This is how to cook your first turkey this holiday. It takes way less effort with far better results.
Turkey is the quintessential superstar of Thanksgiving, and this easy, beginner turkey guide lives up to the hype! You’ll learn how to choose, thaw, prep, season, and cook, carve, and store your first Turkey.
Easy Thanksgiving Turkey Recipe
You’ll blow away all of your friends & family with this classic recipe.
- 1 (12 pound) whole turkey
- 1 onion, coarsely chopped
- 1 stalk celery, coarsely chopped
- 1 carrot, coarsely chopped
- 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 4 sprigs fresh rosemary
- ½ bunch chopped fresh sage
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C).
- Place onion, celery, and carrot in a large, shallow roasting pan.
- Place turkey, breast side up, on top of the vegetables in the roasting pan. Pat the outside and inside of the turkey dry with paper towels.
- Combine salt and black pepper in a small bowl. Season the inside of the turkey with about 1/3 of the salt mixture. Fold wing tips under the bird.
- Melt butter in small saucepan over medium heat until the edges begin to turn golden, about 2 minutes. Cook and stir rosemary and sage for 1 minute.
- Place rosemary and sage inside the cavity of the turkey; reserve melted butter. Tie the legs together with twine.
- Brush outside of the turkey completely with the melted butter. Season with remaining 2/3 of the salt mixture.
- Bake turkey, uncovered, in the preheated oven until no longer pink at the bone and the juices run clear, about 3 hours. An instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh, near the bone should read 180 degrees F (82 degrees C). Remove the turkey from the oven and allow to rest in a warm area 10 to 15 minutes before slicing.
Best Thanksgiving Ever!
How To Buy A Thanksgiving Turkey
How Big of a Turkey Should I Buy?
- As a rule of thumb, you will need 1 pound of turkey per person.
- Make sure there’s enough room in your oven there for your turkey and roasting pan!
- Make sure you have a large enough pan to fit your turkey, or make plans to buy one.
Types of Turkeys
If you’re buying a frozen, conventional turkey (like Butterball) from the supermarket, buy it 1 week in advance and store it in your freezer.
Tip: Many turkeys, like Butterball, are pre-brined. Frozen Butterball “Contains up to 8% of a solution of Water, Salt, Spices, and Natural Flavor.” Brining extends the shelf life of the turkey.
If you’re buying a fresh turkey (conventional OR free-range organic) from the supermarket, you can’t pick it up too far ahead of time, because it’ll go bad. But you can and should call the supermarket to reserve your fresh turkey at least two weeks in advance.
Kosher turkeys are brined in salt. These birds usually taste very good without any further preparation.
Fancy Heritage Turkeys
The flavor is said to be superior, and the meat is leaner. Because they have lower fat content, they don’t have to cook as long. These are the most expensive turkeys. Keep in mind, that the taste might be different from what you’re used to.
Tip: Order a Heritage turkey online, at least a month in advance. The turkey will be delivered to you the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.
Free-Range or Free-Roaming Turkeys
Free-range also does not indicate if the bird was raised without antibiotics or hormones.
Depending on how much exercise the bird received, the meat may be leaner.
The turkeys eat only organic feed. They are also raised without the use of antibiotics or growth hormones and are free range.
Their taste varies, although they are usually considered to have very good flavor.
How To Prep Thanksgiving Turkey
Everything You Need to Know About Prepping a Turkey.
Choose the method that works best for you, whether you’re a plan-ahead cook or need a last-minute solution.
- Step #1: Thaw
- Step #2: Season
Step #1: How To Thaw A Turkey
There are four ways you can safely thaw frozen turkey: slow, medium, fast, and emergency.
Slow: Thaw in the Refrigerator
How long it takes: Allow approximately 24 hours for every 5 pounds of turkey.
Turkey Fridge Thawing Times
Thaw time in the fridge requires about 24 hours for every 5 pounds in a refrigerator set at about 40 degrees F (5 degrees C).
|Turkey Weight||Fridge Thaw Time|
|10 to 18 pounds||2 to 3½ days|
|18 to 22 pounds||3½ to 4½ days|
|22 to 24 pounds||4½ to 5 days|
|24 to 29 pounds||5 to 6 days|
Tips for thawing turkey in the fridge:
- Keep the turkey in its original wrapping while it’s thawing.
- Place breast-side-up in a baking pan to keep any drips from contaminating other foods and refrigerator surfaces.
- You can hold the thawed turkey in the fridge for up to 2 days before cooking.
Food Safety: It’s important to keep the whole turkey at a safe temperature while thawing to prevent foodborne illness. Never thaw a frozen turkey at room temperature, or in hot water.
Medium: Thaw in Cold Water
Thaw time in cold water requires about 30 minutes per pound in cold water, refreshed every 30 minutes.
Turkey Cold Water Thawing Times
How long it takes: A 10-pound bird will take about 5 hours to thaw completely.
|Weight||Cold Water Thaw Time|
|10 to 18 pounds||5 to 9 hours|
|18 to 22 pounds||9 to 11 hours|
|22 to 24 pounds||11 to 12 hours|
|24 to 29 pounds||12 to 15 hours|
Tips for thawing turkey in cold water:
- Keep the bird in the original wrapping.
- In a large container, completely submerge the turkey in cold water.
- Cover the turkey with a plate to keep it submerged.
- Change the cold water every 30 minutes.
- Cook the turkey immediately after thawing.
You can also speed up thawing by cutting the turkey in pieces. The turkey will thaw faster — and it will also cook faster in smaller pieces.
- Use the cold water method for as many hours as you can.
- Remove the giblet bag from the cavity . This will speed up defrosting.
- As soon as you can, out the backbone with a pair of kitchen shears. Then with a cleaver cut off the legs and thighs, then cut the thighs into chunks (cut through the bone).
To roast, place all the pieces in a roasting pan with and sprinkle with salt then roast at 450°F for 30 minutes, then down to 325°F until the meat is at 165°F, which means it’s done.
Fast: Thaw in a Microwave Oven
As a general rule. It could take an hour or more on the defrost setting, depending on the size of the turkey.
Be sure to rotate it several times, and flip it, during the thawing process. If the turkey starts to actually cook instead of just defrost, let it rest for 5 minutes before resuming.
How long it takes: Read the user manual for your oven to get instructions for thawing a frozen turkey. Times and power settings will be vary from model to model.
Tips for thawing turkey in the microwave:
- Take the turkey out of its wrapping, and remove metal clips or tags.
- Place the turkey breast-side up in a microwave-safe pan to catch any drips.
- After the turkey is thawed, wash the inside of your microwave to prevent cross contamination.
- Cook the turkey immediately after thawing.
Step #2: How To Season A Turkey
Turkey is a very lean bird. So it has a bad rep for being dry and flavorless. Using an herb butter is going to solve all of those problems.
Herb Butter Recipe (12-20 pound turkey)
- 2 cup butter softened
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 2 tablespoon thyme finely chopped
- 2 tablespoon oregano finely chopped
- 2 tablespoon rosemary finely chopped
- Kosher Salt
Use Plenty of Salt
Salt is your friend.
You’ll want to use the “teaspoon per pound” rule. That’s one teaspoon of kosher salt per pound of meat.
This may seem like a lot of salt when you’re working with, a 12-pound bird (that’s 12 teaspoons which is 4 tablespoons, which is 1/4 cup).
But you’ll need it.
Herb Butter Seasoning Tips
- Remove anything inside of it the turkey like giblets and plastic thingys.
- Before you rub the turkey down with butter, pat it dry with paper towels.
- Pull the skin away from the breast meat. Turkey skin is very stretchy. Just go slow.
- Rub the herb butter directly onto the meat, under the skin.
- Then slather the remaining butter all over the top, on the skin. Make sure to get all those nooks and crannies.
How To Cook Turkey
Best Thanksgiving Turkey Roasting Tips Ever!
- Let your turkey come to room temperature before roasting it. Don’t roast a cold turkey. Take your bird out of the refrigerator (and out of the brine, if you’re brining) an hour before you put it in the oven to ensure even cooking and a moist bird.
- Drying your turkey thoroughly with paper towels (both inside and outside) helps crisp the skin.
- Salt inside the cavity.
- Position rack to the lower third of your oven and preheat oven.
- Brush butter all over turkey then season generously with salt and pepper.
- Pour chicken broth into the pan.
- Do not baste every 30 to 45 minutes
- The meat temperature should be 165°.
- Cover cooked turkey with aluminum foil and let rest for 20 minutes before carving.
- Get fired up! Roast for 30 minutes at a higher temp to blast the turkey with hot heat. Preheat oven at 400 F. Once the Turkey is in the oven, turn the temperature up to 450 F for 30 minutes. Then turn the temperature down to 350 F
- Save those juices: They’re your ticket to delicious gravy.
- Buy a cooking thermometer. Your oven may run hotter or cooler. That’s why you NEED an oven thermometer for best results.
- Turkey is done when its internal temperature reaches 165 degrees. Some turkeys are naturally pinker than others and a fully cooked bird will often have that color.
8 Turkey Mistakes You Won’t Make This Holiday
Do Not Baste (Unless You Want To)
Every time you open the oven door to baste, you let the heat out. Basting also gives you less crispy skin.
Instead of basting, rub butter & olive oil all over the bird just before you place it into the oven. Then leave it alone until it’s time to check for doneness.
Do Not Check For Doneness In The Wrong Spot.
The only way to really tell if the turkey is cooked (165 degrees F), is by using a thermometer.
Test the turkey right from the oven—if it reaches 165 degrees F, I take it out and tent it with foil. It will continue to cook inside the foil tent to make up that extra 5 degrees.
Where should you check the temperature?
Your thermometer needs to be in the thickest part of the thigh. Insert the thermometer right where the thigh meets the breast, and push it in until you feel it slide into the thigh meat.
What kind of thermometer should I use?
Often, your turkey will come with a pop-up thermometer already inserted into its breast meat. Take it out and throw it away.
A real meat thermometer tells you the exact internal temperature of your bird and costs just $10.
3. Roasting Rack
The roasting rack helps to cook the turkey evenly.
Without it, the meat on the bottom ends up dry, overcooked, and often burned. Invest in a rack for your roasting pan if you don’t want to waste part of your turkey. You can use it for roasting other meats too.
DIY Roasting Rack
You don’t need an expensive roasting rack. A $1 disposable foil roasting pan from Walmart will work too. Just place a bunch of chopped veggies on the bottom of your pan.
The veggies will act like the wire rack in a regular roasting pan by elevating the turkey slightly.
4. Not Adding Flavor To Your Pan
To add flavor to both the turkey (and the gravy, if you’re using pan drippings), you’ll want to add aromatics to the turkey cavity and to the bottom of the pan.
Some combination of vegetables, herbs, and seasonings. Then cover the bottom of the pan with a ¼ inch of liquid (wine, cider, beer, broth, water) so the drippings don’t burn.
5. Washing The Turkey
Don’t wash the turkey, this will just contaminate your sink. Remove the turkey from it’s packaging, dry it off with some paper towels, and then prepare it for the oven. Any bacteria on the turkey will be killed in the hot oven while it bakes.
Don’t brine your turkey. If you buy a high-quality turkey from the store (like Butterball), then it has already been brined.
However, if the turkey is wild, you should brine it the night before to make sure it will be moist and flavorful.
If you try to put stuffing/dressing inside the cavity of the bird, the turkey will be overcooked by the time the stuffing reaches a temperature that’s safe to eat.
Instead, cook your stuffing in a casserole dish. Then you can fill the cavity of the turkey with things that will give it flavor (and add flavor to the drippings/stock): salt and pepper and any mixture of onion, apple, carrots, celery, or citrus.
You’ve done everything right so far, but the final step — carving — can make or break your Thanksgiving dinner.
Set yourself up for success by arranging your tools. Use a large cutting board, and read on to find out how to carve a turkey …
How To Carve A Thanksgiving Turkey (Easy)
There’s more than one way to carve a turkey.
This method is the easiest!
- Set up a carving station. Place the turkey on a large carving board. Make sure you have your serving platter, paper towels, a sharp chef’s knife, and tongs at the ready.
- Remove the trussing string if needed using the tip of the knife and arrange the turkey so the legs are facing you.
- Remove the leg and thigh together. Slice through the skin that connects the breast and the drumstick until you hit bone. Run the knife between the thigh and the back bone to cleanly remove the leg piece.
- (Optional) Remove the wishbone. Cut along the perimeter of wishbone to expose it. Grab the wishbone and pull hard to release it from the breast. Save for later to make a wish!
- Remove the breast. Cut through the skin on the top of the turkey along the breastbone working the knife through the breast meat. Remove as much meat as possible.
- Remove the wing. Pull the wing back, as you did the legs, and cut at the joint.
- Turn the turkey and repeat on the other side.
- Separate the thighs from the drumsticks. Cut right between the drumstick and thigh at the joint.
- Slice the thighs. Cut the thigh meat off the bone and into smaller pieces (optional).
- Slice the breasts. Place the breasts skin-side up on the cutting board. Cut crosswise at a slight angle into 1/4-inch-thick slices.
What You’ll Need
- A very sharp knife. A chef’s knife works just fine, but you can use a carving knife if you wish.
- Large cutting board, preferably with channels to catch the juices. Stabilize with a towel beneath, so it doesn’t move around.
- Serving platter
- Paper towels
How Long To Cook Turkey
How long does it take to cook a turkey?
The general rule for roasting a turkey in a preheated 350 degree F (175 degrees C) oven is 20 minutes per pound. This varies if your turkey is stuffed or unstuffed, so check your recipe. Your recipe may call for a different temperature and overall time, and your oven may run hotter or cooler.
|Weight of Turkey||Roasting Time (Unstuffed)||Roasting Time (Stuffed)|
|10 to 18 pounds||3 to 3-1/2 hours||3-3/4 to 4-1/2 hours|
|18 to 22 pounds||3-1/2 to 4 hours||4-1/2 to 5 hours|
|22 to 24 pounds||4 to 4-1/2 hours||5 to 5-1/2 hours|
|24 to 29 pounds||4-1/2 to 5 hours||5-1/2 to 6-1/4 hours|
A straightforward way to roast a turkey.
How To Store Leftover Thanksgiving Turkey
What’s more Thanksgiving than leftovers?
- Store in airtight bags or containers, or wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Keeping Thanksgiving leftovers in an airtight container will help keep them from absorbing fridge odors.
- If you are going to use it for sandwiches, freeze slices. If you will use the turkey in soups and casseroles, cube it.
- Separate light and dark meat. Since people tend to have a preference for white and dark meat, be sure to divide these into two separate containers when placing them in the fridge.
- Leftover turkey is only good for 4 days and and chances are you will be sick of turkey by then. Freeze some for later! It will last up to three months in the freezer. Zipper-type freezer bags work well.
- Stuffing and gravy should be used within a day or so. The gravy can be frozen for later.
Additional Storage Tips
Everybody’s favorite food holiday should last as long as possible.
- Make room in your refrigerator and freezer ahead of time to avoid shuffling things around after dinner.
- Make sure you have plenty of small and large freezer bags, and freezer-safe containers.
- Once your leftovers are in the fridge, avoid opening and closing the refrigerator door until the food cools down.
- Have extra ice on hand for cooling down gravies and soups.
- Food never has to come to room temperature before refrigerating. The less time it spends at room temperature the better.
Thanksgiving Turkey Cooking FAQs
What can I use to truss the turkey legs if I don’t have kitchen twine?
Dental floss works. It’s clean, and very strong when wrapped around three or four times. Remove once the turkey is cooked.
Can I cook Thanksgiving turkey in a crockpot?
Yes. Halfway way through, just turn the turkey around and pour some broth on it. Easy! And no mess.
Why does turkey turn out dry?
Turkey has a bad rep for being dry and flavorless. This is because turkey is a very lean meat, and most people under-season it. An herb-butter is going to solve all of those problems by giving you a measured amount of salt for seasoning, butter for added fat, and herbs and garlic for incredible flavor.
Can I refrigerate a whole cooked turkey?
Answer: Yes, you can refrigerate a whole cooked turkey. Always refrigerate as soon as possible, and do not let the turkey sit on your counter to cool.
Can you vacuum seal cooked turkey?
Yes. Vacuum seal pieces of turkey to lock in the flavor.
Bird is the word.
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