird with
moist, juicy meat.
But because there is much conflicting information about how long to
cook a turkey, we decided to start from scratch in Sunset’s test
kitchens and run a series of carefully controlled tests. We roasted
matching pairs of 10- to 26-pound unstuffed birds, cooking each in
identical ovens; then we roasted more to compare times for stuffed and
Some of the results were very surprising. All the birds, no matter
what their size, cooked in 2 to 4 hours, give or take a few minutes.
Turkeys that weighed 20 to 26 pounds often cooked in the same amount of
time–except 24-pounders often cooked more quickly, as the proportion of
bone to meat appears to jump.
Smaller turkeys, simply because they cook for a shorter time,
didn’t brown as richly as the larger ones. Stuffed birds sometimes
took a little longer to cook.
We agree with the general consensus that 170[deg.] is the ideal
temperature for moist breast meat, but there is only one way to tell:
use a meat therometer in the breast, not the thigh. Turkeys cook fairly
evenly throughout. If the thigh reaches 180[deg.] to 185[deg.], as
commonly recommended, you will be disappointed by a dry breast.
AT 170[deg.] or thereabouts, the thigh joint is often–but not
always–pink. It may be undercooked or slightly discolored. If the
meat is underdone when you cut it off, cook it further while you carve
A 10-pound cooked bird may have as little as 65 percent meat, while
larger ones may yield 70 to 78 percent meat. Toms, at 16 pounds, can
have as much as 10 percent less meat than hens of equal weight.
Roasting a turkey
Allow 3/4 pound raw turkey for 1 serving. To prepare turkey for
roasting, remove neck and giblets and reserve for gravy; pull off and
discard large fat lumps.
Rinse turkey inside and out. Set, breast up, on a rack in a pan
that allows an inch or two of space all around the turkey. Stuff if
desired; pin neck skin to back and skewer body opening shut. Leave legs
free so they cook more evenly at the hip joint. Rub with butter or
margarine and sprinkle with salt and pepper, or season according to a
Roast in a 325[deg.] oven until a thermometer inserted in thickest
part of breast, not against bone, registers 170[deg.].
For unstuffed birds, allow about 2 hours for a 10-pounder, 2-1/4
hours for a 12-pounder, 2-1/2 hours for a 14-pounder, 3 hours for a
16-pounder, 3-1/4 hours for an 18-pounder, 3-3/4 hours for a 20-pounder,
4 hours for a 22-pounder, as little as 3-1/4 hours for a 24-pounder, and
4 hours for a 26-pound turkey.
Check thermometer every 15 to 30 minutes after the first 2 hours as
cooking rate varies with conformation of the bird; also, jiggle
thermometer around to be sure it is in the coolest part of breast. If
bird is stuffed, anticipate as much as 30 minutes’ extra cooking
Let the turkey stand 20 to 40 minutes before carving for juices to
settle in meat. Cut of drumsticks and thighs at joints. If thighs
aren’t done, put in a shallow pan and roast in a 450[deg.] oven
until meat fibers pull apart easily, 10 to 15 minutes; meanwhile, carve
the bird and continue to serve dinner.