Whether this is your first year cooking the turkey or you want to brush up your skills, you’re in the right place. Baking a turkey doesn’t have to make you anxious. With our easy, step-by-step guide, your guests will be oohing and ahhing over your magnificent bird and you won’t even break a sweat.
At this point, your bird should be unfrozen and ready for the oven. If not, hopefully you’re reading this article in advance and have time to thaw your bird. See our How to Thaw a Turkey guide for options for getting your bird oven-ready. This guide is for baking a turkey that is raw. If you purchased a pre-cooked (oven-roasted/smoked/etc.) turkey, read our guide on Preparing a Precooked Turkey.
About basting: don’t worry about it. Despite being your favorite duty as a child, basting doesn’t result in a jucier bird. Quite the opposite. Basting involves frequent oven-door opening which causes fluctuations in temperature resulting in a drier bird, longer cook times, and a thoroughly heated kitchen. We know. You’re crushed.
Getting the Bird Ready
Preparing a turkey doesn’t have to be difficult or time consuming. You can put as much effort or as little as you’d like. However, you’ll want to reduce the time the turkey is sitting at room temperature to as little as possible.
Preheat oven to 325°F.
Remove the turkey from the bag. (Tip: Save the bag to refer to the cooking times and roasting instructions as these can vary by manufacturer.)
Remove the neck and giblets from body cavity. (Tip: If necessary, just push down gently on the legs and they’ll slip right out of the leg clamp so you can get into the body cavity. This clamp is oven-safe and won’t melt.)
Do NOT rinse the turkey. USDA advises washing your hands and anything that comes into contact with the raw bird, but not rinsing the bird itself. Refer to the USDA for additional info.
To ensure a nice, crisp skin, we want a very dry bird to start with. There are two ways to accomplish this. Pat the turkey dry with paper towels or put the turkey in the refrigerator overnight, uncovered.
Optional: Either using oil or butter, rub your turkey down. Follow up with either salt and pepper, your personal herb mixture/spice rub or one of our seasoning ideas.
Optional: Although we don’t recommend using traditional stuffing inside the turkey, you can use other things to add to the flavor of your turkey. We recommend ten cloves of garlic, a bunch of fresh thyme and rosemary, and two unpeeled oranges cut in half.
Optional: For that picture perfect bird, pin the neck flab against the turkey with toothpicks.
A note about stuffing:
In an effort to reduce the risk of foodborne illness, USDA guidelines suggest cooking the stuffing separately. Therefore, this guide will not include instructions on doing so.
Cooking the Turkey
Optional: Create a bed of vegetables in your roasting pan OR use a roasting rack. By lifting the turkey from the bottom of the pan, air and heat is allowed to encompass the turkey resulting in a crispy bird all the way round. Another benefit to this is it allows drippings from the turkey to fall over the veggies, producing a brilliant gravy. We recommend a layer of carrots, onions, and celery.
Place the turkey in a roasting pan, atop a rack if desired, with wings tucked under and with the pop-up timer (if applicable) unobstructed. Fashion a loose foil “tent” to place on top of the bird. This covers the breasts, preventing overcooking of this tender area.
Roast in your 325°F preheated oven. Roasting will take about 15 minutes per pound if unstuffed. See our Turkey Cooking Times for approximate cooking time based on bird size.
Convection Oven: If you plan to use a convection oven this year, you’re in luck! A whole turkey or turkey breast will cook in less time with more even results with this method. The preferred method is to roast the turkey in the center of the lowest rack or oven shelf so the top of the turkey will be centered in the oven. Allow 1 ½ to 2 inches of space around the turkey, including the pan as well as the oven walls. If the turkey is to be cooked in a closed oven-bag or completely enchased in foil, convection roasting is not necessary.
Now you may relax, work on other side dishes, set the table, etc. while your bird cooks. Remember, basting will only result in longer cook times and a warmer kitchen. However, we know some habits die hard. If you insist on basting, we recommend not basting the last hour or you risk your skin turning out flabby rather than crispy.
♦The last hour: Remove the tin foil tent for final browning of the skin. You can also increase the oven temperature to 425°F. Both will aid your bird in achieving that golden-brown magazine-quality too-pretty-to-eat crisp. Remember, this last hour, no basting if you’ve been basting.
Is it Ready?
With the savory aroma filling your kitchen, you wonder how much longer. The timer still says 15 minutes but it looks crispy and ready? The pop-up timer has popped but the timer hasn’t gone off? How can you really be sure when the turkey is done?
Pop-up timers are a good indicator that you’re there or nearly there and it’s time to get the meat thermometer. Popped or not, they aren’t a foolproof method. A meat thermometer is your safest bet. Insert the thermometer into the deepest part of the breast as well as the thigh. It should read 165°F in the breast and in the thigh.
Always rely on a meat thermometer. Don’t rely on smell, sight, or moving the leg.
Let It Rest
We know you’re eager to brag about your beautiful turkey and dive right in. But as your mother said, patience is a virtue. When it comes to turkey, that couldn’t be truer. Right now the turkey is brimming with juices just under the skin. By letting the turkey rest, those juices are allowed to seep back into the meat. If you want as juicy a turkey as possible, it needs to rest.
To retain heat, cover with your tin foil tent again, but loosely as we don’t want to steam it. Let it stand 15-20 minutes. You may either discard or dish up the roasting vegetables to serve.
To remove the pop-up timer, carefully lift it by its outer edges.
To carve your masterpiece, see our How to Carve a Turkey guide.
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