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Is it better to roast a turkey slow or fast?

When it comes to roasting a turkey, one of the big decisions is whether to roast it at a high temperature for a shorter time or a lower temperature for longer. Both methods have their pros and cons when it comes to getting perfectly cooked and flavored turkey on the table.

Quick Answer: Roast Turkey Low and Slow for Best Flavor

In general, most experts recommend roasting turkey at a lower temperature, around 325°F, for a longer period of time. This “low and slow” method allows the turkey to cook more evenly throughout and prevents the outside from overcooking or burning before the inside is done. The longer cook time also allows the turkey to absorb more of the flavors from any rubs, herbs or aromatics placed under the skin or in the cavity.

The Benefits of Low and Slow Roasting

Here are some of the biggest benefits of roasting turkey at a lower temperature:

  • More even cooking: The turkey cooks through gradually, preventing the outside from drying out.
  • Better moisture retention: With a lower temperature, less moisture is lost through evaporation.
  • Better flavor infusion: The turkey has more time to absorb flavors from rubs, herbs, etc.
  • More forgiveness: You have more leeway if the turkey is slightly under or over the target cook time.

Cook’s Illustrated found that roasting turkey for a long time at low temperatures resulted in breast meat that was moist and tender. The extended time allows the collagen in the meat to break down into gelatin, keeping the meat juicy. Roasting hotter and faster led to dried out breast meat.

The Case for Roasting Turkey Fast at High Heat

Roasting turkey at higher temperatures, from 350-425°F, does have some advantages:

  • Speed: The turkey cooks much more quickly, in 2-2.5 hours compared to 4+ hours at lower temps.
  • Crispier skin: The high heat helps render fat and crisp the skin.
  • Less risk of bacterial growth: Getting the turkey in and out of the “danger zone” temperature range faster lessens bacterial growth.

The main risk of high heat roasting is drying out the turkey meat, especially the breast meat. Care must be taken to prevent overcooking. Using a lower temperature at the end after an initial high heat roast can help prevent drying out.

Guidelines for Low and Slow Roasting

Here are some tips for roasting turkey at lower temperatures of 325°F or less:

  • Plan for a long cook time, estimating 15-20 minutes per pound.
  • Use a rack in a roasting pan to allow air circulation.
  • Rub the turkey with herbs, oil or salt to help infuse flavor.
  • Tent the turkey with foil if the skin is browning too fast.
  • Check the internal temperature with a meat thermometer, aiming for 165°F in the breast and 175°F in the thigh.
  • Allow the turkey to rest 20+ minutes before carving for juicy meat.

Roasting Time Table for Low Temp Turkey

Use these roasting times as a guide when cooking turkey at 325°F:

Turkey Weight Roasting Time (unstuffed)
8 to 12 lbs 2 3/4 to 3 hours
12 to 14 lbs 3 to 3 3/4 hours
14 to 18 lbs 3 3/4 to 4 1/4 hours
18 to 20 lbs 4 1/4 to 4 1/2 hours
20 to 24 lbs 4 1/2 to 5 hours

Guidelines for High Heat Roasting

If using a higher roasting temperature, between 350-425°F, follow these tips:

  • Plan for 15-18 minutes per pound at 350°F, or 12-15 minutes at 425°F.
  • Cook any stuffing separately to prevent bacterial growth.
  • Be vigilant about checking for doneness early to avoid overcooking.
  • Tent with foil if the skin browns too quickly.
  • Let rest 20+ minutes once removed from the oven.

Roasting Time Table for High Heat

Use these estimated roasting times for turkey cooked at higher temperatures:

Turkey Weight Roasting Time at 350°F Roasting Time at 425°F
8 to 12 lbs 2 to 2 1/2 hours 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hours
12 to 14 lbs 2 1/4 to 3 hours 1 3/4 to 2 1/4 hours
14 to 18 lbs 2 3/4 to 3 1/4 hours 2 to 2 1/2 hours
18 to 20 lbs 3 to 3 1/2 hours 2 1/4 to 2 1/2 hours
20 to 24 lbs 3 1/2 to 4 hours 2 1/2 to 3 hours

Monitoring Doneness When Roasting

Regardless of roasting temperature, a meat thermometer should always be used to determine when the turkey has reached a safe minimum internal temperature. Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the breast and thigh, without touching the bone. The turkey is done when the breast reaches 165°F and the thigh reaches 175°F.

Checking the temperature early and often prevents you from discovering an undercooked turkey when it’s time to carve. If the turkey is not yet done, return it to the oven for additional roasting time. Using a remote probe thermometer makes monitoring the temperature easier.

Visual Cues for Doneness

In addition to temperature, you can look for these signs that the turkey is fully cooked:

  • The juices run clear when pierced with a knife, rather than pink.
  • The thighs and wings move easily.
  • The meat has shrunk back from the ends of the drumsticks.

Letting the Turkey Rest

Letting the turkey rest after roasting, or carryover cooking, is an essential step. The internal temperature will continue rising 5-10°F as it sits. Resting also allows the juices to redistribute through the meat for moistness.

After roasting at any temperature, tent the turkey loosely with foil and let it rest for 20-30 minutes before carving. This resting period ensures the most tender and juicy meat.

Crisping the Turkey Skin

One downside to low roasting temperatures is the turkey skin may not crisp up as nicely as with high heat. If the skin needs more browning after the turkey is fully cooked, here are some options:

  • Increase the oven heat to 425°F and roast for 10-15 more minutes.
  • Use the broiler on high for 3-5 minutes to crisp the skin.
  • Crisp the skin with a kitchen torch.

Be careful not to burn the skin if applying additional heat. Watch closely as the skin can go from golden brown to burnt quickly.


While high heat roasting cooks turkey more quickly, most chefs and cooking experts recommend the low and slow method. Roasting turkey at lower temperatures of 325°F or less results in more evenly cooked, tender and moist meat with better absorption of flavors. Slower roasting gives you more leeway if the turkey needs a little extra time in the oven. For crispy skin, increase the heat at the very end once the turkey is fully cooked. Allowing the turkey to rest before carving is also key. Follow these tips for your best roast turkey yet.