What Is the Best Temperature to Cook a Turkey?

published Nov 3, 2023
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Baked Turkey with Thermometer.
Credit: OKRAD / Getty Images

The key to cooking the most delicious turkey for Thanksgiving dinner is not only making sure that you thaw the bird the right way, but also getting the oven temperature and cook time correct. Although your turkey size will determine how long you cook a turkey, the temperature to cook a turkey will be the same no matter what. 

Want to serve the most delicious, juicy — yet crisp on the outside — turkey? Preheating the oven to a higher temperature first is key (we recommend 450°F), and then lower the temperature to 350°F when you put the turkey in the oven.

Quick Overview

What Temperature to Cook a Turkey

An evenly cooked turkey requires two temperatures. First, preheat the oven to 450°F. Then, once you place the turkey inside, turn the heat down to 350°F to roast.

Oven Turkey Temperature

For a classic roasted turkey in the oven, you’ll begin by preheating it to 450°F. Once you put your completely thawed turkey in the oven, you’ll then turn the heat down to 350°F. (We also recommend letting the turkey sit at room temperature 30 minutes before you place it in the oven.) This will ensure that the initial blast of heat is hot enough to get the skin nice and crispy, then cooking it the remainder of the time at a lower temperature will keep the inside of the turkey moist and juicy. 

A general rule of thumb is to roast an unstuffed turkey for about 13 minutes per pound. So, depending on the size of your turkey you’ll cook it anywhere between an hour and 18 minutes (a 6-pound turkey) to 4 hours and 20 minutes (a 20-pound turkey). 

Fried Turkey Temperature

Before you fry a turkey, the oil in the fryer pot will need to be heated to 375°F. (To measure the temperature of the oil, you’ll need a deep-fry thermometer with a long stem, and while you’re at it, make sure you have all the other essential deep-frying turkey equipment to fry safely.) Heating the oil will take approximately one hour, and can sometimes be longer if it’s cold outside. Note: You should ONLY fry a turkey outside, away from structures, and the turkey should be completely thawed before you begin frying.  

Once the oil is hot enough, turn off the heat and then carefully lower the turkey into the fryer. After the turkey has safely been lowered in, turn the heat back on and ensure that the oil remains at a temperature of 350°F while cooking, which should take roughly 35 to 55 minutes, depending on the size of the bird. 

Air Fryer Turkey Temperature

Not feeding a crowd? You can still have a delicious piece of turkey — and what better tool to use than an air fryer, the appliance hero for a small dinner? To cook turkey breast in an air fryer, you’ll need to set it at 350°F and cook it for approximately 55 minutes total, flipping it halfway through. 

Smoked Turkey Temperature

Whether you’re preparing a barbecue feast or wanting to switch things up on Thanksgiving day, a smoked turkey is always a delicious alternative to the oven. To produce a tender and juicy smoked turkey, you’ll need to maintain a temperature between 225°F and 275°F (with an ideal temperature being 250°F) for 5 to 6 hours. 

Grilled Turkey Temperature

If you’re lucky enough to live in a warm climate (or perhaps you are a true Midwesterner who grills in shorts while it’s raining or snowing), grilling a turkey is a tasty way to enjoy your poultry on Thanksgiving day. To grill a turkey, we recommend spatchcocking the turkey first and then grilling it at a temperature between 300°F and 325°F degrees. It’ll take approximately 1 1/2 hours to grill a 15-pound turkey with this method.

Instant Pot Turkey Setting 

If you’re having a low-key or small Thanksgiving and want to get dinner prepared quickly, don’t discount your Instant Pot to deliver deliciously crisp turkey. To cook turkey breasts in an Instant Pot, you will need to set it to cook on HIGH pressure for 25 to 30 minutes (5 to 6 minutes per pound of turkey). 

Internal Temperature for Turkey

A turkey will not be considered “done” or safe to eat until the internal temperature of the thigh registers at least 165°F. To check a turkey’s temperature for doneness, insert an instant-read thermometer into the thickest part of the turkey thigh, stopping in the middle and making sure it’s not touching bone (the thermometer should be parallel to the turkey’s body). 

If the temperature registers below 165°F, you’ll need to keep cooking the turkey, checking it every 20 minutes or so if it’s being roasted, until it’s reached the proper temperature. 

According to the USDA, even if your turkey has a pop-up temperature indicator (which isn’t that accurate), it’s still crucial to check that the internal temperature is 165°F so that you don’t contract a food-borne illness. 

How Long Should a Turkey Cook?

Although it will largely depend on how large your turkey is and how you prepare it, roasting a turkey in the oven will take approximately 13 minutes per pound. 


Is it better to cook a turkey at 325°F or 350°F?

It’s better to cook a turkey at 350°F after preheating the oven to 450°F. This makes the skin crispier and ensures the turkey will get cooked evenly. 

Should turkey be cooked to 165°F or 170°F?

According to the USDA, turkey should be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 165°F to prevent food-borne illness. 

What if my turkey is not reaching 165°F?

If your turkey is not reaching 165°F, you’ll need to keep cooking it, checking on it every 20 minutes if you’re roasting it, until it reaches 165ºF. 

Where do you put a thermometer in a turkey?

Put an instant-read meat thermometer into the thickest part of the turkey’s thigh, making sure not to touch the bone and stopping when you reach the center of the thigh. The thermometer should be placed parallel to the turkey. 

Can a turkey reach 165°F but still be pink?

Yes, a turkey can reach 165°F and still be pink. This is because — according to the USDA — poultry has a lower myoglobin (a type of protein) level than beef, which contributes to its lighter color. As long as the turkey has reached at least 165ºF, it is safe to eat.