October 25, 2021
Turkey can go one of two ways: juicy and delicious or dry and unpleasant. Roasting turkey correctly is such an infamously tricky task, which is why many are skittish about trying their hand at it. After all, no one wants to spend Thanksgiving trying to get an incorrectly made turkey to taste good by smothering it in gravy. But with the help of tutorials on the best way to cook a turkey, you can serve perfectly golden, seasoned, moist meat at your Thanksgiving dinner.
So, how can home cooks prepare a perfect turkey? There are a few key secrets. One of them is knowing at what temperature to cook a turkey, another is knowing for how long. Then, there’s the question of making the perfect rub and keeping up with the basting. If all of that seems overwhelming, just stay with us because we’re going to walk you through it. And, if you don’t get your turkey exactly right the first time, don’t worry. Holidays come along once a year. This means you’ll have plenty of time in future years (not to mention plenty of help from friends and family) to perfect your recipe.
Read on for tips on how to cook a turkey for Thanksgiving, including how long to roast it and lock in flavor and moisture.
How to prepare turkey for Thanksgiving
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Total time: 2 hours 50 minutes
Servings: Depends on the size of the turkey; 1½ pounds per person should be more than enough
- 1 whole turkey, frozen
- 1 stick of butter (more if you buy a large bird)
- Black pepper
- Pan drippings (the cooking liquid at the bottom of the pan you cook the turkey in)
- ¼ cup unsalted butter
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh parsley leaves, chopped
- Kosher salt
- Black pepper
Preparing the turkey
- Thaw the turkey by leaving it in the refrigerator. Give yourself ample time because a large bird can take up to six days to thaw. You can calculate the timing for how to thaw a turkey by using the following rule of thumb: one thawing day per every four pounds of turkey. This means that if your turkey weighs 16 pounds, it should be in the refrigerator for four days.
- Take the thawed turkey out of the refrigerator and place it on a rack. Let it come to room temperature for about an hour.
- Move the cooking rack of your oven down to the lowest level and then preheat it to 350°F.
- Rub the turkey with butter, and don’t skimp! You’ll need at least one stick of butter for a medium bird. Be sure to cover the entire turkey, getting butter under the skin, on top of it, and a bit in the large cavity, too.
- Lightly salt the large cavity and skin and add a touch of black pepper. For a medium bird, three teaspoons of salt will do.
- Place a halved apple, cut side touching the turkey flesh, in the main cavity.
- Use aromatics in the main cavity and the roasting pan. In the main cavity, try halved onions and fresh herbs like parsley and thyme. In the roasting pan, try adding rough-chopped (translation: big pieces) shallots, celery, and carrots. Also, add two cups of water to prevent burning and get a fragrant broth going.
- Place the turkey in the oven. Place a loose layer of aluminum foil over the turkey, and then remove it halfway through. As for basting, you should do so roughly every 30 minutes by carefully opening the oven door and sucking up some of the liquid in the pan with a turkey baster, and then squirting the juice out over the surface of the turkey skin to ensure a crispy, golden finish.
- How can you tell if your turkey is done? First, we recommend checking out the FAQ section below for essential information on how long to cook a turkey. Second, use a meat thermometer. When the turkey has reached an internal temperature of 165°F, it is safe for eating, and you can remove it from the oven. You can do so a bit earlier, when the turkey is at about 150°F, if you want to prevent overcooking. Before you eat, just make sure that the temperature has come up to the full 165°F while resting.
- Let the turkey rest for 20 minutes so that it can soak up all the juices. If you need to let the turkey rest for longer (if you plan on eating a bit later, for example) or if you need to maintain or even raise the temperature a bit, tent with aluminum foil.
Recipe adapted from Epicurious
How to make turkey gravy
- Pour the turkey drippings into a fine-mesh strainer to filter out pieces of meat, vegetables, and herbs, and set aside 2½ cups of the drained liquid.
- Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat.
- Add the flour and thyme into the saucepan and whisk, constantly moving for about one minute.
- When the flour-butter mixture is brown, slowly pour in the reserved drippings liquid while whisking.
- Bring the mixture to a boil and then turn down the heat to reduce to a simmer. Continue to constantly whisk for up to 10 minutes or until the gravy thickens.
- Stir in the parsley and salt. Grind in fresh black pepper to taste.
Recipe adapted from Damn Delicious
Nutritional values per 1-pound serving of turkey with gravy
Fat: 22.4 grams
Sodium: 2145.9 milligrams
Carbohydrates: 35.2 grams
Sugar: 3.2 grams
Fiber: 0 grams
Protein: 67.2 grams
Nutritional values are a rough estimate.
To stuff or not to stuff?
This recipe recommends not stuffing the main cavity. This may not be a popular opinion, but experts swear it slows down turkey cooking time. If you opt to make an unstuffed turkey, you can make bready, vegetable-laden stuffing separately and serve it as a side dish. If you are dead set on stuffed turkey, just be sure to research a tutorial on how to stuff properly, like this one.
Ideas for sides for turkey
- Buttery or garlicky mashed/smashed potatoes
- Bittersweet cranberry sauce
- Roasted vegetables like asparagus or Brussels sprouts
- Thick-cut bread
- Macaroni and cheese
- Fresh salad tossed in olive oil and vinegar
- Sweet potatoes or yams
- Green bean casserole
Some ideas for turkey leftovers
Turkey sandwiches: Stuff two thick-cut slices of your favorite bread with a layer of turkey breast and any other leftover sides you may have. Cranberry sauce and stuffing add complex flavor, and greens add crispness. Add a touch of mayo if you like. Serve with leftover mashed potatoes.
Turkey soup: Turkey soup is like chicken soup’s not-quite-identical twin. It consists of a clear broth, noodles, veggies like carrot and celery, and leftover light and dark meat.
How long should I cook a turkey for safe consumption?
At 350°F, you can cook the following turkey weights for the roasting times shown below.
12–14 pounds: 2 ¾–3 hours
15–16 pounds: 3½–3¾ hours
18–20 pounds: 4–4¼ hours
21–22 pounds: 4½–4¾ hours
24 pounds: 4¾–5 hours
Information adapted from Epicurious
Is there a faster way to defrost turkey?
Yes. In fact, you can cook a frozen turkey. It will simply take longer. For timing information and safety tips for this method, read more here.
How long does turkey last?
Turkey will last for about 3–4 days in the refrigerator in an air-tight container. Remember to let the turkey cool completely before refrigerating.
You may need a lot of ingredients for your Thanksgiving feast, but Gopuff has your back. You can order everything you need in seconds and have it at your door in a matter of minutes.