Here’s How to (Actually) Microwave a Turkey

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Kitchn Video)

I first saw the viral “microwaving a turkey” meme on Instagram, where my friend had posted a screenshot of her hilarious conversation with her mom. (If you aren’t aware of the trend, people are texting their moms asking how long it would take to cook a 25-pound turkey in the microwave in hopes of getting a funny response, then posting a photo of the conversation on social media.)

To be honest, I was less concerned about the fact that she was planning on microwaving her turkey and more upset that I thought I hadn’t been invited to her (fake) Friendsgiving. But after seeing a few more very similar posts, I quickly realized I had fallen prey to a meme.

I assumed it was all a joke. You can’t actually cook a turkey in the microwave, right? But although people were playing a joke on their moms, the actual act of microwaving a turkey can be done successfully. According to the USDA, it’s one of the many ways you can cook your Thanksgiving bird. Here’s how long it would actually take.

How to Cook a Turkey in the Microwave

First, a 25-pound bird won’t fit in a standard-size microwave. Start with a 12- to 14-pound turkey, and, according to the USDA, plan on cooking it for nine to 10 minutes per pound on medium (50% power). That’s about two hours for a 12-pound turkey. For comparison, roasting a turkey takes about 13 minutes per pound, making the microwave a slightly faster option.

To ensure the bird cooks evenly throughout, the USDA recommends leaving three inches of clearance on top and around the sides of the turkey and to rotate it periodically during cooking. You can also place it in an oven cooking bag, which helps evenly distribute heat. Don’t stuff the bird because — similar to roasting a stuffed turkey — the stuffing might not cook to a safe internal temperature before the bird is done.

Checking for doneness is also the same as if you were roasting it: Insert a thermometer into the breast, outer thigh, and inside thigh. The meat should be at least 165°F in every case. And although you can use the defrost setting on your microwave to thaw your turkey before roasting it, don’t microwave a frozen turkey (it might not reach a safe internal temperature).

But here’s the thing: Similar to cooking fish in your dishwasher, just because you can cook a turkey in the microwave doesn’t mean you should. The skin won’t crisp, the drippings will cause a mess, and you’re running more of a risk that it won’t cook evenly. Chances are, you only cook a turkey once or twice a year. It’s worth it to do it right. Here’s our foolproof method for roasting a turkey — and if you’re short on time, you can roast it straight from frozen.

(Image credit: Emma Christensen)