Over the past 4 years, I have cooked our family’s Thanksgiving turkey with great success! It’s moist and flavorful and gets lots of complements. It truly is a delicious Thanksgiving turkey that I am proud to cook each year.
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First, if you are using a frozen turkey, see a prior post I wrote that details how to determine how long to defrost your turkey in the refrigerator, and it also includes a worksheet to help you plan.
My first year hosting Thanksgiving, I used this list of turkey mistakes to help guide how I prepared my turkey. The tips I used from this list are included in my process below.
Preparing Your Thanksgiving Turkey
Take your turkey out of refrigerator 1 hour before you plan to put it in the oven to allow it to reach room temperature before cooking. Use this time to rinse and dry the turkey and add seasonings.
Get Rid of What You Don’t Need
Make sure you remove the bag of organs and the neck from inside the turkey. I personally don’t cook these with the turkey. I refrigerate them until I am ready to make turkey broth from the bones. Then I add the organs and neck to a pot to cook along with the bones to make the broth.
I also remove the pop-up thermometer and the plastic bracket holding the turkey’s legs in place. All they do is get in my way.
Season the Turkey
Here’s the seasoning blend I use to flavor the turkey. You can adjust the seasonings based on your tastes and what you have on hand.
Turkey Seasoning Blend Recipe
- 1 tsp garlic
- 1 tsp sage
- 1/2 tsp rosemary
- 1/2 tsp thyme
- 1/2 tsp celery salt
I mix up this blend and apply under the turkey skin to get it directly on the meat, and I sprinkle some inside the turkey cavity. It is pretty easy to separate the skin from the meat by simply using your hands if you start near the cavity.
I carefully push my hand all around under the skin to apply seasoning to the turkey thighs and legs too, being careful to not tear the skin. If you don’t like touching raw meat, this step may not be for you.
Put Turkey in Roasting Pan
I place a small rack inside a disposable aluminum turkey pan and set the turkey on the rack. Since I only cook turkey once a year, I don’t see the need to buy a fancy roasting pan.
Since aluminum pans can be flimsy, make sure you also put the pan on top of a flat cookie sheet to make it easier to remove the hot turkey from the oven when it is cooked.
Cooking the Turkey
Cooking time could take anywhere from 2 3/4 hours to 5 hours in a 325°F oven, depending on the size of your turkey. Here are approximate cooking times according to the USDA website:
8-12 pounds 2 3/4 to 3 hours
12-14 pounds 3 to 3 3/4 hours
14-18 pounds 3 3/4 to 4 1/4 hours
18-20 pounds 4 1/4 to 4 1/2 hours
20-24 pounds 4 1/2 to 5 hours
I like to cook the turkey for the first 30 minutes at 425°F to make the skin crispy before reducing the temperature to 325°F. Because of this, I will reduce my total cooking time by 15 minutes.
Later on as the skin starts to brown, I will put foil over the top of the turkey to keep the skin from over browning.
At this point I might also use a turkey baster to remove some of the drippings from the bottom of the rack to use to make turkey gravy.
I try to avoid opening the oven more than once or twice during cooking. Opening the door increases the cooking time and releases all the steam, causing the turkey to dry out.
Check internal temperature in thickest part of thigh, near the breast, with a meat thermometer. When internal temperature reaches 165°F the turkey is done.
Allow at least 15 minutes for cooked turkey to sit out of oven before carving. This allows the juices to soak back into the meat.
- defrosted turkey
- roasting pan (or simply use a disposable aluminum roasting pan with a roasting rack and cookie sheet)
- pantry seasonings
- aluminum foil
- turkey baster (Use only if making gravy; don’t baste the turkey)
- meat thermometer
I have used these tips to prepare and cook our Thanksgiving turkey for the past 4 years, and I am still excited to host Thanksgiving dinner and cook the turkey.
If you are also hosting Thanksgiving, see my tips on planning an amazing Thanksgiving dinner.