Now that you’ve gotten your gorgeous 22-pound turkey home, what’s the best way to prepare it? More to the point, how long will it be before it’s done?
The answers aren’t as straightforward as you might expect, but they don’t have to be overly complicated either. That’s why we’ve put together this handy primer on how long to cook a 22 lb turkey.
How Long to Cook a 22 Lb Turkey
A 22-pound turkey should take 4-1/2 to 5-1/2 hours to cook to a safe temperature if you roast it at 325 degrees. The timing depends on the cooking temperature, how long the bird has been out of the refrigerator, and whether the turkey is stuffed or not, among other things.
How Big is The Average Turkey?
Although 22 pounds might sound like an enormous specimen, it’s actually well within the normal range for domestically raised turkeys.
Turkeys that live in the wild don’t grow as big as the ones that are bred for sale. The toms usually weigh around 18 pounds, while the hens are even smaller—8 to 10 pounds.
The difference is that domestic turkeys are bred and raised to be sold as a food product. Therefore, it’s in the farmer’s best interests to make sure they grow as large as possible.
The majority of the turkeys that wind up on supermarket shelves will weigh between 17 and 30 pounds. Some may be a bit smaller, while others might weigh even more than 30 pounds. In general, though, it’s hard to find a frozen turkey that weighs under 10 pounds.
When you buy a fresh turkey directly from the farm, you’ll have a better chance of procuring a smaller bird. That can come in handy if space is an issue, or if you’re only serving a few people rather than a huge crowd.
How Much Turkey Do I Need?
Most guides will tell you to buy 1 to 1-1/4 pounds of raw bone-in poultry per person. That estimate will probably work. After all, there are a number of factors that could affect the average meat consumption amongst your guests, so 1-1/4 pounds should be sufficient.
On the other hand, it’s better to have too much food than to have guests leave the table hungry. We prefer to estimate 1-1/2 pounds of turkey per person, just to be on the safe side.
That means your 22-pound turkey should be able to feed between 14 and 15 people, give or take. If that’s how many people you’re expecting, you’re in good shape. If you’re serving a smaller crowd, at least you can count on plenty of turkey soup later on.
At What Temperature is Turkey Fully Cooked?
According to the USDA, it’s safe to eat poultry products when they’ve cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.
That said, white meat is leaner than dark meat. If you cook the breast past 165, it will be too dry. On the other end of the spectrum, the dark meat won’t be tender enough if you serve it at 165 degrees.
Your goal is to cook the breast meat to 160 degrees, then let it rest so it can continue cooking to the proper temperature off-heat. The legs and thighs should achieve an internal temp of 180 before you take them off the heat.
Since the breast will cook more quickly, you might need to tent it with foil partway through the cooking process to keep it from drying out. Just don’t be tempted to take this step too early, or you could end up with skin that’s rubbery instead of crisp.
How Long Does it Take to Cook a Turkey?
Now for the hard truth: It’s impossible to predict how long a turkey will take to reach the optimum serving temperature. You can make a ballpark estimate, but the total cooking time is dependent on several factors.
First of all, you need to take the weight of the turkey into consideration. Since you already know you’re starting with a 22-pound bird, we’ve taken care of that step.
The cooking temperature plays another critical role. Obviously, a turkey that roasts at 375 degrees will cook faster than a turkey that’s cooking in a 275-degree smoker.
A caveat to this is that the oven or smoker temperature might not be as consistent as you’d like. Smokers tend to run on the cooler side, especially if it’s cold or windy outside. The temperature of your indoor oven may fluctuate slightly, too.
It also makes a difference whether the turkey is stuffed or not. When you stuff the cavity, you need to ensure that the stuffing cooks to 165 degrees in the center. Otherwise, it won’t be safe to eat, since it came into contact with the raw turkey.
Finally, the turkey will take longer to reach the target temperature if you put it in the oven directly from the refrigerator. It’s preferable to allow the bird to warm to room temperature for about an hour beforehand.
How Long to Cook a 22 Lb Turkey at 325 Degrees
325 degrees is the standard temperature recommendation for roasting a whole turkey. The meat will cook through at a reasonable pace, but it should still be juicy and tender when it’s done.
For turkeys weighing under 20 pounds, we recommend a per-pound estimate of 20 minutes when the bird is stuffed, or 15 minutes when it’s not. However, since your specimen weighs 22 pounds, you can decrease this estimate by a few minutes per pound.
If you were to cook a 22-pound turkey for 7 to 7-1/2 hours at 325 degrees, there’s a good chance that the meat would dry out. Instead, plan on 13 minutes per pound for an unstuffed turkey, and add another 45 minutes or so to the total if the bird is stuffed.
This means you can expect the turkey to be done in 4-1/2 to 5-1/2 hours. It’s a good idea to test the internal temperature after 2-1/2 to 3 hours, just to see how things are progressing.
Be sure to test the temperature of the thigh meat as well as the breast. In both cases, take care not to touch any bone with the probe, or the readout won’t be accurate.
How Long to Cook a 22 Lb Turkey at 275 Degrees
You’ll need to pay close attention to the internal temperature when smoking oversized turkeys. The meat needs to cook past 140 degrees within 4 hours. Otherwise, it’s spent too much time in the danger zone between 40 and 140, and it won’t be safe to eat.
275 degrees is a good temperature for smoked turkey. It will give the meat a distinctive smoky taste without overwhelming the natural flavors. If the turkey doesn’t seem to be climbing out of the danger zone fast enough, you can adjust the smoker temp to 300.
We don’t recommend putting the stuffing in the cavity when smoking whole turkeys. The smoke doesn’t complement the flavor of the stuffing, and the process will take a prohibitively long time if you take this step.
Plan on smoking the turkey for a little over 6 hours when the unit’s temperature is set to 275 degrees. Again, be sure to test the internal temp of the breast and thigh after about 3 hours, and adjust the smoker temperature if the meat isn’t cooking fast enough.
The Bottom Line
Turkeys that weigh more than 20 pounds can be tricky to prepare, not least because they’re heavy and awkward to carry. But when you do it right, you’ll be rewarded with enough delicious meat to serve a large crowd.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!