How To Cook A Turkey: Thanksgiving Turkey Recipe + Tips!
Sharing tips and tricks on how to cook a turkey that is extra juicy and perfectly golden! This easy roast turkey recipe guarantees a delicious Thanksgiving!
The best turkey recipe and tips for how to cook a turkey!
For 12 delicious years now, I have been in charge of my families’ Thanksgiving turkey and I am excited to finally share this turkey recipe for the best turkey, ever!
I have a lot of tips and tricks below on how to cook a turkey to make sure your turkey comes out extra juicy and perfectly golden brown.
Like starting the turkey at 500°F, adding oil and butter to melt into the meat and a special folded piece of foil to keep the breast meat extra juicy!
I will explain the reasons why I recommend certain methods and different options you can try that I have personally tried myself!
By the end of this post, you will be completely ready to make the best Thanksgiving Turkey recipe ever! I promise, it’s easier than you think!
How long to thaw a turkey?
The first important step when cooking a turkey is thawing turkey that is frozen. Of course, if you buy a fresh turkey, you can skip this step!
The easiest (and safest) way to thaw a turkey is in the fridge, however you can thaw it in cold water quicker if need be.
- How long to thaw a turkey in the fridge: A fully frozen turkey will require 24 hours of thawing time for every 5 pounds in a refrigerator set at about 40° F. For a 20 pound turkey, it will take 4 days.
- How to thaw a turkey quickly in the sink: Place turkey in your sink and fill with cold water. Drain and refill sink with cold water every 30 minutes to ensure your Turkey stays in the safe zone for bacteria. This method requires about 30 minutes per pound of Turkey. A 20 pound turkey will take approximately 10 hours.
Tools needed to cook a turkey:
- Cooking Twine to tie turkey legs together (affiliate link)
- Roasting Pan with rack (affiliate link)
- Meat thermometer that you can leave in while cooking (affiliate link)
- Paper towels
- Latex Gloves (optional)
Turkey Brine: Yay or Nay?
Once your turkey is thawed, we can actually start getting ready to roast the turkey!
The first step will be cleaning the turkey by rinsing it with water and removing any gizzards/neck that is inside the cavity of the turkey. At this point, you can brine your turkey or you can start preparing it to roast.
I will share my Turkey Brine recipe below, however after years of bringing and not brining a turkey…I am here to tell you I personally don’t think it’s worth the effort.
Last year we had so many guests over for Thanksgiving that I made two 25 pound turkeys! For an experiment, I brined one of the turkeys and I did not brine the other.
No one could tell a difference or guess which turkey had been brined and which had not been brined. Both turkeys were super juicy and flavorful!
However, if you just really want to give it a try, below is my favorite turkey brine recipe.
If you do a turkey brine, remember that you will need to start brining your turkey the night before you want to roast it!
Turkey Brine Recipe
- 1 cup kosher salt
- 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
- 1 gallon vegetable stock
- 3 tablespoons black peppercorns
- 2 teaspoons allspice berries
- 5 garlic cloves, smashed
- 1 gallon heavily iced water
- Combine the vegetable stock, salt, brown sugar, peppercorns, allspice berries, and garlic cloves in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Stir to combine and bring mixture to a boil. Let boil for 2 minutes and then remove the brine from the heat.
- Cool the brine and then combine the brine mixture and iced water together in an extra large pot or 5 gallon bucket (if you have the room in your fridge).
- Place the thawed turkey breast side down in the brine. If necessary, weigh down the bird with something heavy to ensure it is fully immersed in the brine. Cover and refrigerate the turkey for 6 to 8 hours, turning the bird once half way through brining.
Prepping the turkey for roasting
After rinsing your turkey, you will want to remove any extra water and pat it dry with disposable paper towels.
Then we will fill the turkeys cavities with aromatics. I use a combination of apples, oranges, lemon, onion and herbs.
I know, you are probably screaming at your screen right now because you want to stuff the inside of this bird with stuffing.
However, if you want your turkey to be perfectly juicy and roasted to golden perfection, then we need to go with the aromatics and make the stuffing/dressing separately.
To ensure that the stuffing/dressing reaches the proper temperature for safe eating (remember, that bread is touching the inside of a raw turkey!) you have to overcook the outside (the meat!) of the turkey. No one wants dry turkey!
So once we have our aromatics all stuffed inside, we will get the outside of the turkey ready.
You will need to tuck the wings underneath the bird and coat the skin liberally with canola oil.
Then using your hands, rub canola oil and seasonings UNDER the skin of the turkey — you will have to separate the skin from the turkey meat.
I personally wear thin latex gloves when I do this step. This works best if you have someone pouring the oil and seasonings into your hands as you do this step.
Lastly, we add squares of butter all over the turkey in between the skin and meat. The butter melts into the meat of the turkey as it roasts!
How to cook a turkey:
Before you place the turkey into the oven, you will want to form a protective breast plate out of aluminum foil that we will place over the turkey’s breast while it finishes roasting.
To form the foil, I take a large piece and fold it into a triangle large enough to fold over and cover the breast of the turkey. You do not want to cover the wings or the legs — just the breast.
What temperature to cook a turkey?
This roast turkey recipe starts at a very high 500°F for the oil to do its’ magic and get the turkey’s skin perfectly crispy and golden brown.
After 30 minutes, we will drop the temperature of the oven to 350°F and lightly cover the breast of the turkey with the prepared foil to protect the breast from becoming over cooked and dry.
At this time we will also insert the necessary meat thermometer into the thickest part of the breast. I just stab right through the foil breast cover to insert the meat thermometer.
Set the meat thermometer alarm to 162°F and once that temperature is reached, remove the turkey and loosely tent the entire turkey with foil and let it rest for 30 minutes before serving.
The turkey will continue to cook while covered with foil and will reach the safety temperature point of 165°F.
How long to cook a turkey?
A 16 pound turkey will require approximately 2.5 hours of total roasting time.
A 20 pound turkey will require approximately 3 hours of total roasting time.
Tips on how to cook the perfect turkey!
- Meat Thermometer — it’s the most important part. This will be the BEST way to tell if your turkey is done roasting and not to over cook it. If you want juicy turkey, remember your meat thermometer!
- Don’t be shy when oiling the skin of the turkey. I mean it! The first time I made this roast turkey in front of my dad he asked me if we were roasting this turkey or frying it because of how much oil I used. After that first bite though he was sold and we never make turkey any other way now!
- Let the turkey rest covered in foil for the full 30 minutes. The resting time lets the meat become more tender and the juices settle. And honestly, the turkey is too hot to properly carve any sooner than that anyways.
Thanksgiving Side Dishes + Desserts
If you loved this roasted turkey recipe and tips for how to cook turkey, you will love my other Thanksgiving recipes.
My favorite Thanksgiving Side Dish Recipes:
My favorite Thanksgiving Desserts:
It’s taken me years to nail the perfect Thanksgiving turkey recipe and I am so glad I am able to share it with all of you! Consider it my Thanksgiving gift to you!
If you are looking for a juicy, flavorful, golden turkey, this is the recipe for you! Follow all my tips/tricks above on how to cook a turkey and you will be impressing your guests (and yourself!) in no time!
Please leave a comment or review below letting me know how this roasted turkey recipe turns out for you!
- 16 lb turkey, thawed
- canola oil
- black pepper
- garlic salt
- 1 1/2 sticks butter, sliced
- 1 apple, thickly sliced
- 1/2 onion, thickly sliced
- 1 lemon, quartered
- 1 orange, quartered
- 4 sprigs rosemary
- 6 leaves sage
- Preheat the oven to 500°F. Rinse the turkey inside and out with cold water. Pat dry with paper towels to remove any excess water.
- Place the turkey on a roasting rack inside a roasting pan. Tuck the wings underneath the bird. Place the aromatics inside the turkey cavity.
- Using your hands, rub canola oil and seasonings UNDER the skin of the turkey. You will have to separate the skin on the legs and breast from the meat using your fingers. (I personally wear thin latex gloves when I do this step.) This works best if you have someone pouring the oil and seasonings into your hands as you do this step.
- Lastly, slide the slices of butter under the skin on the legs and breast (in between the skin and the meat). The butter will melt into the meat as it roasts!
- Before you place the turkey into the oven, you will want to form a protective breast plate out of aluminum foil that we will place over the turkey’s breast while it finishes roasting. To form the foil, I take a large piece and fold it into a triangle large enough to fold over and cover the breast of the turkey. You do not want to cover the wings or the legs — just the breast.
- Place the turkey on the lowest level of the oven and cook it at 500°F for 30 minutes.
- After 30 minutes, we will drop the temperature of the oven to 350°F and lightly cover the breast of the turkey with the prepared foil to protect the breast from becoming over cooked and dry.
- At this time we will also insert the necessary meat thermometer into the thickest part of the breast. I just stab right through the foil breast cover to insert the meat thermometer.
- Set the meat thermometer alarm to 162°F and once that temperature is reached, remove the turkey and loosely tent the entire turkey with foil.
- Let the turkey rest for 30 minutes before carving. The turkey will continue to cook while covered loosely with foil and will reach the safety temperature point of 165°F. Then carve the turkey and serve!
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 10 servings Serving Size: 1 serving
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 673 Total Fat: 29g Saturated Fat: 8g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 19g Cholesterol: 371mg Sodium: 615mg Carbohydrates: 0g Net Carbohydrates: 0g Fiber: 0g Sugar: 0g Sugar Alcohols: 0g Protein: 97g