Here's What Temperature to Cook a Turkey So It Stays Moist

Say goodbye to dry Thanksgiving turkey.


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For a perfect Thanksgiving turkey—golden on the outside and tender on the inside—temperature matters! If your turkey is underdone it can be dangerous to consume and lead to food-borne illnesses for you and your Thanksgiving guests, but if it’s overdone, an otherwise scrumptious bird becomes dry and flavorless. However, since there are many different ways to cook a turkey, the temperature you’re aiming for can vary slightly, which only makes things more complicated. Yet, with the right balance of heat, you can have a perfectly cooked bird that’ll earn raves from your Thanksgiving guests. Here’s what temperature to cook a turkey so it stays moist and delicious.

Oven-Roasted Turkey

For a classic roast turkey, begin by preheating your oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit; you want it nice and hot at the beginning. However, if the oven temperature is too high for the entirety of the cooking time, the turkey will dry out. Starting the turkey in a hot oven gets the skin crispy and burnished—just what you want. We recommend starting the turkey in a 425 degree oven for 30-45 minutes before tenting the pan with foil and lowering the temperature to 350 degrees until a meat thermometer reads 165 degrees when inserted into the thickest part of the bird. By covering the pan with foil when you lower the oven temperature, you’ll prevent the skin from burning while you cook the bird the rest of the way through. 

A 12- to 14-pound turkey will take roughly two hours at 350 degrees to cook through, but the cook time will vary depending on the size of the bird. For a heavier turkey, you can estimate that each additional pound will take about 15-20 minutes longer.

Smoked and Fried Turkey

For a smoked turkey, you want to aim a bit lower than 425 degrees. Instead, set your smoker to 325 to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Within this temperature range, a spatchcocked turkey will take 10 to 12 minutes a pound to smoke. For most turkeys, that means at least an hour of cooking time, if not much more. You’ll know your turkey is done when the thickest part of its thigh reaches 165 degrees; just make sure your meat thermometer isn’t touching any bone.

And if you’re opting to deep-fry your turkey, you’ll want to preheat the oil to 350 degrees and maintain that temperature while the bird cooks. The turkey is done cooking when an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast registers 155 degrees. The temperature will rise as the bird rests—you're looking for a safe internal temperature of 165 degrees in the breast and 180 degrees in the thickest part of the thigh. 

Grilled and Instant Pot Turkey

For grilled turkey, follow the same general premise of roasting, starting at a hot temperature for a good sear, then moving to lower (indirect) heat to cook the bird the rest of the way through. 

If you’re using a gadget like an air fryer or Instant Pot, just cook the turkey at 350 degrees until cooked through. For a golden top, finish it off by broiling the surface in the oven.

How to Tell When Turkey Is Done

First things first, the USDA advises that you cook a whole turkey to 165 degrees all the way through as measured with a meat thermometer. Every bird is different, so it’s best to keep a thermometer on hand to check the internal temperature for doneness. Make sure to stick the thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh when checking the turkey’s temperature.

If you don’t have a meat thermometer, you can also check the turkey’s doneness by cutting slits in the meat and seeing if the juices run clear. This method is less reliable than the thermometer approach, but it’s still effective.

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