Roast a juicy, delicious holiday centerpiece in the heart of your own home. Follow our easy guide and learn how to cook a Thanksgiving turkey from scratch.
Quite a few folks are intimidated when it comes to cooking their own Thanksgiving turkey. I get it… it’s kind of a big deal. Though, roasting your own turkey is surprisingly simple. All you need to do is follow a few simple steps and the rest is pretty easy going (bonus: it makes your house smell phenomenal). Below are some tips and tricks we’ve learned along the way. Trust me, you’ll never buy a precooked turkey again! Let the feasting begin…
HOW TO COOK A THANKSGIVING TURKEY:
DO ALLOW PLENTY OF TIME TO THAW YOUR TURKEY:
Always let your turkey fully thaw before cooking. Otherwise, you will never achieve that juicy, perfectly done masterpiece. Aim for 1 day in the refrigerator for every 5 pounds. Make sure to set the turkey in a pan so you’re not contaminating your fridge with liquid that may drip as it defrosts.
DON’T COOK YOUR STUFFING INSIDE THE BIRD:
If you really want to have the presentation of the stuffing inside the turkey, go ahead and bake your stuffing separately and then fill the cavity before serving. When you try to cook the stuffing inside the turkey, you will overcook your turkey before your stuffing reaches a safe temperature to consume. I fill the cavity of my turkey with a mix of lemons, oranges, rosemary, thyme, onions, salt and pepper.
DO HAVE A BASTER ON HAND WHILE IT COOKS:
I’m a firm believer that basting is the special touch that ensures a perfectly moist turkey with a juicy interior. If you chose to baste your bird, every 30 – 45 minutes is perfect. Before you start cooking, make sure to place at least 2 cups of stock at the bottom of your pan before roasting. It’s also a good idea to smear some herbed butter under the skin of the turkey and around the exterior. Hello golden crust!
DON’T CARVE THE TURKEY IMMEDIATELY AFTER COOKING:
Always allow your turkey to rest for at least 20 minutes before carving. This will ensure that the turkey can retain all its juices when it’s carved. Once cooked, remove the turkey from its roasting pan and set it on a serving platter or cutting board. Tent it with foil and save the drippings for making gravy.
WHAT SIZE TURKEY DO I BUY?
I usually aim for 1.5 pounds per person. This allows everyone to fill their plates during Thanksgiving dinner and bring some leftovers home.
DO I NEED A ROASTING RACK TO COOK MY TURKEY?
I personally use a wire roasting rack, but you could alternatively cook your bird over a bed of vegetables. If you find yourself without a roasting rack, don’t fret. Just place the bird on top of a mix of chopped potatoes, carrots, onion and celery. Make sure to tuck the wings underneath so they don’t burn!
HOW DO I KNOW WHEN THE TURKEY IS DONE?
Always, and I repeat… always test the turkey with a thermometer. You’ll know the turkey is done when its internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F. Simply place your meat thermometer into the thickest part of the turkey, which is located between the thigh and turkey breast. Once the meat registers between 160 – 165 degrees F, take the turkey out of the oven and tent immediately with tinfoil. Note: The temperature will continue to increase after it’s been taken out of the oven. So if you want to remove the turkey at 160 degrees, it’ll rise to 165 degrees as it rests.
DO YOU HAVE ANY RECIPES FOR SIDE DISHES?
Yup! A few favorites include my Classic Mashed Potatoes, Cornbread Stuffing or my Brown Sugar Brussels Sprouts. This Thanksgiving round-up has some yummy ideas as well.
ANY IDEAS ON WHAT I SHOULD I DO WITH LEFTOVERS?
I absolutely love leftover turkey from Thanksgiving! Try making Ross Gellar’s Leftover Thanksgiving Sandwich (with a moist maker) or my Thanksgiving Turkey Salad!
I’D LIKE TO BRINE MY TURKEY. DO YOU HAVE A RECIPE FOR THAT?
Sure! If you purchase a high-quality turkey from the store, a brine isn’t completely necessary. If you’re cooking a wild turkey, then I’d absolutely recommend brining it. Either way, if you prefer to brine your bird I’ve got a killer citrus method below!
CITRUS HERB TURKEY BRINE:
- Turkey (between 15 – 20 pounds)
- 1 cup Kosher Salt
- 1 tbsp. Whole Peppercorns
- ¼ cup Brown Sugar
- 6 sprigs Thyme
- 4 stems Sage
- 4 Bay Leaves
- 1 sprig Rosemary
- 2 Oranges, cut into wedges
- 1 Lemon, cut into wedges
- 1 ½ gallons Cold Water
- Rub ½ cup salt all over the outside of the turkey. Place turkey inside a large pot or container and fill with remaining ingredients.
- Refrigerate overnight, remove turkey and discard brine.
- Pat turkey dry with paper towels and roast according to desired method.
Note: This Turkey Brine Recipe was developed exclusively for That’s Tasty Pure Organic Flavor. If you’d like to learn more about my recipe development for food and beverage brands, please check out my Recipe Development tab for more details on how we can work together.
- One 15 - 20 pound Turkey
- 1 Lemon , cut into 6 slices
- 1 Orange, cut into 6 slices
- 1 Yellow Onion , peeled and quartered
- 8-10 Sprigs Fresh Thyme
- 2 Sprigs Fresh Rosemary
- 4 Leaves Fresh Sage
- FOR THE HERBED BUTTER:
- 1 Stick Salted Butter, softened to room temperature
- 6 Garlic Cloves, minced
- 1 tbsp. Chopped Italian Parsley
- 1 tbsp. Fresh Thyme Leaves
- Freshly Ground Black Pepper to taste, about 1 tsp.
- Thaw turkey in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours for every 5 pounds. Example: If you have a 15-pound turkey you should thaw it in the refrigerator for at least 3 days. I usually do 4 days though to ensure its FULLY thawed.
- While the oven preheats, take turkey out of its packaging and remove the neck and giblets from the cavity. Pat turkey dry with paper towels and place it on a roasting rack in a roasting pan. Allow to come to room temperature as you prepare other ingredients.
- Whip together all ingredients for the herbed butter in a medium bowl and set aside.
- Season the inside of the cavity with salt, pepper and some herbed butter. Then, stuff the cavity with lemon, orange, yellow onion and fresh herbs. Make sure to tuck the wings under the bird to prevent them from cooking too fast.
- Using your fingers, loosen and lift the skin on the top of the turkey (where the breast is). Rub a few tablespoons of herbed butter underneath the skin.
- Melt the remaining butter and brush all over the legs, wings and remaining exterior of the turkey.
- Wash hands and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
- Plan on roasting the turkey for roughly 15 minutes per pound, or until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F. Every 30 – 45 minutes, baste turkey with drippings in the bottom of the pan. About halfway through, cover the turkey with foil to prevent overcooking the breast.
- Once your timer has finished, make sure to use a thermometer to ensure the turkey is fully cooked before removing from the oven.
- Remove turkey from the pan and place on a large serving platter or cutting board. Tent with foil and allow it to rest for at least 20 minutes (or up to 40 minutes). Enjoy!
- For pretty presentation, I like to stuff the opening of the cavity with fresh herbs before serving. I also plate the turkey with fresh slices of lemons, oranges and rosemary.
- Not sure how to carve a turkey? Real Simple has a great guide (+ video) here.
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