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There's More than One Way to Cook a Turkey

Posted by Sandy King and CiCi Williamson, USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service in Health and Safety
Nov 25, 2013

The need for speed. Lack of oven space. Family traditions. Power outages. All are reasons many cooks might look for ways to roast a whole turkey outside the usual oven. Consider the following methods suggested by the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline.

But first, a message about food safety. No matter which method you choose to get your turkey to the table, have a food thermometer handy so you can make sure the turkey has reached the safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F in the innermost part of the thigh, wing and the thickest part of the breast.  If your turkey is stuffed, the center of the stuffing should also reach 165 °F. After cooking, let the turkey stand for 20 minutes before carving.

Outdoor Methods (from fastest to slowest)

NOTE: DO NOT stuff turkeys cooked by these outdoor methods. Also make sure the turkey is completely thawed. Follow the appliance manufacturer’s directions.

Deep Fat Turkey Fryer

  • Size of turkey: 12 to 15 pounds.
  • Cooking time: 3 to 5 minutes per pound.

Requires 2 ½ to 3 gallons of oil. The appliance should be large enough to hold the turkey without the oil spilling over. Measure the capacity of the fryer first by placing the raw turkey in the cold fryer and filling it with water, which should cover the turkey by 1 to 2 inches. Remove the turkey and measure the amount of water in the fryer. Use that amount of oil and preheat the fryer until the oil reaches 350 °F before submerging the turkey.

Infrared Oil-less Turkey Fryer

  • Cooking time: approximately 10 minutes per pound.
  • Size of turkey: 16 pounds or smaller.

This appliance comes in either an electric or a gas version that must be connected to a 20-pound propane tank.

"Big Green Egg" (Ceramic Egg-shaped Cooker)

  • Size of turkey: 12 pounds.
  • Cooking time: approximately 12 to 13 minutes per pound.

Use only lump charcoal and always cook with the lid closed. Set the cooker temperature to 350 °F.

Covered Gas or Charcoal Grill

  • Size of turkey: 12 to 15 pounds.
  • Cooking time: approximately 15 to 18 minutes per pound.

Place a pan of water under the grate to insure indirect heat, catch the turkey drippings, and prevent flame-ups. If the grill has two or three burners, turn off a burner and place the turkey away from the flame for indirect cooking.


  • Size of turkey: 12 to 15 pounds.
  • Cooking time: approximately 25 to 30 minutes per pound.

A smoker may be electric or charcoal. Cooking times depend on the size and shape of the turkey and the outside air temperature. Make sure that the smoker maintains an internal temperature of 225 °F to 300 °F.

Indoor Methods (fastest)

Microwave Cooking

  • Size of turkey: 12 to 14 pounds.
  • Cooking time: approximately 9 minutes per pound on 50% (medium) power level.

Use an oven cooking bag for more even cooking. Rotate the turkey every 15 minutes. Timing can vary because microwave ovens vary in wattage. Do not stuff the turkey. Cook stuffing in a separate casserole.

Electric Roaster Oven

  • Size of turkey: 12 to 20 pounds.
  • Cooking time: approximately 3 to 4 ½ hours. Add 30 minutes for stuffed turkeys.

Generally, the cooking time and oven temperature setting in this tabletop appliance are the same as for conventional cooking. Set the roaster temperature to 325 °F. Do not lift the lid during cooking or it will increase the cooking time.

Power Outage

If your electricity goes off while you are cooking a turkey indoors, you can transfer the turkey immediately to an outdoor appliance, and continue cooking it until safely done.


Ask Karen, the virtual food safety representative, is available 24/7 at Weekdays between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. ET, the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline is available at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854). On Thanksgiving Day, the Hotline will be open from 8:00 am to 2:00 pm Eastern Time.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Category/Topic: Health and Safety