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Thanksgiving Survival Guide

Roasting Times

November 18, 1998

A turkey's doneness should be judged by its internal temperature rather than by the clock. Because new breeds of turkey cook more quickly than birds of years past and because the method of cooking may affect cooking time, cooking charts are not the best way to judge a turkey's doneness. Always use a thermometer.

And what is the proper temperature for a roasted turkey? The answer is complicated. The official recommendation of the U.S. Department of Agriculture is 180 degrees, (that's five degrees less than the recommendation a few years ago). But one expert at the USDA told us that harmful bacteria that may be present in raw poultry are effectively destroyed at 147 degrees. (The danger zone in which bacteria thrive and grow is 40 to 140 degrees. ) And the USDA recommendation for poultry is 160 degrees.

The reason for the higher recommendation? For one, home ovens and thermometers aren't always calibrated accurately; the higher recommended temperature allows for a solid margin of error. It also leads to dried-out meat. Our compromise temperature is 165 degrees.

Note that there is usually a 10-degree increase in temperature that comes in the 15 to 20 minutes between removing the bird from the oven and carving it. That "push" after roasting should result in a final temperature of around 175 degrees. If you are cooking a stuffed turkey, the temperature of the stuffing at its center should be at least 165 degrees.

Insert the thermometer into the innermost part of the thigh, taking care not to touch the bone.

If you don't have a thermometer, you can test by hand: Wiggle the tip of the drumstick. It should move easily when done. Or poke the bird with a knife to see if the juices run clear.

We've included the USDA's time estimates for determining how long it should take a turkey to get to 180 degrees. Use it even if you're cooking your turkey to 165 degrees to help budget your time.

UNSTUFFED WEIGHT ROASTING TIME

*

8 to 12 pounds--2 3/4 to 3 hours

12 to 14 pounds--3 to 3 3/4 hours

14 to 18 pounds--3 3/4 to 4 1/4 hours

18 to 20 pounds--4 1/4 to 4 1/2 hours

20 to 24 pounds--4 1/2 to 5 hours

*

STUFFED WEIGHT ROASTING TIME

8 to 12 pounds--3 to 3 1/2 hours

12 to 14 pounds-- 3 1/2 to 4 hours

14 to 18 pounds--4 to 4 1/4 hours

18 to 20 pounds--4 1/4 to 4 3/4 hours

20 to 24 pounds--4 3/4 to 5 1/4 hours

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