How to cook a perfect turkey:
Everything you need to know to get a perfect turkey, fool proof, and delicious. This turkey is tender, juicy, golden, and easy to make, with lots of flavor and crispy skin.
This method has been tested by me over 100 times, and has been made by 300k+ people. I will help you avoid mistakes and get the perfect bird, no matter your skill level in the kitchen.
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
Step One: Pick the Right Turkey
(Buy at least 5 days before)
What size turkey do you need?
The rule of thumb to follow is to buy 1 pound of turkey per person you are feeding.
This might sound like a lot, but when you buy turkey on the bone, this is going to give you just the right amount of turkey for each person to enjoy dinner, and have a little bit leftover.
Because aren’t leftovers one of the best parts of Thanksgiving?
This method for cooking turkey works great for frozen or fresh turkeys. So you can get either. But for convenience sake, get a frozen turkey.
And don’t forget while shopping for your turkey, get what you need for corn casserole, sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, and easy stuffing so you can get those started early too.
Step Two: Thaw Your Turkey
(Thaw at least 4 days before, depending on size)
Your turkey needs to completely thaw before cooking.
Most turkeys are frozen when you purchase them. This means, do NOT 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!
In fridge: Place your turkey in the fridge, let it defrost for approximately 24 hours for every four to five pounds of turkey. This means a 15 pound turkey needs 3-5 DAYS to thaw, so plan ahead.
In cold water: 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, and make sure the water stays cold to the tough, as you don’t want to let bacteria grow on your turkey.
The USDA has provided this guide for safely thawing a turkey.
Step Three: Brine Your Turkey for a perfectly moist bird
(Brine 1 day before)
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.
What is a brine?
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.
What I do:
- Place the turkey in an oven bag.
- Pour the brine in.
- Seal the bag.
- 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.
- Pat it dry with a paper towel, and move to the next step.
My FAVORITE brine recipe can be found HERE.
Step Four: Rub herb butter between the meat and the skin.
(Herb butter rub is done day of roasting)
This next step is probably the trickiest part of getting the perfect turkey, but I have done it hundreds of times and will show you how to do it right so you get the butter where it needs to be, but not tear the skin.
When done properly, the herb butter rub gives your turkey a whole lot of flavor, and the skin will get crisp, and flavorful too. You will be in absolute heaven.
Trick for Getting the butter between the skin and the meat:
- Place your turkey on the rack of your roasting pan.
- Now, go to the back of the bird, where the tailbone is, and gently work a finger or spoon under the skin between the skin and the meat. Lift the skin.
- 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 space between the skin and the meat of the bird you just created, and gently rub it all over the bird.
- When you have finished, rub your buttery hands on the outside of your turkey 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 here: Juicy Roast Turkey!
Step Five: Fill the Bird Cavity
(4 hours before serving)
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 a recipe for herb steeped aromatics at TangledwithTaste.com
You can make this ahead of time to be ready for the big day and cut down on the chaos.
Step Six: Roast for 30 minutes at 500 degrees Fahrenheit
(3.5 – 4 hours before serving)
To cook the perfect turkey, you want to preheat your oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.
Don’t worry, you won’t be cooking it at this temperature for long, you just want to cook it for 30 minutes at this super high temperature to brown the skin and crisp it up. This will seal in juices, and crisp up the skin, giving you that super golden beautiful outside you want.
Then you will turn the temperature down to let it finish cooking.
- Put your rack on the lowest place it will go in the oven so there is room for your bird.
- Set temperature to 500 degrees F and preheat.
- 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 seven.
Step Seven: Foil Hat and Turn the Oven Down
(3 hours before serving)
After you have roasted your turkey for 30 minutes at 500 degrees, turn your oven down to 350 degrees.
The skin should be a pretty golden brown at this point, but the turkey is not cooked through, so you want to turn down the heat so it can roast slowly and cook through.
Remove your turkey from the oven, 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!
Pro Tip: Make your turkey foil hat BEFORE you do the initial 30 minute roast time so you aren’t having to touch a hot bird, and can simply place the foil over the breast.
This video will show you how easy it is:
Step Eight: Let it Cook to 161- 165 degrees Fahrenheit
(3 hours before serving for a 14-16 lb bird)
Everyone wants to know how long to cook a turkey for. The answer is it depends. 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, as they will often only pop out when half the turkey is over-cooked.
How long should you plan for?
Typically a 14-16 pound turkey cooked with this method will take about 2.5 hours to cook fully.
Step Nine: Rest your Turkey
(30 minutes before serving)
Pull that beautifully golden brown turkey out of the oven, and cover it completely 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.
Also, if you pull the bird out at 161 degrees, know that it needs to be at 165 degrees for safety. The rest time is where that temperature rises to the safe zone, and stays juicy.
So use those 30 minutes to finish your Thanksgiving Yams, bacon wrapped green beans, easy buttermilk biscuits, or sweet potato casserole recipe!
And if you do all of that, your turkey will look like this, and taste amazing.
I can’t take all the credit for this moist and delicious bird. I have partnered with my sister Juli, from Tangled with Taste, to develop this recipe and bring you the best turkey you will ever eat.
How to Cook a Perfect Turkey
Turkey- 14 lbs
- 1 recipe brine
- 1 recipe herb butter
Herby Steeped Aromatics
- 1 recipe Steeped Aromatics
- Thaw Your Turkey: To thaw, place your turkey in the fridge, let it defrost for approximately 24 hours for every five pounds of turkey.
- Brine Your Turkey: This produces a bird 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.
- Rub herb butter between the meat and the skin: Place your bird 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 FlirtingwithFlavor.com
- Fill the Bird Cavity: Fill that bird cavity with steeped herby aromatics. It will flavor the bird from the inside, and slightly sweeten the savory meat.
- Roast for 30 minutes at 500 degrees Fahrenheit
- Create A Foil Hat for the breast and Turn the Oven Down to 350 degrees.
- Let it Cook to 161 degree Fahrenheit. Approximately 13 minutes per pound. Typically a 14-16 pound turkey cooked with this method will take about 2.5 hours to cook fully.
- 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.
Adjust the brine as well. You pull the turkey out at 161 degrees, and it will continue to cook and reach 165 degrees during the 30 minute rest time. This is for a 14 pound turkey, which means it serves 14 people, the nutrition info will change based on the size of turkey you purchase.
Our recipe card software calculates these nutrition facts based on averages for the above ingredients, different brands, and quality of produce/meats may have different nutritional information, always calculate your own based on the specific products you use in order to achieve accurate macros for this recipe.
Pin to your Thanksgiving or Holiday board:
Aileen Bluhm says