How To Make Thanksgiving Turkey

How To Roast a Turkey
How To Roast a Turkey

Are you hosting your first Thanksgiving dinner?  Or maybe you have always had trouble getting the turkey to turn out?  Try our step-by-step instructions for how to roast a turkey.

Looking for a complete holiday meal menu?  Click here to see ours.

Note:  If you are using a pre-basted turkey (such as a Butterball Turkey), follow the instructions on the package. For a standard turkey (usually the less expensive option), here is what you need to do to get a perfectly-roasted turkey.

1.  If you have a frozen turkey, make sure to thaw the turkey well in advance. The best way to do this is to put the frozen turkey in the refrigerator but it can take a few days for it to thaw. If you did not take it out of the freezer early enough, you can put it in cold water to thaw the rest of the way (which usually works best if you take the turkey out of its packaging). Do not soak in warm water as this encourages bacteria growth and could cause the bird to go bad (which will make people sick).

2.  Remove the giblets, liver and neck that is likely inside the turkey.

3.  (Optional) Brine the turkey to help prevent dryness. To do this, you will need a pot that is large enough to hold the turkey and cover it with water. Stir 1 cup of salt and 1 cup of sugar into 6 quarts of cold water until it has dissolved. Add 2 Tbsp thyme and 2 sliced lemons to the water.  Add the turkey breast side down.  If required, add more cold water to cover the turkey.  Cover the pot and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.  Note:  It is sometimes difficult to find a pot big enough to fit the turkey…be creative…try an ice bucket or a cooler.

4.  Use paper towel to dry the inside and outside of the turkey (to prevent the stuffing for getting soggy).

Old Fashioned Stuffing | How To Roast a Turkey
Old Fashioned Stuffing

5.  Stuff the inside of the turkey with stuffing. While this step is not necessary, it does add flavor to the turkey meat.

See our Old Fashioned Turkey Stuffing post to learn how to make stuffing that tastes like your grandmother’s.

6.  Pull the skin at the back of the turkey over the opening and attach to the turkey using a skewer.

7.  Twist the wing tips behind the back of the turkey.

8.  Tie the legs together with a string or re-usable truss ties*, tucking any extra skin into the middle.

9.  Put the turkey on a rack in a shallow roasting pan with the breast side up.  Using a roasting pan with a rack that has handles* will make your life much easier when it comes to taking the turkey out of the pan when it is done.

10.  Brush the turkey with melted butter.

11.  Cover the turkey loosely with foil with the dull side out. Do not wrap the turkey tightly with the foil…the sides should be left open to allow the turkey to breathe.

12. Bake in a 325 degree F (160 degree C) oven. The time to cook will differ based on the size of the turkey. Here are some average cooking times (but also check the turkey packaging for suggestions). Note: If you are not stuffing the turkey, the cook time will be shorter.
8 lb:   3 – 4 hours
12 lb:  4 – 5 hours
16 lb:  5 – 6 hours
20 lb:  6 – 7 hours

13.  About an hour before the turkey is done, remove the foil from the top of the turkey to let it brown.

14.  Use a baster*to baste the turkey every 15 minutes with the juices from the bottom of the pan

15.  Differences in ovens, turkeys, and pans cause the cooking time to vary. To check if the turkey is done, pinch the thickest part of the drumstick…it should feel soft when the turkey is done. Or use a meat thermometer* stuck into the thickest part of the thigh (without touching any bone)…the temperature should be 185 degrees F. If you put the thermometer into the stuffing, it should be at 165 degrees F.

Roasted Turkey | How To Roast a Turkey
Roasted Turkey

16.  Let the turkey stand outside of the oven for a few minutes.

17.  Remove the stuffing.

18.  Carve the turkey and serve with gravy!

Looking for a gravy recipe?  Check out our easy-to-make roasting pan turkey gravy recipe

Comments or questions on how to cook a Thanksgiving turkey?  Tell us in the section below.

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