Thanksgiving can be a multi-day cooking marathon. All the planning often centers around the main event—that giant, glistening turkey. Knowing what size turkey to buy and how long you’ll need to cook it for ultimate tastiness will help set your meal prep time.

For the very best way to cook your turkey, follow these steps from our Test Kitchen.

How Long Does It Take to Cook a Turkey?

Use this chart to figure out how long to cook a turkey, according to its size:

How to Check the Temperature of a Turkey

To check the temperature of a turkey, insert a meat thermometer into the meatiest, thickest part of the bird (typically the thighs). You’re aiming for between 170 to 175 degrees for a whole bird and 165 degrees for a turkey breast. When taking the temperature, be careful to make sure that the thermometer doesn’t touch any bone, as this can give a false high reading and leave you with under-cooked (and unsafe) meat. And, if the meat isn’t to temperature, make sure you wash the probe of the thermometer in hot, soapy water before testing the turkey again.

Don’t have a meat thermometer on hand? Our Test Kitchen recommends the top-of-the-line Thermapen Mk4 thermometer for its accuracy and easy-to-read display. We also like the colorful ThermoPop. Whatever you do, don’t rely on your turkey’s pop-up timer. Many times they pop too late—if they even pop at all—leading to a dry, overcooked bird.

What Size Turkey to Buy

The rule of thumb for how much turkey to serve is one pound of turkey per guest. When you can’t find the magical 12 pound turkey for 12 guests, just round up! It’s better to have too much food than to run short on the signature dish of Thanksgiving.

If you’re serving a hungry bunch or you really want to eat leftover turkey for the rest of the week, you can round up to one and a quarter pounds of turkey per person. These are our top ways to eat leftover turkey.

What Temperature to Cook a Turkey

The consensus for roasting a turkey at home is a steady 325 degrees F for the entire duration of the cook. This temperature is low enough that you don’t need to worry about moisture evaporating quickly and drying out the turkey, but it’s also warm enough to cook the bird all the way through at a quick pace. Here’s how to check if your oven is working properly.

How Long to Cook a Turkey per Pound

The general rule is 15 to 20 minutes per pound of turkey when cooking an unstuffed turkey. Since roasting a stuffed turkey can make you and your family sick (not to mention dry out the turkey meat) it’s best to stick to this method and bake one of these crowd-pleasing stuffing recipes in a separate dish.

Tips for Cooking a Turkey

Now you know your roasting time, but wait. If you’re using these times to come up with your Thanksgiving game plan, don’t forget to factor in a other few time-consuming steps.

  1. Defrost. Thawing a turkey can take anywhere from three to five days. So if you’re planning to make a frozen turkey, be sure it is placed in the refrigerator with plenty of time to thaw.
  2. Preheat the Oven. Set aside 15 to 20 minutes to allow your oven to thoroughly preheat. Since many home ovens heat unevenly, it’s a good idea to let your oven to come fully to temperature and then wait 5 to 10 minutes for the heat to evenly disperse in the oven before opening it to place the turkey inside. It is also a good idea to rotate your turkey at least every hour to help everything cook evenly.
  3. Rest. Finally, you’ll need at least 30 minutes to allow the turkey to rest. Resting allows the meat to cool slightly and reabsorb juices that were bubbling to the surface in the hot oven. This re-absorption is what gives you plump, tender meat. If you cut into the turkey right away, you lose all that tenderness in a puddle on your cutting board or plate!

How do you get crispy, brown skin?

The trick to crisp, golden brown skin starts before the turkey even goes in the oven. Plus, you already have this secret ingredient in your pantry! The day before Thanksgiving, remove the bird from its packaging and take out the giblets. Then, massage kosher salt all over the turkey. Return the bird to the fridge until it’s ready to bake on the big day. This technique not only seasons the meat, but it also helps to draw out excess moisture from the skin that, once baked, will be nice and crispy.

Should I baste my turkey?

No—and it all has to do with temperature. Basting requires you to open the oven door, which lets heat out and cools the surface of your bird. Every time you baste, you’re increasing the overall cooking time of your turkey. And more time in the oven leads to dry, tough meat. Learn more about how to season a turkey.

Pair Your Turkey with These Amazing Sides

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Getting Thanksgiving dinner on the table hassle-free is easy when you know how long to cook a turkey.
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