Turkey 101 – How to Roast a Turkey

I remember when I was a young bride, preparing my first Thanksgiving dinner. The Internet was not yet popular (yes I’m that old), so I did not have the convenience of a “Turkey 101” Google search. I must have spent the whole day on the phone with my mother. I had countless questions for her and she graciously helped me along, although I know she was laughing hysterically each time we hung up the phone.

Turkey 101 - How to Roast a Turkey

Turkey 101 – How to Roast a Turkey

I hope the following turkey tips will help you prepare a magnificent Thanksgiving feast for your family:

How much turkey do you need? Plan on about 1 1/2 pounds of turkey for each person.

Frozen or fresh? A fresh turkey has never been frozen and some believe that it tastes better. However they do cost more money than frozen. There is also a greater risk that the turkey could attract bacteria if left out for too long. I have always opted for a frozen turkey because of the cost factor and have seldom been disappointed. With a frozen bird, you have to plan ahead to thaw it (I forgot to do this with my first turkey). It takes 24 hours in the refrigerator for every 5 pounds of turkey. You can also thaw the turkey under cold running water, not warm, changing the water every 30 minutes and allowing 30 minutes per pound to thaw.

Before preparing the turkey, you should let it rest at room temperature for up to 2 hours.

Remove the gizzards. Remove the gizzard packet from inside of the turkey, being careful that you have removed everything. You can place the heart, neck and gizzard in a pan of cold water and bring to a boil on low heat, to make a gravy stock. Let your stock simmer for 2 hours. Note: Do not use the liver in this stock. Drain all the juices from the turkey and blot the cavity with paper towels.

Stuffing the bird. If you plan to stuff your turkey, insert stuffing into the body cavity just before the turkey goes into the oven. Never do it ahead of time and don’t pack it too tightly. Otherwise, the stuffing won’t cook evenly and bacteria may grow. Don’t forget to stuff the neck cavity. You may want to pull the neck skin over the stuffing and fasten it to the back using a skewer.

To truss or not to truss. Trussing isn’t necessary, but be sure to twist the wing tips under the back. Turning the wing tips back will hold the neck skin in place. Return legs to tucked position under the tail, if untucked. You can optionally tie the legs to the tail with cooking string.

Just before roasting. Place the turkey, breast side up, on a flat rack in an open roasting pan about 2 inches deep. If your turkey came with a “turkey lifter”, place the string cradle under the bird and bring the loops up around the turkey.

Insert an oven-safe meat thermometer deep into the lower part of the thigh next to the body. Be careful not to touch the bone. Brush the skin with vegetable oil or melted butter.

Roasting your turkey. Roast at 325 degrees Fahrenheit. To find out how long to roast your turkey, see the foodsafety.gov turkey Roasting Chart. For example, an 8 to 12 pound turkey would be roasted for 2 3/4 to 3 hours (unstuffed) or 3 to 3 1/2 hours (stuffed). When the skin is light golden, about 2/3 done, shield the breast loosely with lightweight foil to prevent overcooking. At this point you’ll want to cut the string from the legs, if that’s what you used to hold the legs together. This really depends on how the turkey is browning.

Check for doneness 1/2 hour before turkey is expected to be done. Your turkey is fully cooked when the thigh’s internal temperature is 180 degrees Fahrenheit.

When done let the turkey stand for 20-30 minutes before carving.

Optional roasting methods. Just before roasting, soak a four-layer piece of cheesecloth in melted butter and cover the turkey with the cheesecloth. About 3/4 of the way through roasting, you can remove the cheesecloth to allow more browning. I have had great success with this method.

Bag method- You can also roast your turkey inside an oven bag. Many people swear by this method, however I have never tried it. Prepare your turkey as normal. Place oven bag in roasting pan. Put the turkey in the oven bag, and gather the bag loosely around the turkey, allowing room for heat circulation. Secure the bag with its nylon tie. Cut four or five 1 inch slits in the top of the bag so that steam can escape. Important Note: Your turkey will cook much faster using this method.

Out of the oven. Once your turkey has reached the required temperature of 180 degrees, remove from the oven and remove stuffing to a serving bowl. Cover with foil to keep warm and let rest 15-20 minutes before carving to allow juices to redistribute.

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  1. says

    My husband and I roasted our first turkey together last year after Thanksgiving just to practice and I loved having the internet to help me along. These are great, useful tips to keep in mind as we attempt to cook our second turkey together.

  2. judy gardner says

    i have to admit that i have not yet cooked a turkey for thanksgiving – that is my sister’s job. for some reason the trussing is what seems the most daunting to me so its good to know that you dont have to!

  3. kfloveinme says

    I’ve never cooked a turkey. It just seems a little Intimidating! I definitely need to try some day cause I love everybody else turkey. lol

  4. Pam Gurganus says

    This is my first year roasting my own turkey and I’ve been feeling overwhelmed with the wealth of information out there, but you put exactly what I needed to know very simply and informatively and I’m feeling much more confident about taking on this task! Thank you so much for answering all my questions and sharing this awesome information! :)

  5. Janet W. says

    This is a great guide! I tried to do a turkey one year and it all went horribly wrong. From then on we usually just get a Honey Baked Ham because we aren’t really turkey people anyways!

  6. Helga says

    Great reminders and how-to’s. safety is really important too. Once we left the house with the bird roasting – the oven almost caught fire!

  7. says

    These are all great tips for someone who’s not sure how to properly prepare a turkey. We had our Thanksgiving dinner yesterday (yes, early) and my husband cooked one in the oven. He also smoked a turkey on our wood smoker. I don’t know much about how to do it, so I’m glad he’s knowledgeable in the area of turkey preparations.

  8. susana says

    Thanks so much for this great review. This is my first Thansgiving I have to cook a meal, and lets just say im not very good in the kitchen. This will def help me cook my turkey!!! Thanks

  9. Lori Williams says

    Thank you very much for this blog. The information you have given me will be extremely helpful as I cook our family bird this year. I am very excited, but also nervous. This article has calmed my nerves a great deal. Thank you.

  10. denise says

    This is very helpful! The first time I cooked a turkey it was waaaay underdone and I forgot to take the giblet bag out. Today, we made a honeybaked ham so was easy–lol. I do love turkey though!

  11. Sandy Cain says

    I just had to read this to make I’m doing everything right. (Been cooking Thanksgiving turkeys for years!) Still need re-assurance, I guess, It came out ok, so I guess it was right! (Did you ever see the clip on America;s Funniest Home Videos, about new young bride, who left the bag of giblets inside when she roasted the turkey, because she thought it was “pre-stuffed?” I’ll never forget that!!) I think of that every time I pull that bag out! LOL!

  12. Jessica Fortner says

    I am 31 and have yet to make my first turkey. It’s funny because I cook everything else under the sun. I have no idea why the giant bird intimidates me so! Lol

  13. Lisa Brown says

    Great tips for cooking a turkey. I cooked one only once. It was okay, not very dry, but it was too stressful for me. I was nervous the whole time it was going to over cooked and everyone was going to be disappointed. Not sure I will do it again.

  14. Barrie says

    Thank you for the tips! I’ve never cooked/roasted a turkey before and this year I don’t have my mom here!! So I’ll follow this and have a successful dinner!

  15. cindy jones says

    Thank you for the guide to cooking a turkey, this will be my first year cooking one for the family and these tips will really help.

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