How to Cook a Turkey Overnight

Erin Coleman, R.D., L.D.
Roasted turkey

For less stress the day of a big celebratory or holiday meal, try roasting your turkey at a lower temperature overnight while you sleep. You'll still have to bake your turkey (for a short time period) again right before you serve it, but your oven and counter space will be free. With the right instructions you can rest easy, knowing your turkey will be baked to perfection when you wake up.

The Method for Cooking Turkey Overnight

You can use the method below for getting your turkey cooked to perfection while you snooze.

Ingredients and Supplies

  • One whole turkey, thawed
  • Water for rinsing the turkey
  • 2-3 tablespoons butter
  • 4 cups water
  • Aromatics, such as onions, bay leaves, garlic, and celery
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Poultry seasoning (or other seasonings of your choice) to taste
  • Large roasting pan
  • Aluminium foil
  • Meat thermometer
  • Basting brush
  • Additional butter and seasonings for final basting prior to mealtime

Prepare the Turkey

  1. Make sure your turkey is thawed ahead of time.
  2. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Fahrenheit (up to 200 degrees Fahrenheit is fine if that's your oven's lowest heat setting).
  3. Remove internal organs from turkey.
  4. Rinse the turkey with water and drain it.
  5. Pat the turkey dry with a paper towel.

Season the Turkey

  1. Rub the outside of the turkey with butter.
  2. Place desired aromatics inside the turkey.
  3. Sprinkle the turkey with salt, pepper (optional), and seasonings of your choice.
  4. Place the turkey on a large roasting pan with a rack and fill the pan with 4 cups of water.
  5. Wrap the pan and turkey tightly with aluminum foil.

Cook the Turkey

  1. Before going to bed, place the turkey in the oven and roast it while you sleep.
  2. Cook the turkey for 9 to 11 hours (for turkeys weighing 14 to 20 pounds). Turkeys weighing more than 20 pounds may take longer to cook; add about 10 to 15 minutes extra for each pound over 20. For turkeys weighing less than 14 pounds, check for doneness (internal breast temperature of 155 degrees Fahrenheit) after a period of 8 to 9 hours. These cooking times are just guidelines; always monitor internal temperature to check for doneness.
  3. Check the turkey's internal temperature with a meat thermometer. It should read about 155 degrees Fahrenheit inside the breast of the bird.
  4. Remove the pan from the oven.

Safely Store Turkey Before the Meal

During this stage in the turkey-roasting process, wait until about 1 hour before you plan to serve the turkey before continuing on to the next step. After your turkey cools, don't let it sit out in room temperature for more than 2 hours to avoid foodborne illness.

If you're not serving your turkey until later in the day, store it in the refrigerator until 1 hour before serving time. Then pull it out and let it come back to room temperature before reheating; do not let it sit too long.

Reheat Before Serving

  1. Thanksgiving Turkey
    Heat your oven to 475 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Remove aluminum foil.
  3. Baste the turkey with the brush once again to avoid dryness.
  4. Roast the turkey in the oven until it reaches an internal breast temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit (about 15 to 30 minutes) and the skin has browned. If your turkey is cold (has been in the refrigerator) when it goes into the oven, roast it for at least 30 minutes; then check for doneness.
  5. Cool the turkey (let it rest) for about 20 to 30 minutes, carve, and enjoy!

Tips for Success

Follow these tips for overnight success.

Check for Automatic Oven Shut Off Features

Before cooking your turkey overnight, check to be sure your oven doesn't shut off on its own after a specified time period. Some ovens shut off after 12 hours, for example, and this should be fine for overnight roasting. However, if your oven shuts off on its own sooner than 12 hours of continuous activity, check your oven owner's manual to override this feature, so the oven shutting off doesn't interrupt your turkey's overnight roasting process.

Start Turkey Your Later

If you want to avoid refrigerating your turkey after roasting it the first time or if you have a smaller bird and are worried about dryness, you should put it in the oven later at night so it will be done closer to serving time.

  1. Cook the turkey at the lower temperature (covered in foil) until it reaches 155 degrees and remove the turkey from the oven.
  2. From here, you can rest it up to 2 hours without worry about foodborne illness.
  3. Finish the process by roasting the turkey at the higher oven temperature (475 degrees) without the foil. Baste as needed.

You may have to set your alarm to wake up in the middle of the night to get the turkey in the oven, but doing so may make things easier for you on the day of your feast.

Turkey With the Trimmings

A roast turkey is often reserved for special occasions, but with an overnight method, you can easily serve it anytime. Plan your favorite side dishes and your Sunday lunch is now a festive feast!

How to Cook a Turkey Overnight