The USDA is offering consumers tips on the best ways to cook a Thanksgiving turkey. Many home cooks have never cooked such a large bird, and beginning cooks may need help to cook a turkey so it is safe as well as tender and juicy.
You can see a chart for approximate turkey roasting times at the Foodsafety.gov web site. It gives you times for roasting a turkey breast, a stuffed turkey, and an unstuffed turkey, as well as turkey parts.
The easiest way to cook a turkey is just to put it in a roasting pan, set the oven to 325°F, and let it cook. A 16 pound unstuffed turkey should take about 4 hours to get to 165°F using this method.
To stuff a turkey, never ever stuff it ahead of time. Put the stuffing in the two cavities of the bird just before it goes into the oven. The cooking time will be a bit longer since the center of the stuffing has to reach 165°F. Test it with a food thermometer.
An oven bag will speed up the process a bit, and will save on cleanup. Follow the cooking instructions on the box. If you are going to stuff the turkey using this method, add about 30 minutes to the cooking time.
To grill a turkey, which saves room in your oven, cook over direct heat on a rack set over the charcoal or gas grill. It should take about 15 to 18 minutes per pound to cook a turkey this way, but if the weather is cold it should take longer. You can also cook the turkey in a smoker; this could take up to 8 hours. Never stuff a turkey that is cooked on the grill or in the smoker.
You can cook a spatchcocked turkey if your skills are more advanced. That just means you take out the backbone and put the turkey on a work surface; press down on the breastbone to break it and flatten the bird. A 12 pound turkey would take about 70 minutes to cook at 450°F.
Some people like deep frying their turkeys. A whole turkey will cook in less than an hour with this method, but there are many safety concerns about using that much hot oil. The turkey cannot be stuffed and must be completely thawed before it can be deep fried. And the turkey should be less than 12 pounds.