Another Thanksgiving for the books and perhaps you’re already looking forward to next year’s. There’s so much one can learn about cooking turkey, for instance, how many minutes per pound should you actually cook a turkey? The general rule seems to be cooking each pound for 13 minutes at 350º F. These birds can range anywhere from 8-24 lbs, which calls for a very large oven, and lots of stuffing.
Speaking of stuffing, whether you cook your bird stuffed or empty also impacts the overall cooking time of the bird. And when did turkeys even become the star of the Thanksgiving meal? At this point, historians have discounted the story of a fully-cooked turkey at the “first Thanksgiving” in 1621.
Read on to learn a bit about the history of turkey day, including how cooking turkeys has evolved. We’ll discuss the tried and true methods for how many minutes per pound you should be cooking turkey. And we’ll take a look at the best techniques for cooking this bird, stuffing or no stuffing. Stick around as we get into the good stuff. By next Thanksgiving, you’ll be extra prepared to cook your turkey, pound by precious pound.
The History of Cooking Turkey
Did you know that wild turkeys were first domesticated around the year 10 B.C.? As far back as the ancient Aztecs, turkey has been harvested for its meat, eggs, and feathers. It was roasted as part of ceremonial feasts and when Spanish conquistadors and traders tried it, they wanted the bird for their own countries. A few turkeys made their way on the Mayflower voyage, which brought them into the United States. They became widespread but were so actively hunted by the 1930s that they were nearly extinct. Conservationists began to protect wild turkey sanctuaries, and more breeders took up domestic flocks as well (via Food Reference.com)
Modern-day turkeys are bred with larger breasts compared to their wild turkey ancestors. This is why you can find anywhere from 8-24-pound turkeys for sale in the freezer section! But why is the turkey the bird to buy for the third Thursday in November? Early in the first New England settlements, pilgrim Sarah Joseph Hale was roasting a turkey for her whole family. Thanksgiving was declared a national holiday by Abraham Lincoln in 1863, and it helped the cause that Benjamin Franklin tried to get the turkey declared the national bird of America. While the Eagle won out, by the 19th century, the turkey was cemented as the Thanksgiving holiday bird (via TIME Magazine).
Turkey By The Pound: A Breakdown
So, now that we know a bit about the history of turkey cooking, let's get into the meat of how to cook the meat. Most sources have the science of cooking turkey by the pound down to the metric of 13 minutes per pound at 350º Fahrenheit. This metric comes from Epicurious, Southern Living, and All Recipes, although this article recommends cooking the turkey at 20 minutes per pound at 375º instead of 350º. Another article notes baking the turkey at 325º for between 13-15 minutes per pound.
These numbers will also be impacted by the presence of stuffing in the turkey cavity versus no stuffing at all. According to Southern Living, the presence of stuffing increases the cooking time by a few minutes. So, if you have an 8-12 pound bird, without stuffing, you'll cook each pound for around 13 minutes at 350º, which means your cooking time is around 2 hours and 45 minutes to 3 hours on the longer side. With stuffing, that cook time increases to between 3 hours and 3 hours and 45 minutes.
A good general check is to use an internal thermometer to see if the turkey reads around 160º to 165º degrees Fahrenheit. This temperature indicates that the insides are properly cooked, killing any harmful bacteria contained in the raw turkey meat.
Ways To Cook A Turkey
There are quite a few ways to cook your turkey. We've covered the many options for temperature with oven-roasting. You can either slow-roast your turkey at 325º Fahrenheit or start off hot at 425º and then drop the heat to 350º. This is a more involved, but faster and crisped turkey experience (via Southern Living). You can air fry your turkey, preferably a turkey on the smaller side, at 350º. Or place it, seasoned, in a crockpot to simmer on low for around 8.5 hours. You can even take a stab at grilling the turkey. You'll need to preheat your oven to at least 450º Fahrenheit, and grill for between 2-3 hours. Deep frying is also an option. However, please be careful, you're dealing with hot oil and a rather large, unwieldy bird.
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The image featured at the top of this post is ©DesignHolo/Shutterstock.com.