There's a reason many households only eat turkey once a year. Between thawing, brining, and roasting the massive bird, getting turkey on the Thanksgiving table is an arduous process. Stuffing it introduces another layer of complications. If your turkey is filled with stuffing you plan to serve to your guests, it has to cook longer than it would otherwise. A stuffed turkey that isn't cooked properly is a potential salmonella bomb that could put an early end to your festivities.

But that doesn't mean you should opt for dressing instead of true stuffing. When done well, a stuffed bird looks like something from a Norman Rockwell painting. If you want to bring that classic touch to your Thanksgiving dinner this year, this is how long it will take.

How long should you cook a stuffed turkey?

The magic number to remember when roasting a turkey—stuffed or unstuffed—is 165°F. At that temperature, poultry is safe to eat. You can measure the doneness of an unstuffed turkey by sticking a thermometer into the thickest part of it—usually the thigh. If your turkey is stuffed, you have to take the temperature of the stuffing as well as the meat.

When you fill a bird’s cavity with stuffing, those bits of bread and veggies absorb juices from the raw carcass. Serving stuffing that hasn’t reached the right temperature is like putting undercooked poultry on the table. Even if your turkey thigh has hit 165°F or higher, wait until the stuffing reaches the same temperature to ensure that any harmful pathogens have been killed. Slightly overcooked turkey is preferable to food poisoning.

Just how long it takes a stuffed bird to reach 165°F all the way through depends on the size. Here’s how long you should roast your stuffed turkey in a 325°F oven based on how much it weighs (before it was stuffed), according to the USDA.

  • 8 to 12 pounds // 3 to 3.5 hours.
  • 12 to 14 pounds // 3.5 to 4 hours
  • 14 to 18 pounds // 4 to 4.25 hours.
  • 18 to 20 pounds // 4.25 to 4.75 hours.
  • 20 to 24 pounds // 4.75 to 5.25 hours.

How to measure the doneness of a stuffed turkey

Once you reach your turkey’s minimum cook time, check the temperature of the stuffing with a meat thermometer. The tip of the thermometer should hit the center of the stuffing to ensure it’s cooked fully. If the stuffing hasn’t reached 165°F, pop the turkey back into the oven and take the temperature again after 15 minutes. Keep measuring every 15 minutes until the stuffing is safe to consume.

You should avoid checking it more than once every 15 minutes, though. Every time you open the oven door, precious heat escapes which adds to your cooking time. You can also invest in a probe thermometer which lets you keep track of your food’s internal temperature as it cooks without you touching it.

Once every part of your bird is ready, transfer the stuffing to a dish and cover it with tin foil as the meat rests. Just make sure your dinner guests catch a peek of the picture-perfect stuffed turkey when it first comes out of the oven.