This roast turkey recipe is actually easy to make so don’t feel intimidated. Below I will show you step-by-step how to cook a turkey for Thanksgiving or any special dinner!
While cooking turkey takes time, the steps are not difficult. Follow the guide below for our best tips to ensure your roast turkey is perfect and juicy!
Cook up some stuffing and mashed potatoes for a perfect thanksgiving feast!
How to Cook a Turkey
Cooking a turkey may seem overwhelming but if you follow the step-by-step directions below, this turkey recipe is easy to make.
OVERVIEW of the Steps for Cooking a Turkey:
- Thaw in the fridge.
- Prepare the turkey.
- Stuff if you’d like.
- Tie the legs.
- Roast until golden.
- Rest before serving.
What You’ll Need to Make a Roast Turkey
- A large rimmed roasting pan with a rack. The rack can even be a small cooling rack, you just want to hold the turkey up and out of the liquid in the bottom of the pan.
If you don’t have a cooling rack, use balled up aluminum foil and/or celery, carrots and onions to hold the turkey up.
- A meat thermometer or Instant Read Thermometer. These are not expensive (under $15) and will make sure ALL of your meats are cooked to perfection, not just turkey. I have this thermometer for roasting, it’s fairly inexpensive and I use it for everything!
- Kitchen twine, a carving knife.
How to Prepare a Turkey for Roasting
- Thaw – If using a frozen turkey, be sure to allow time for it to thaw in the refrigerator. A whole turkey can take several days ot defrost. Read more about thawing a turkey here.
- Brine (optional) – Brine turkey for up to 24 hours or according to this brine recipe. Drain well and pat dry. If you brine a turkey, it will follow the same cooking directions and times as a turkey that hasn’t been brined.
- Remove Giblets/Neck – Look inside the turkey to see if it has the neck and giblets inside. Some turkeys don’t have these. They are often in a little white bag inside the turkey.
Remove these from the cavity, open the bag and place them in the roasting pan along with the turkey if you’d like. They will add flavor to the drippings for gravy. Cook the giblets too and use them for giblet gravy.
- Dab Dry – Dab the skin dry with a paper towel, this will help the skin crisp better. If you’re stuffing the turkey, wipe the inside with a dry paper towel to remove any debris.
- Oil & Season – In this turkey recipe, you’ll rub the skin with olive oil or slightly cooled melted butter and season with salt, pepper, poultry seasoning, and lots of fresh herbs.
- Stuff turkey (optional) – Loosely stuff the turkey with cooled stuffing or herbs & onion and even lemon or other citrus fruits if you’d like. Scroll below for more info and important tips if you’re stuffing the bird. A stuffed turkey takes longer to cook.
Tips for Stuffing a Turkey
Before stuffing or seasoning, flip the wing tips under the turkey (photo above left), this keeps the tips from burning and also helps stabilize the turkey. Place the turkey breast side down and fold the tip of each wing under the turkey as in the image above. If you’re not sure how, watch the video below.
Stuffing a turkey is optional, a stuffed turkey will take longer to cook. If you decide not to stuff your turkey, I would suggest adding onion and some fresh herbs to the cavity for extra flavor.
- Prepare stuffing according to recipe directions. Boxed stuffing is fine too if you’d prefer.
- Cool the stuffing completely, this is important to avoid bacteria. I prepare my stuffing up to 24 hours in advance (but do not stuff the turkey in advance).
- Very gently spoon the stuffing into the main cavity of the turkey, do not pack it in.
- Add a little bit of stuffing to the neck cavity as well, and seal with the flap of skin left on the turkey with a small metal skewer or even a toothpick. Leftover stuffing can go into a casserole dish.
How to Tie or Truss The Legs
Once the turkey is stuffed and seasoned, the next step in this turkey recipe is to tie the legs. This helps with even cooking and makes sure nothing burns.
If the turkey has a band of skin near the cavity opening, you can tuck the legs into the band. If not, simply crisscross the legs over the cavity and tie them together (this is called trussing) with a piece of kitchen string or twine. This helps everything cook more evenly.
Next, season the turkey by rubbing with oil or butter and sprinkling with herbs/salt/pepper per the recipe below.
The Perfect Roast Turkey Recipe
Now that it’s all prepped, here’s how to cook a turkey! You’ll need a large roasting pan, I do not recommend a disposable roasting pan as they don’t tend to hold the heat as well which can sometimes add lots of extra cook time (an hour or even more!).
- Preheat oven to 350°F (per the recipe below).
- Place prepared turkey breast side up on a roasting rack in a large roasting pan. If you do not have a rack, balled-up foil or large pieces of onion/celery/carrot are great to hold the turkey up and off the bottom of the roaster.
- Add an onion, a couple of pieces of celery, and a couple of carrots (and some garlic if you’d like) in the bottom of the pan (optional, this will add great flavor to your gravy). Add 1-inch or so of chicken stock or broth to the bottom of the pan.
- Place turkey in the oven, reduce heat to 325°F, and roast until it reaches 165°F (and if stuffed, the center of the stuffing should reach 165°F).
- Remove from the oven and REST at least 20-30 minutes before carving.
What Temperature to Roast a Turkey
Preheat the oven to 350°F and then when you place the turkey in the oven, turn the oven down. Slow-roasted turkey at 325°F comes out perfectly tender and juicy.
According to the USDA, a turkey is fully cooked with both the meat and the center of the stuffing reach 165°F. Use a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh and ensure it is not touching the bone.
I usually take the turkey out a few degrees early (around 160-162°F) as the temperature will continue to rise while it rests.
Use the drippings to create a quick and easy turkey gravy for the perfect holiday meal.
How Long to Cook a Turkey
Turkey roasting time can vary depending on if the turkey is stuffed or not. If you are short on time, you can Spatchcock Turkey to make cooking extra quick. For a smaller turkey meal, make Roast Turkey Breast.
|12 to 14 pounds||3 to 3 ¾ hours||3 ½ to 4 hours|
|14 to 18 pounds||3 ½ to 4 hours||4 to 4 ½ hours|
|18 to 22 pounds||3 ¾ to 4 ½ hours||4 ½ to 5 hours|
|22 to 24 pounds||4 to 4 ½ hours||5 to 5 ½ hours|
|24 to 30 pounds||4 ½ to 5 hours||5 ½ to 6 ¼ hours|
Easy Roast Turkey Recipe (Step by Step)
This turkey recipe will walk you through, step-by-step, how to cook a turkey to perfection.
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Remove giblets and neck from turkey cavity if they are inside (not all turkeys have this) and set aside. Pat the skin of the turkey dry with paper towels. If stuffing the turkey, wipe the inside of the cavity with paper towels.
Rub the skin of the turkey with olive oil and chopped herbs. Season generously with salt and pepper. Twist the tips of the wings under the turkey.
If stuffing the turkey, fill the cavity stuffing loosely with cooled stuffing (do not pack stuffing). There is a small area near the neck that you can also fill with stuffing and cover with a flap of skin if you’d like. If you are not stuffing the turkey, add ½ an onion and fresh herbs to the cavity.
Crisscross the legs and tie them together with kitchen string or tuck under the flap of skin at the tail if your turkey has one to hold them in place.
Prepare a large rimmed roasting pan by placing a rack in the middle. Add a quartered onion, chopped celery, and carrot. Add the turkey neck and giblets to the pan as well.
Place turkey in a roasting pan on a rack, breast side up. Add 3-4 cups of broth to the bottom of the pan (just enough to fill the pan about 1″ deep).
Add turkey to the oven, reduce heat to 325°F and roast until turkey reaches 165°F *see cooking times below. Once the breast starts to brown, loosely tent a piece of foil over the breast so it doesn’t overcook.
Remove the turkey from the roasting pan to a rimmed baking sheet or a plate and tent it with foil. Rest for at least 20 minutes before carving.
Make gravy from the drippings while the turkey rests if desired.
Turkey should be placed on a rack in the roasting pan. If you do not have a rack, use a small cooling rack or use balls of foil or carrots/celery to lift the turkey off of the bottom of the pan so it isn’t sitting in juices.
Tying the legs ensures the turkey will cook evenly.
The thermometer should be placed in the thickest part of the thigh ensuring it isn’t touching the bone.
The turkey (and the center of the stuffing) should reach 165°F. I usually take it out about 5 degrees before as the turkey will continue to cook as it rests.
- 12 to 14 pounds Unstuffed: 3 to 3 ¾ hours, Stuffed: 3 ½ to 4 hours
- 14 to 18 pounds Unstuffed: 3 ¾ to 4 ½ hours, Stuffed: 4 to 4 ½ hours
- 18 to 22 pounds Unstuffed: 3 ½ to 4 hours, Stuffed: 4 ½ to 5 hours
- 22 to 24 pounds Unstuffed: 4 to 4 ½ hours, Stuffed: 5 to 5 ½ hours
- 24 to 30 pounds Unstuffed: 4 ½ to 5 hours, Stuffed: 5½ to 6 ¼ hours
Calories: 498 | Carbohydrates: 1g | Protein: 70g | Fat: 23g | Saturated Fat: 5g | Cholesterol: 232mg | Sodium: 648mg | Potassium: 787mg | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 233IU | Vitamin C: 6mg | Calcium: 42mg | Iron: 3mg
Nutrition information provided is an estimate and will vary based on cooking methods and brands of ingredients used.
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