Everything You Need To Know About Cooking A Turkey

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Everything you need to know about cooking a turkey from picking it out, thawing, how much to serve, and preparing it. This ultimate guide has got you covered!

Oven roasted turkey on a platter

The holiday gathering is at your house this year! You’ve been busy getting your house prepared for company. The bathrooms are clean. The guest room is perfect. Decorations are up, and the house is sparkling. Now you need to think about feeding this crowd.

Suddenly you realize cooking a turkey isn’t something you know a lot about. There are so many details to think about:

  • What you’ll need to cook a turkey
  • What size turkey should I buy?
  • How do I  thaw my turkey, and how long will it take?
  • How do I prepare the turkey for baking?
  • How long do I bake my turkey?
  • Don’t overcook the legs, thighs, and wings!
  • How to garnish your turkey for serving

I’ve asked all these same questions, and every year I have to look up the same information. Not anymore! I’ve done the research for you and gathered everything you need to know about cooking a turkey right here. You’re welcome!

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What You’ll Need to Cook a Turkey

Just a few ingredients

  • turkey
  • butter
  • chicken broth
  • salt
  • pepper

whole turkey being prepared for cooking

What size turkey should I buy?

A good general rule is 1 pound per person. However this rule only works if you are buying a boneless turkey breast. If you plan to buy a whole turkey, that weight includes the bones so you’ll need a different calculation.

How much turkey to buy per person:

Boneless turkey breast:  1 pound per person
Whole turkey:  6 people or less = 2 pounds per person
Whole turkey:  7 or more people = 1.5 pounds per person

turkey in a pan

How do I thaw my turkey, and how long will it take?

The preferred way of thawing a turkey is in the refrigerator. Never thaw a turkey at room temperature. Place the turkey on a shallow dish in the refrigerator. How long will it take?

Thaw method #1: Refrigerator

Thaw in refrigerator 1 day for every 4 pounds of turkey.

Need a quicker way to thaw your turkey? Try the cold water method.

Thaw method #2: Cold Water

Leave turkey in the packaging and place it breast down in a sink or cooler.
Fill with cold water until the turkey starts to float.
Rotate the turkey every 30 minutes and change the water. 
Thaw time will depend on the size of the turkey.

rinse the turkey

How do I prepare the turkey for baking? 

There are numerous recipes that call for stuffing, brining, rubs and seasonings; but my favorite way to serve turkey is simple. The only seasonings I use are broth, butter, salt and pepper.

Instructions for baking:

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  2. Remove turkey from the refrigerator and allow to sit in the packaging for half an hour.
  3. Next, remove all packaging from body cavity and neck.
  4. Rinse inside and out with cold water. Pat outside dry with paper towel.
  5. Rub outside with salt and pepper. Sprinkle some on the inside, too.
  6. Place turkey breast side up on a rack in a roasting pan. Allow to sit for another 30 minutes.
  7. Pour 2 cups of chicken broth or water into the roasting pan.
  8. Place roasting pan in oven with turkey breast side up. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees.
roasted turkey in pan

How long do I bake my turkey?

How long to bake:

Bake turkey for 13 minutes per pound.
Baste with pan drippings every 45 minutes while cooking.
During the last hour of cooking, baste with melted butter.
Turkey is done when it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees.
Check temperature at the breast and thickest part of the thigh. 

Don’t overcook the legs, thighs, and wings!

The legs, thighs, and wings tend to cook faster than the breast. If the internal temperature has not reached 165 degrees but the skin looks browned, place aluminum foil over the turkey. You can tent it over the entire pan or lightly wrap the legs and wings.

When the internal temperature reaches at least 165 degrees when taken at both the thigh and breast areas, your turkey is done! Remove the roasting pan from the oven. Tip it slightly to allow the juices to run out of the body cavity. Remove the roasting rack from the pan, and place onto the counter or a cutting board. Cover turkey lightly with aluminum foil and allow to sit for 30 minutes before carving.

Roasted turkey on a platter

How to Garnish Your Turkey for Serving

For presentation, you can garnish your turkey on the platter. Here are some garnish ideas:

  • Place sprigs of rosemary around the sides and one on top of the turkey.
  • Scatter red and green grapes around the platter.
  • Use something green like cilantro, parsley, or sage.
  • Add sliced citrus wedges around the turkey like lemons or oranges.
  • Alternate sliced citrus with roasted garlic around the perimeter of the platter.
  • Use a combination of any of the above items!

Follow these step by step instructions for cooking a turkey, and you’ll get delicious results every time.

for your leftover turkey

Cranberry Brie Turkey Sliders

No one will complain about leftovers when you use them to make these delicious sliders!

Roasted turkey on a platter

How to Cook a Perfect Turkey

Melisha Kreppein
Everything you need to know about cooking a turkey from picking it out, thawing, how much to serve, and preparing it. This ultimate guide has got you covered!
No ratings yet
Course Main Course
Cuisine American

Ingredients
  

  • whole turkey with skin on 2 pounds per person
  • 2 sticks butter melted
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • salt & pepper

Instructions
 

  • Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Make sure turkey is completely thawed.
  • Remove turkey from the refrigerator and allow to sit in the packaging for half an hour.
  • Next, remove all packaging from body cavity and neck.
  • Rinse inside and out with cold water. Pat outside dry with a paper towel.
  • Rub outside with salt and pepper. Sprinkle some on the inside, too.
  • Place turkey breast side up on a rack in a roasting pan. Allow to sit for another 30 minutes.
  • Pour 2 cups of chicken broth or water into the roasting pan.
  • Place roasting pan in the oven with turkey breast side up. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees.
  • Bake turkey for 13 minutes per pound.
  • Baste with pan drippings every 45 minutes while cooking.
  • During the last hour of cooking, baste with melted butter.
  • Turkey is done when it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees.
  • Check the temperature at the breast and thickest part of the thigh. Do not allow the thermometer to touch the bone when checking temperature.
  • Remove the toasting pan from the oven. Tip it slightly to allow the juices to run out of the body cavity. Remove the roasting rack from the pan with the turkey on it. Place on the counter or a cutting board.
  • Allow the turkey to sit 30 minutes before carving.

Notes

Tips & Tricks

The legs, thighs, and wings tend to cook faster than the breast. If the internal temperature has not reached 165 degrees but the skin looks browned, place aluminum foil over the turkey. You can tent it over the entire pan or lightly wrap the legs and wings.
When the internal temperature reaches at least 165 degrees when taken at both the thigh and breast areas, your turkey is done! 

How to Garnish Your Turkey for Serving

For presentation, you can garnish your turkey on the platter. Here are some garnish ideas:
  • Place sprigs of rosemary around the sides and one on top of the turkey.
  • Scatter red and green grapes around the platter.
  • Use something green like cilantro, parsley, or sage.
  • Add sliced citrus wedges around the turkey like lemons or oranges.
  • Alternate sliced citrus with roasted garlic around the perimeter of the platter.
  • Use a combination of any of the above items!
Keyword Holiday, thanksgiving
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This is what I've been looking for! Everything about cooking a turkey in one place. How much turkey to buy, how to thaw a turkey, preparing a turkey for baking, and simple instructions for roasting a turkey.

What to serve with turkey?

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Apple Pie
Cookies
Crockpot
Mashed Potatoes
Mini Eggnog Cheesecakes

More fall inspiration:

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