Everything you need to know about how long it takes to cook a 20-pound turkey in the oven is all right here. Ensure it is moist, juicy, & ready on time. No guesswork. You just have to follow this simple recipe & have a great meat thermometer on-hand. The best holiday turkey is just hours away.
Here you will find everything you need to know about cooking a 20-lb turkey in an oven. You may want to smoke, deep-fry, or BBQ your turkey and that is great, but the cooking temperature and times will NOT be the same as what I outline below. If you are roasting a turkey and it weighs 20 pounds (stuffing not included), feel confident you got this!
What is great about the information I will share with you and the easy recipe at the bottom is any beginner can cook a Thanksgiving or Christmas turkey. You do not need to be a gourmet chef or an experienced home cook to roast a turkey in the oven. It takes little prep and can come out seriously amazing with little effort - but let's keep that our secret!
- Defrosting & Preparing a Turkey Before Cooking
- Cooking Time & Temperature for 20-Pound Turkey
- 20-Pound Unstuffed Turkey
- 20-Pound Turkey with Stuffing
- 20-Pound Turkey in a Bag
- 20-Pound Turkey Feeds How Many People?
- Storing Turkey Leftovers
- Using Leftover Turkey Slices
- Turkey FAQs
- How Long to Cook a 20-Pound Turkey
Defrosting & Preparing a Turkey Before Cooking
Be sure your 20-pound turkey is defrosted by Thanksgiving morning. When thawing in a refrigerator, it takes 4 days to have a fully defrosted turkey that weighs 20 pounds. Therefore, make sure your turkey begins thawing no later than Sunday morning.
However, I suggest you start defrosting it on the Friday before Thanksgiving. Here is why - dry brine! Brining your turkey ensures it is moist, juicy, & succulent. For a holiday bird everyone will be wanting seconds of, make sure you try my foolproof dry brine recipe. You will need to start it on Sunday and having a bird that has already started to defrost is perfect.
Once your turkey is defrosting, next up you want to prep it for the oven. Get out your roasting pan and rack. If you are wondering how big a roasting pan you need for a turkey that is 20 pounds or larger, it is a pretty big one. Ideally use an 18-inch pan and a rack that fits in it.
The last step before roasting a turkey is to dress it up. Use whatever recipe you like, but below I have outlined how I do it. Simply remove the parts in the cavity of the bird, add some aromatics, and cover it in softened butter, spices, and herbs. Then the magic happens.
Cooking Time & Temperature for 20-Pound Turkey
You can cook a turkey at either 325° or 350° in the oven. Below is the information on how long to cook a turkey depending on which oven temperature you use. Whether your turkey is unstuffed or full of stuffing, here are how many hours it will take to roast in the oven so it is ready on time for your Thanksgiving, Christmas, or other holiday meal.
I recommend cooking your turkey both covered and uncovered. I like to loosely tent foil over the turkey for the first half of the cooking process. Once it is halfway done, I remove the foil and let the skin begin browning so it is crispy and amazing.
ALL TIMES SHARED HERE ARE ESTIMATES - EVERY TURKEY, OVEN TEMPERATURE, ROASTING PAN, ELEVATION, AND MORE CAN ALTER THE COOKING TIMES. Always use a meat thermometer to check internal temperatures.
20-Pound Unstuffed Turkey
Once your 20-pound turkey is in the pan and ready to go into the oven, make sure you set a timer to be sure you check it on time. If you are cooking the turkey at 325°, it will take 4 ½ hours to cook. At 350°, it will take 4 hours. Place your turkey covered in foil in the oven and set a timer for 2 hours.
Once the halfway point is done, remove the foil so the turkey can cook uncovered for the final 2-2 ½ hours. I suggest using an instant-read thermometer and starting checking the thickest part of the thigh around the 4-hour mark. You want the turkey to reach an internal temperature of 175°.
Remember that at 325° it will take 30 minutes longer for the turkey to cook than if you cooked it at 350°. This is for a turkey without stuffing.
- 350° a 20-lb turkey takes 4 hours to cook in an oven
- 325° a 20-lb turkey takes 4 ½ hours to cook in an oven
20-Pound Turkey with Stuffing
Once your 20-pound turkey is stuffed, in the pan, and ready for the preheated oven, time to set your timer. A stuffed turkey takes longer to cook than one that is unstuffed. If you are cooking the turkey at 325°, it will take 5 hours to cook. At 350°, it will take 4 ½ hours. Place your turkey covered in foil in the oven and set a timer for 2 hours, the halfway mark.
Remove the foil and reset the timer for 2.5 hours. Use an instant-read thermometer and start checking the thickest part of the thigh around the 4-hour mark. You want the turkey to reach an internal temperature of 175°.
Remember that at 325° it will take 30 minutes longer for the turkey to cook than if you cooked it at 350°. This is for a turkey with stuffing.
- 350° a 20-lb turkey takes 4 ½ hours to cook in an oven
- 325° a 20-lb turkey takes 5 hours to cook in an oven
20-Pound Turkey in a Bag
If you like to cook your turkey in a bag, such as Reynold's bag, here is how long a 20-lb turkey will take. Cooking a turkey in an oven bag does speed up the cooking time. Since a turkey cooked in one of them cooks faster, I do not recommend stuffing a turkey when you cook in a bag.
When cooking a 20-pound turkey in an oven bag at 350°, it takes 3 - 3 ½ hours. I suggest starting to check the internal temperature of the turkey at the 3-hour mark. If the thickest part of the thigh is 175°, it is done.
20-Pound Turkey Feeds How Many People?
When estimating how many pounds of turkey per person, it is best to take into account those you are inviting. A combination of small children and adults will feed more than a party with all adults that are big eaters.
On average, it is good to estimate 1 - 1 ½ pounds per person. For a family of adults and children that are average eaters, a 20-pound turkey will feed 16-18 people. If it is all adults, estimate it to feed 15 people.
Storing Turkey Leftovers
Leftover turkey stores well in the refrigerator. Place slices and turkey pieces in an air-tight container. No need to remove the bones before storing but you can. Store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Turkey also freezes well. Place your leftover Thanksgiving turkey in an air-tight container. You can store it with or without the bones. I prefer removing the meat from the bones before freezing. It saves freezer space but it also helps it defrost faster and more evenly later.
To defrost the leftover frozen turkey, place your container in the refrigerator. Let it thaw for 1-3 days, depending on the amount. Enjoy cold in a sandwich, salad, or soup. Or reheat leftover turkey in a toaster oven or oven at 350° for 5-20 minutes depending on how much you are warming up (and if it thin slices or the whole turkey leg - haha!)
Using Leftover Turkey Slices
Besides yummy sandwiches, here are some great recipes and ideas for using up leftover turkey slices & other pieces. Trade out the protein or add the turkey to the existing recipes below and continue getting your turkey fix for days after Thanksgiving or Christmas. (The kale salad or the curry are my favorite ways to use up the turkey!)
And don't throw out the turkey carcass - make delicious broth using the same method I do for Instant Pot Chicken Bone Broth. No waste & use every part of the holiday bird.
You can cook a turkey at either temperature, 325° or 350°. I personally cook at 325°. There is just something about a low and slow oven-roasted turkey that is juicy every year.
I do not recommend cooking it at a higher temperature to speed things up. It simply dries out the skin and outer meat too fast while the internal meat like the thigh may not be quite done.
Here are my top tips for helping keep your turkey moist and juicy. Begin with a dry brine for several days before cooking. Before cooking coat the skin with butter and spices. Wrap the turkey in foil for the first ½ of cooking. Finally, make sure you let the turkey rest for at least 30 minutes before carving it. Even the breast will be moist after oven cooking. All of these ideas are the best way to keep a turkey from drying out.
If you do all the above things I described, your turkey will be moist. Adding water to the pan when cooking, is not one of those things. You do not want to "steam" your bird, you want to roast it slowly and evenly. The water at the bottom will add steam to the oven plus it will be like a hot bath that the turkey is sitting in.
Even if just a few inches, that lower part of the bird will almost boil and cook faster than the rest of the turkey. Also, as the turkey juices and melted butter collect at the bottom of the pan, why would you want them watered down? They taste so much better when concentrated with full flavor.
There are 3 places you may check your turkey for doneness and each has a different reading. Using an instant-read thermometer, you want the turkey breast to read 165° and the thickest part of a thigh to read 175°.
IMPORTANT - the turkey will continue to "cook" as it rests. It will likely go up another 5° during that time and that IS OK! It is best to let the turkey rest for about 30 minutes before cutting into it & it will be perfectly moist and done. Tent it with foil and wait until later before you start carving it. If you carve it too soon, the juices will run out and dry out the meat.
If your bird has stuffing, the stuffing needs to be safe to eat as well. You do not want underdone stuffing that can be unsafe to eat. Make sure the stuffing is 165°.
How Long to Cook a 20-Pound Turkey
- Roasting Pan & Rack
- 20 pound turkey
- 1 stick butter softened
- 2 lemons cut in quarters
- 1 garlic cut in half
- 2 tablespoon salt
- 2 tablespoon paprika
- 1 tablespoon black pepper
- 1 tablespoon onion powder
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon parsley flakes
- ½ tablespoon ground sage
- Defrost your turkey for 3-5 days in the refrigerator.
- If using a dry brine, start the salting process 3 days before cooking your turkey. Links above on the dry brine process I recommend.
- Preheat the oven to 325°.
- While the oven is preheating, prepare the turkey. Place the turkey in a roasting pan on a rack. Remove any parts in the cavity. Place the lemon and garlic pieces inside the turkey cavity.
- Coat the skin of the turkey with softened butter. Next, combine all the spices in a small bowl. Sprinkle the turkey seasoning blend over the butter.
- Place a large sheet of aluminum foil loosely over the turkey. Place it in the oven and cook for 2 hours.Baste only once during the first half of cooking, at about the hour mark.
- Midway through the cooking, remove the foil and continue to cook another 2 - 2 ½ hours. Continue basting once every 30 minutes. Do not do it any more than that as the oven will lose heat.
- To check for doneness, place an instant-read thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh. If it is 175°, the turkey is ready.
- Remove the turkey carefully from the oven. Let it rest while covered loosely with foil for 30-60 minutes.
- Place the turkey on a carving board or platter to serve. Remove the lemons and garlic from the cavity carefully and discard.
- Serve with your favorite side dishes and Enjoy!