What Temperature to Cook Turkey?

  • By: Jack Mancuso

What Temperature to Cook Turkey?

The National Turkey Federation reports that Americans eat about 16 pounds of turkey annually. Normally, we see this grand bird on Thanksgiving as the show's star. But turkey is amazingly flexible meat. You can certainly carve it up, but you can also smoke it, make it into burgers, turn it into stews, and so much more. However, the key to successfully serving the bird is knowing at what temperature to cook turkey. 

Now, there are some factors in determining turkey temperatures, including the size of the bird and its origins. Let’s start with shopping for your turkey.

Picking Out a Turkey

How Big?

The size of your turkey definitely affects time and temperature. To know how much you’ll need, anticipate about 1 pound per person. For an unstuffed bird, you can expect 15-20 minutes per pound. Regarding at what temperature to cook the bird, I suggest 325 for tender results.

Fresh? Frozen? Organic? 

Once you know how much bird you need, there are yet more options in the market to ponder (who knew turkey choices could be tricky?). For example, there’s fresh vs. frozen turkey. A fresh one provides the convenience of cooking it immediately, whereas you must thaw frozen ones. However, if there’s a sale going on, grab an extra bird for the freezer!

When you place a turkey in the refrigerator to thaw, allow for 24 hours per five pounds of turkey. Get it out of the deep freeze early!

Then there’s organic and free-range to consider. The big question is, do they taste better? Yep! Organic and free-range turkeys receive no hormones or antibiotics in their diet. The downside is they’re a tad more expensive.

Time and What Temperature to Cook Turkey

The suggested heat for cooking a turkey is 325F. You need to allow for 15 minutes per pound for readiness. Use a meat thermometer to check the temperature. Put it deep in the breast and the innermost area of the thigh. It is fully cooked at 165F.

Setting the oven to 350F can shorten the cooking time. Now, you need about 13 minutes per pound. What about 375? Now it’s only 12 minutes per pound. For best results, however, turkey benefits from a slower cook.

Crisping the Skin

Initially you can brine the turkey. It instills another layer of flavor while helping achieve that desirable crisp skin.

If you adore crispy skin, pat your turkey dry all over with paper towels. Put some butter under the skin, then rub the turkey all over with it. Season with herbs and spices for a rich flavor. 

For a smoky flavor, try Cuso’s Dust all-natural seasoning. There’s also Cuso Grass Seasoning for earthy notes. If you like a little sweet heat, consider Cuso’s Hot Honey.  

Here’s a recipe for Maple Bourbon Butter Turkey

Start the bird at 425F for the first half hour, then return your oven to 325F. Baste the turkey periodically. If you have a roasting rack, use it. That keeps the bottom from getting soggy. At the end, you can crisp up the skin even more; give it a little time under the broiler until the texture is where you want it. Check the bird to make sure the internal temperature is 165F.

PitMaster’s Memo: Turkey’s Tasty History

If we look back about 2,000 years, we find Native Americans domesticating turkeys. Both the Mayans and Aztecs had entire meals and religious ceremonies centered around turkey.

Columbus introduced turkeys to Europe in the 15th century. The nobility fell in love. By the 16th century, this humble bird appeared on posh tables. King Henry VIII, in particular, was a huge fan, enjoying turkey at Christmas time.

Raising turkeys started in the 19th century in the United States. When refrigeration and railroads developed, the turkey traveled into nationwide households.


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