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Roasting Turkey 101

Many home cooks fret about roasting a whole turkey. If that's you, use this comprehensive information to help guide you to success.

What Size to Buy

When factoring what size turkey to buy, allowing 1 1/2 lb (750 grams) per person, or even a little more, is a good bet. Whole turkeys have bones, of course, and leftover meat for sandwiches, soup and other dishes, desirable.

Storing and Thawing

The safest to thaw a frozen turkey is to set it in a sided pan in the refrigerator. Allow 24 hours thawing time for every 5 lb (2.2 kg) of turkey. For example, a 12 to 14 lb (5.5 to 6.3 kg) turkey will take about three days to thaw.

If you've forgotten to thaw the bird in the manner above, another safe thawing method is to completely submerge it in cold water. Allow one hour thawing time for each 2 lb (1 kg) of turkey. Change the water occasionally to assure safe, but effective thawing. Never thaw at room temperature.

When buying a fresh bird, check the best-before date to ensure it aligns with when you'll cook it. Keep in its original packaging, set it in a sided pan, and refrigerate at 40 degrees F (4 degrees C) or less until ready to roast.


Tasty turkey dressing can be baked separately from the bird and you'll find recipes in our collection

However, many prefer to stuff the bird, feeling it enhances the flavor of that stuffing and the mild-tasting turkey.

If you do, stuff the bird just before roasting, loosely fill the main cavity. Don't pack it in or it may not get hot enough to kill any bacteria present in the turkey. Also stuff the cavity behind the flap of skin at the neck end of the bird. If you have any leftover stuffing, bake it separately from the turkey.

Remove stuffing as soon as the bird is cooked and set in a heatproof dish. If it does not feel hot, bake stuffing until the centre registers a bacteria-killing 165 degrees F (74 degrees C) on an instant-read thermometer.


Some put the turkey in the oven and don't open the door until it's done. During roasting, others occasionally baste it with pan juices, feeling it moistens the flesh. However, the more you open the oven, the longer the turkey takes to cook.

Why not take an in-between approach and roast the turkey undisturbed until its first doneness check, which usually comes when it's not quite cooked (see next item). Since the oven door is now open, it makes sense to now baste the turkey, as it will richen its colour when fully cooked.

Testing for Doneness and Cooking Times

The cooking times below are for cooking a whole turkey at an oven temperature of 325 degrees F to 350 degrees F (160 degrees C to 180 degrees C), using regular heat, not convection. Remember, if you frequently open the oven to baste, cooking time may be extended.

Also remember that turkeys, even if the same weight, are never exactly the same. Some have thicker breasts, others longer legs, and that can affect cooking time. That's why it's important to check for doneness about one hour before the end of the recommended roasting time.

The turkey is done when an instant-read meat thermometer inserted deep into the inner thigh, not touching the bone, reads 170 degrees F (77 degrees C) for an unstuffed turkey, or 180 degrees F (82 degrees C) for a stuffed one.
Roasting times for an unstuffed turkey:
  • 6–8 lb (2.7–3.5 kg) 2 1/2–2 3/4 hours
  • 8–10 lb (3.5–4.5 kg) 2 3/4–3 hours
  • 10–12 lb (4.5–5.5 kg) 3–3 1/4 hours
  • 12–16 lb (5.5–7.25 kg) 3 1/4–31/2 hours
  • 16–20 lb (7.25–9.0 kg) 3 1/2–4 1/2 hours
  • 20–25 lb (9.0–11.25 kg) 4 1/2–5 hours

Roasting times for a stuffed turkey:
  • 6–8 lb (2.7–3.5 kg) 3–3 1/2 hours
  • 8–10 lb (3.5–4.5 kg) 3 1/4–3 1/2 hours
  • 10–12 lb (4.5–5.5 kg) 3 1/2–3 3/4 hours
  • 12–16 lb (5.5–7.25 kg) 3 3/4–4 hours
  • 16–20 lb (7.25–9.0 kg) 4–5 hours
  • 20–25 lb (9.0–11.25 kg) 5–6 hours

Resting and Carving

After roasting, lift the turkey out of the pan and onto a large platter. Tent with foil and rest at least 15 minutes to set the juices (the turkey will stay hot a surprisingly long time). To carve and serve, take a sharp, thin-bladed carving knife and remove the leg and wing on one side of the turkey. Cut the leg into drumstick and thigh pieces; thinly slice meat from them. Carve the breast by making thin, slightly angled, vertical slices that run parallel to the breastbone. Repeat the process on the other side of the bird. Unless you're carving at the table, arrange the meat on a platter.

Handling Leftovers

When the meal is done, remove any meat on the carcass as soon as you can. The cooked meat can be refrigerated for two to three days. You can also slice or dice the meat, put it in freezer bags or containers, and label, date and freeze for up to two months. You'll find recipes to use up that cooked turkey in our collection.

How to make turkey stock:

Once the leftover, cooked meat is removed, turn the carcass into turkey stock.

To do so, break or cut the carcass into large chunks and place in a tall, large pot. Add a sliced onion, carrot, a celery stalk or two, a few whole black peppercorns, a pinch or two of dried thyme, and 2 or 3 bay leaves. Add about 12 cups (3 L) of cold water, ensuring the bones are well covered. Gently simmer the stock (small bubbles should just break on the surface), uncovered, for 2 to 3 hours, or until a rich turkey taste is achieved. Add additional water during simmering, if necessary.

Strain the stock, cool and refrigerate. Remove any fat that has solidified on the surface. The stock is ready to use or be frozen for up to two months.

Turkey Recipes