The Ultimate Thanksgiving Turkey Guide

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Learn how to cook a turkey for your best Thanksgiving yet. We've got tips on cook times, what to stuff a turkey with and even how you can make turkey on the grill, in a deep fryer or your Instant Pot!

Thanksgiving dinner is the most anticipated meal of the year, and the turkey is certainly the star of that show. Now, that’s a lot of pressure to put on the preparation of one bird, but don’t sweat it! Once you know the basics of prepping a turkey, the only thing you’ll have to worry about is getting everyone’s favorite Thanksgiving sides on the table.

How to Prepare a Turkey

When preparing turkey for the holidays, you’ve got a lot of options. You could roast a turkey, grill it or even fry it. Get the detailed instructions you need for the most popular methods right here.

Cooking Methods

A deep-fried turkey means tender, juicy meat that’s ready in a fraction of the time. Follow our step-by-step guide to learn how to deep-fry a turkey.

Traditional Thanksgiving Turkey Recipes

For most, Thanksgiving is all about traditions. That means mashed potatoes, green bean casserole and an assortment of pies for dessert. As for the turkey, the holiday calls for a classically roasted bird with wonderful aromatics like onion, sage and thyme. Check out our top traditional turkey recipes.

The Tools You Need for Turkey Day

Cooking and carving a big bird requires some special tools. Be sure to check out our favorite Thanksgiving gear. It’ll help the biggest meal of the year go much more smoothly. Looking for the best electric knife? Check out what our Test Kitchen thinks are the top performers. And if you invest in anything for the holidays, let it be these three tools:

Turkey FAQs

Q: What temperature should I cook turkey to?

A: Turkey is done and safe to eat when the temperature taken from the deepest part of the thigh reaches 170-175º F. If you’re only roasting a turkey breast, 165º F is what you’re looking to reach. Be sure to bookmark our food safe temperature guide.

Q: How long does a turkey cook?

A: In general, you should cook a whole turkey for about 15 minutes per pound. You can consult this chart here for recommended times for both whole turkeys and turkey breasts.

Turkey Weight 
Cooking Time  
Doneness Temperature 
4-6 lb. breast 1 hr 30 mins–2 hrs 15 mins 165°F
6-8 lb. breast 2 hrs 15 mins–3 hrs 15 mins 165°F
8-12 lbs. 2 hrs 45 mins–3 hrs 170-175°F
12-14 lbs. 3 hrs–3 hrs 45 mins 170-175°F
14-18 lbs. 3 hrs 45 mins–4 hrs 15 mins 170-175°F
18-20 lbs. 4 hrs 15 mins–4 hrs 30 mins 170-175°F
20-24 lbs. 4 hrs 30 mins–5 hrs 170-175°F

Note: All times are accurate for a 325°F oven.

Q: What should I stuff a turkey with?

A: It may come as a surprise, but you shouldn’t cook stuffing inside your bird. This is because it’s near-impossible for the stuffing to reach a food-safe temperature without overcooking the turkey meat. Read the science behind it here. Instead, you can stuff your turkey with all sorts of aromatics—think onions, herbs, apples, citrus. These will help keep the turkey moist and give it more flavor.

Q: How long does leftover turkey last?

A: If you keep it in the fridge, it’s safe to eat leftover turkey for up to four days after you’ve made it. It keeps about three months in the freezer. Here’s our handy reference guide for how long your holiday leftovers should last.

Don’t Forget the Extras

Lisa Kaminski
Lisa is an editor at Taste of Home where she gets to embrace her passion for baking. She pours this love of all things sweet (and sometimes savory) into Bakeable, Taste of Home's baking club. Lisa is also dedicated to finding and testing the best ingredients, kitchen gear and home products for our Test Kitchen-Preferred program. At home, you'll find her working on embroidery and other crafts.