How to cook a perfect turkey: Everything you need to know to get a perfect bird.
Each year we place this large bird at the centerpiece of our Thanksgiving meal. And we eat it. So why are we not making it the best turkey ever? Today we are done with dried out turkeys, scalded hands, and grease fires. Today, I will teach you how to perfectly roast a turkey, in your oven. Even a novice can follow these steps and achieve turkey perfection. Crispy skin, moist and flavorful turkey, and it is easy too!
How to cook a turkey for Thanksgiving
I have partnered with my sister Juli, who is a phenomenal cook and blogs at Tangled with Taste, to bring you the best turkey you will ever eat. I will cover the basics of how to create turkey perfection here, and she will share her honed to perfection recipe for your Thanksgiving centerpiece over on her blog. YOU NEED HER RECIPES!
Aren’t you just a tiny bit excited?
Step One: Thaw Your Turkey
For this method, it is best to let your turkey completely thaw before cooking. Most turkeys are frozen when you purchase them. This means, do your best not to purchase your turkey the day you plan to cook it. There are ways to cook a turkey from frozen, but for the perfect turkey, thaw first!
To thaw, place your turkey in the fridge, let it defrost for approximately 24 hours for every five pounds of turkey. This means a 15 pound turkey needs 3 DAYS to thaw, so plan ahead. You can thaw it a bit quicker by putting in a bath of cold water, and changing the water every 30 minutes until it is thawed. If you do this, keep an eye on it as you don’t want to let bacteria grow on your turkey.
The USDA has provided this guide for safely thawing a turkey.
Step Two: Brine Your Turkey for a perfectly moist bird
Brining has become very popular, and when done right, it produces a turkey that is perfectly moist, beautifully seasoned, and has equally tender and flavorful dark and white meat. It is a thing of beauty. You should plan on 24 hours for brining. However, it can be done faster. Give yourself at least 8 hours for best results.
A brine is basically a mixture of kosher salt, water, citrus, and herbs that you soak your turkey in, and that helps flavor the meat. Typically what I will do is place the turkey in an oven bag, and pour the brine in. Then seal the bag, and either place the turkey in a refrigerator, or into a cooler and cover it with ice.
After the 24 hours is over, dump the brine, and rinse the turkey. Then pat it dry with a paper towel, and move to the next step.
My FAVORITE brine recipe can be found at Tangled with Taste
Step Three: Rub herb butter between the meat and the skin.
This next step is probably the trickiest part of getting the perfect turkey. However, when done properly, it gives your turkey a whole lot of flavor, and the skin will get crisp, and flavorful too. You will be in absolute heaven.
The tricky part is getting the butter between the skin and the meat. However, don’t worry there is a trick for that. Start by placing your turkey on the rack of your roasting pan. Now, go to the back of the bird, and lift the skin. There you will find a place where you can gently lift the skin from the meat. You will need to gently pry the skin from the meat, starting at the back, and working your way up to the neck.
Apply the herb butter into the area you just created, and gently rub it all over the bird. When you have finished, rub your buttery hands on the outside as well. If you don’t have enough butter to rub the outside, feel free to rub with canola oil as well. This will help it crisp up! You can make your own herb butter, or get the recipe for the one we use at TangledwithTaste.com
Step Four: Fill the Bird Cavity
There are so many opportunities for adding flavor to your turkey. And one that is often overlooked, or used for a bread stuffing is the bird cavity. Instead, make your stuffing elsewhere, and fill that bird cavity with steeped herby aromatics. It will flavor the turkey from the inside, and slightly sweeten the savory meat.
Get the recipe for herb steeped aromatics at TangledwithTaste.com
Step Five: Roast for 30 minutes at 500 degrees Fahrenheit for a more juicy Turkey
To cook the perfect turkey, you want to preheat your oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Then cook it for 30 minutes at this super high temperature. This will seal in juices, and crisp up the skin, giving you that super golden beautiful outside you want.
Put your rack on the lowest place it will go in the oven, and roast for the 30 minutes. You will roast breast side up. A lot of people think you should turn the bird part way through so the breast doesn’t dry out, but we have a trick for avoiding trying to turn a big, sizzling, heavy bird, and still get moist and tender breast meat. So save yourself a few burns, and move to step six.
Step Six: A Foil Hat and Turn the Oven Down
After you have roasted your turkey for 30 minutes at 500 degrees, turn your oven down to 350 degrees. Remove your turkey for a minute, and make him a great looking hat out of foil! Basically, take a piece of foil, and fold it over the breast, and place it on the turkey breast for the remainder of your cooking time. This will help it cook at a lower and slower rate than the rest of the turkey, which means perfectly cooked dark meat and white!
This video will show you how easy it is:
Step Seven: Let it Cook to 161- 165 degree Fahrenheit
Okay, you want to cook that turkey until a meat thermometer reads 161-165 degrees Fahrenheit in the thickest part of the turkey. Every turkey is a different size, and every oven is different, so it is hard to say how long exactly to cook your turkey, which is why a meat thermometer is a good idea. Of course, if you do not have one, you can rely on the little plastic ones that come with the bird. Though it is not recommended. Typically a 14-16 pound turkey cooked with this method will take about 2.5 hours to cook fully.
Step Eight: Rest your Turkey
Pull that beautifully golden brown turkey out of the oven, and cover it with foil. Then let it rest for 30 minutes.
I know you are worried it will get cold, but those 30 minutes are important because they give the juices a chance to be re-absorbed, and the meat a chance to firm up. Which means your turkey will be easier to slice and be juicer and tastier. So use those 30 minutes to finish your yams or your green beans, or biscuits, and enjoy the best turkey you have ever eaten!
And if you do all of that, your turkey will look like this, and taste amazing.
Get the recipe for this gorgeous bird, which we lovingly prepared and photographed for you over at TangledwithTaste.com!
Pin to your Thanksgiving or Holiday board: