Mastering the Art of Cooking a Turkey at High Altitude

Cooking a turkey at high altitude can be a daunting task, even for experienced home cooks. The lower atmospheric pressure and reduced air density can wreak havoc on your traditional roasting methods, leading to dry, overcooked meat and uneven browning. Fear not, however, as we’ve got you covered with a comprehensive guide to help you achieve a juicy, flavorful, and perfectly cooked turkey, no matter how high you’re perched.

Understanding the High-Altitude Cooking Challenges

Before we dive into the tips and tricks, it’s essential to understand the unique challenges that come with cooking at high altitudes. Here are the main factors to consider:

  1. Lower Boiling Point: At higher elevations, the boiling point of water decreases. For instance, at an altitude of 7,500 feet, water boils at around 198°F (92°C), compared to 212°F (100°C) at sea level. This lower boiling point means that liquids evaporate more quickly, causing meats to dry out faster.

  2. Reduced Atmospheric Pressure: The lower atmospheric pressure at high altitudes affects the way heat is transferred to the food. This can lead to uneven cooking and longer cooking times.

  3. Dry Air: The air at higher altitudes is generally drier, which can further contribute to moisture loss in your turkey.

Adjusting Cooking Times and Temperatures

One of the most crucial aspects of successfully cooking a turkey at high altitude is adjusting the cooking time and temperature. Here’s what you need to know:

Cooking Time

According to Foster Farms, you should add approximately 5 to 10 minutes per pound to the recommended roasting time for turkeys when cooking at altitudes of 5,000 feet or higher. For example, if a 12-pound unstuffed turkey typically takes 3 to 3 3/4 hours to cook at 325°F (163°C) at sea level, you may need to roast it for 3 1/2 to 4 1/4 hours at high altitude.

Cooking Temperature

While some sources recommend increasing the oven temperature to compensate for the lower boiling point, it’s generally better to stick to the standard roasting temperature of 325°F (163°C) or slightly lower. Higher temperatures can lead to overcooked exteriors and undercooked interiors due to the reduced atmospheric pressure.

Tips for Juicy and Flavorful High-Altitude Turkey

Beyond adjusting the cooking time and temperature, there are several additional tips and tricks you can employ to ensure a delicious and moist turkey at high altitude:

  1. Brine or Dry Brine: Brining or dry brining your turkey before roasting can help it retain moisture during the cooking process. The salt in the brine solution or dry rub helps break down the proteins in the meat, allowing it to better absorb and hold on to moisture.

  2. Baste Frequently: Basting your turkey regularly with its own juices or a flavorful liquid (like stock or melted butter) can help keep the meat moist and add extra flavor.

  3. Use a Roasting Bag or Tent with Foil: Roasting your turkey in an oven-safe bag or tenting it with foil can help trap moisture and prevent the meat from drying out too quickly.

  4. Add a Water Bath: Bon Appétit recommends placing a 9″ x 13″ baking pan filled with simmering water on the rack below your roasting turkey. This will create a gentle steaming effect and help keep the meat moist.

  5. Baste with Room-Temperature Liquid: As suggested by Bon Appétit, basting your turkey with room-temperature stock can help cool the surface of the meat and prevent moisture loss.

  6. Use a Meat Thermometer: Investing in a reliable meat thermometer is essential for ensuring your turkey is cooked to the perfect internal temperature of 165°F (74°C) without overcooking.

  7. Let it Rest: Once your turkey is cooked, let it rest for at least 20 to 30 minutes before carving. This allows the juices to redistribute throughout the meat, resulting in a juicier and more flavorful turkey.

High-Altitude Turkey Roasting Timetable

To help you plan your high-altitude turkey roasting adventure, we’ve compiled a handy timetable based on the recommendations from Foster Farms and adjustments for high altitudes:

Whole Turkey Weight Unstuffed (at 325°F) Stuffed (at 325°F)
8 – 12 lbs. 3 1/4 – 3 1/2 hours 3 1/2 – 4 hours
12 – 14 lbs. 3 1/2 – 4 1/4 hours 4 – 4 1/2 hours
14 – 18 lbs. 4 1/4 – 4 3/4 hours 4 1/2 – 4 3/4 hours
18 – 20 lbs. 4 3/4 – 5 hours 4 3/4 – 5 1/4 hours
20 – 24 lbs. 5 – 5 1/2 hours 5 1/4 – 5 3/4 hours

Remember, these are approximate times, and your actual cooking time may vary depending on your specific altitude, oven, and turkey. Always use a meat thermometer to ensure your turkey is cooked to the safe internal temperature of 165°F (74°C).


Cooking a turkey at high altitude doesn’t have to be a daunting task. By understanding the challenges, adjusting cooking times and temperatures, and employing techniques like brining, basting, and using a water bath, you can achieve a juicy, flavorful, and perfectly cooked turkey, even at the highest of elevations. With a little extra care and attention, you can enjoy a delicious and memorable holiday meal, no matter where you are.

High Heat Roast Turkey

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