How To Safely Cook a Whole Turkey or Turkey Breast

Turkey with Thermometer
Turkey with Thermometer. Kim Kozlowski/LLC Moment Open/Getty Images

One of the most important tools when it comes to cooking a turkey safely is a food thermometer. A reliable food thermometer ensures that an internal temperature sufficient to destroy harmful bacteria has been reached. Even if your turkey comes with a pop-up timer, Consumer Reports recommends using a meat thermometer for accuracy

Safe Roasting of Whole Turkey

  1. If the turkey is frozen, thaw it in its leak-proof packaging using the refrigerator, cold water method, or microwave oven. See Safe Thawing of Whole Turkey
  1. The oven temperature should never be below 325 F (165 C/Gas 3).
  2. Place the turkey on a rack in a shallow roasting pan or large baking pan that is at least 2 inches in depth. Or fashion a "rack" with foil strips or rest the turkey on carrot and celery sticks to keep it out of its drippings. Tuck the wing tips back under the back of the turkey and secure the legs together with kitchen twine or silicone ties.
  3. Add some water to the pan, about 1/2 cup.
  4. An aluminum foil tent will help prevent over-browning. Either tent the bird during the first hour or place the tent on the turkey after it has browned, nearer the end of cooking time.
  5. Keep an eye on the food thermometer. The turkey must reach at least 165 F (74C).  Check both the thickest part of the breast and the innermost part of the thigh. (The recommended breast temperature is 165 F (74 C) and the recommended thigh temperature is 180 F (82 C).)  If there is stuffing, check the center of the stuffing. It should register at least 165 F (74 C). See below for approximate cooking times.
  1. After you remove the turkey from the oven, let it stand for 15 minutes before carving.

Here are some things that can affect the roasting times. 

  • A foil tent might slow cooking if used over the entire roasting time
  • A stuffed turkey will take longer to cook
  • A partially frozen turkey will take longer to cook
  • The oven's thermostat could be inaccurate, or the oven might heat unevenly
  • The oven's heat circulation might be hindered if the pan is too large for the oven space
  • A darker roasting pan will cook a bit faster than a light-colored or shiny pan
  • The size and depth of the pan could reduce heat circulation to all areas of the bird