Cooking that perfect Thanksgiving turkey

Thanksgiving, also known as Turkey Day, is as we all know a time to give thanks and celebrate a bountiful harvest.  The traditional Thanksgiving feast includes turkey, sweet potatoes, cranberries, pumpkins and more besides.

One of the biggest problems with cooking such a big bird is the risk of Salmonella, a very unpleasant form of food poisoning which is passed from wild and domestic animals such as pigs, poultry, dairy cows and pets to humans. It can occur when an infected bird is not cooked properly resulting in the pathogen remaining intact within the meat.

Symptoms of Salmonella include a fever, stomach pains, Diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting.  It can also induce a loss of appetite and last for two or three days.

To avoid the risk of food poisoning we have a guide which will help you work out how long to cook your big Thanksgiving bird for and how better to prepare it.

Cooking time and oven temperature are of the utmost importance, not only for health reasons but to make sure the meat is juicy and tender.  If it’s too dry you’ve overcooked it.

The weight of the bird dictates thawing and cooking times. The following is a correct guide for thaw time per pound:

8 to 12lbs 2 – 3 days
13 to 16lbs 3 – 4 days
17 to 20lbs 4 – 5 days
21-24lbs 5 – 6 days

When the turkey is fully thawed and you’re ready to cook it, make sure the oven temperature is absolutely spot on.  It’s essential that the bird is fully thawed first which can be done by leaving it in the fridge or running it under the cold tap (although this can lead to loss of flavour).  Thawing in a microwave is a bad idea as it can cause bacterial growth and contamination.

Next up, preheat the oven to 475 degrees – this is very important.

After you’ve removed the gizzards (neck and giblets), pull the skin back carefully without removing it completely and rub butter on the bare breast meat.  You can also add a few herbs such as Rosemary or Thyme, a little salt and some pepper.

You can also place a large onion inside the ribcage and sprinkle some finely chopped garlic over the buttered breast.  Once seasoned put the turkey in it’s roasting dish and place in the preheated oven for 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes at 475 degrees lower the temperature to 250 degrees so that you begin to slow cook the bird.  This will ensure that it comes out tender and moist with a good flavour.

The table below shows the average cooking times per pound but is only to be used for a completely thawed turkey.

Weight (lbs) Time @ 475 Time @ 250 Rest time Total
10 20 mins 3h 20m 20 mins 4h
11 20 mins 3h 40m 20 mins 4h 20m
12 20 mins 4 h 20 mins 4h 40m
13 20 mins 4h 20m 20 mins 5h
14 20 mins 4h 40m 20 mins 5h 20m
15 20 mins 5h 20 mins 5h 40m
16 20 mins 5h 20m 20 mins 6h
17 20 mins 5h 40m 20 mins 6h 20m
18 20 mins 6h 20 mins 6h 40m
19 20 mins 6h 20m 20 mins 7h
20 20 mins 6h 40m 20 mins 7h 20m

Before finishing make sure you check the internal meat temperature with a thermometer.  It should read between 175 and 180 degrees.

Rest time is standing time after the turkey is removed from the oven.  It is a guide line as to how long the bird should stand before carving.

The good people at Butterball have a turkey helpline available to give tips and guidelines and you can find the helpline number at their website.

Let us know if this was helpful by leaving a comment.

Read more about food poisoning, and Ina Garten’s Google doodle.


6 thoughts on “Cooking that perfect Thanksgiving turkey

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  5. I cooked my 12 lb. turkey this way and it wasn’t even close to being done in 4.5 hours. 250 degrees is MUCH too low!! You need to change that to 350, you are endangering people with this info. My husband & I were poisoned by the stuffing because it didn’t get hot enough inside. Please update this site before this happend to anyone else.

  6. I made the best turkey of my life last Thanks Giving, considering where I was born there’s no such thing as turkey dinner.

    This time guide is wicked, my family and friends asked me how I did it.

    This time I’m going to print this out, Christmas is coming!!!

    Thank you so much.

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