How to Roast a Turkey
Several years ago, I hosted Thanksgiving for the very first time. While I was excited for the challenge, I was admittedly also very nervous. After all, Thanksgiving is THE meal that many Americans look forward to above all others. I did not care to disappoint my guests!
Whether you’ve found yourself cooking a turkey for the very first time, or whether you’re just looking for an easier way of preparing your bird this year – I’ve got you covered. I’m going to walk you through everything you need to do to roast a perfect Thanksgiving turkey this year.
Selecting the Right Size Turkey
The first step is selecting the right turkey for your party size. Martha Stewart recommends the following as guidelines:
- For a larger party (about 15-20 guests), plan on buying a turkey that’s roughly 1.5 lbs per person. For instance, if you have 15 people, aim for a 22.5+ lb bird.
- For a smaller party, plan on buying a turkey that’s roughly 2 lbs per person. Smaller birds of under 12 pounds, have a smaller meat-to-bone ratio.
- Factor in meat you’d like to have for leftovers (if any).
Since I’m cooking a turkey for demonstration purposes (as well as to develop a few recipes), I went with a smaller 10-lb bird.
One final very important note: most turkeys are sold frozen, not fresh. This may take as long as 3-4 days to defrost in the refrigerator, depending on the size of your bird. I put my 10-lb frozen bird in the fridge on Friday and it was ready to go Monday. If you are waiting until the last minute to pick up a turkey, you may need to buy fresh. (Which will cost you more money in most instances, so heads up!)
Ingredients & Tools You’ll Need
The great thing about roasting a turkey is that you only need a handful of ingredients to make it really flavorful!
Here’s what I’m using for today’s recipe:
- One turkey (I’m using a 10 lb size)
- One carrot, sliced
- Three small stalks of celery, slicede
- One onion, cut into quarters
- One garlic head, cut into rough sections
- Fresh herbs (I’m using parsley and rosemary because it’s what I had – sage and/or thyme would also be nice)
- Two dried bay leaves
- 6-8 tbsp butter
- Kosher salt & fresh ground pepper
- 1 tbsp of flour (if using a roasting bag, optional)
While you certainly don’t need a ton of equipment or fancy tools for roasting your turkey, here are a couple options to consider:
Oven Bags. My dad has used these for years and years and swears by them. I’ve also had amazing success with them. They are great for keeping your turkey nice and tender and as an added bonus, collecting the pan drippings for gravy is a cinch! (Here’s a coupon you can use to save $0.75/1 on Reynolds Large-Size Oven Bags.)
Roasting Pan. I’m using a roasting pan only because I received one as a Christmas gift one year! (A similar Cuisinart Roasting Pan is selling for just under $30 on Amazon right now.) A nice sturdy roasting pan is definitely a bonus when lifting heavier meats in and out of the oven. However, a disposable foil plan also works just fine. (Here’s a coupon you can use to save $1 on a Reynolds Bakeware Pan.)
Quality Knife Set. This one is going to be hard to do without. If you don’t own a sharp set of knives, ask a friend or family member to bring some for the carving process. You could also go the electric knife route – my family’s done this for years.
How to Prep Your Turkey for Roasting
Prepping your turkey for roasting is not a difficult process, but it can be a bit of an awkward one – particularly if you’re dealing with a very large turkey! Here are a few quick tips to make it go easier:
- Start with a clean kitchen and empty garbage can. Counter space and sink space is a must.
- Place your turkey in a large baking pan in the sink. This will give you a great way to work on your bird before moving it into the final baking pan.
- Have everything else ready to go. Prep your veggies, gather your roasting tray, keep the salt and pepper handy. This will help cut down times you need to wash your hands in between dealing with the raw turkey.
I truly think having a clean and organized space prior to dealing with your turkey will help keep things moving faster and reduce your stress level.
Now this next part is a little gross, but it MUST be done. You need to remove the “goodies” from inside your turkey. My turkey had a bag of giblets and a neck. Some people use these for making gravy with and keep them. Whatever you decide to do, don’t cook them inside your turkey!
Next, I rinsed my turkey with cold water pretty thoroughly and then patted dry with paper towels.
Salt and pepper the inside of the turkey cavity. This is the part where I do one last “cavity” check. Some birds may have other organ parts inside or random chunks of ice from the defrosting process. This is the time to deal with that.
I also want to point out, different turkeys may have different instructions or wrappings. My turkey had this plastic device pretty firmly attached to bind the legs up while cooking. I double checked the wrapper and learned it was fine to cook it with it in place. Do a thorough check! One year I accidentally left a small plastic part on a ham that I should have removed. (Granted, it was a ham, not a turkey – but ever since then I’ve learned to pay more attention to this stuff.)
Next, I gently tucked some of the cut carrots, onions, celery, garlic and fresh herbs in the turkey cavity. Notice – I’m still dealing with it in my baking pan in the sink. (Don’t worry – it’s about to get moved.) Then, I drizzled 4 tablespoons of melted butter on top and thoroughly seasoned with salt and pepper.
Again, I’m using a turkey bag for today’s recipe – this is optional. If you go this route, place 1 tablespoon of flour in the bag, shake it to coat, place some veggies in the bottom (I used some reserved from the stuffing) and then place the turkey in it. Slit about 6 1/2″ holes in the top of the bag and tie or secure at the end. If you decide to nix the bag, tent your roasting pan with foil – you don’t want the turkey to dry out too quickly, given the longer cooking time.
At this point, I’d spent about 20 minutes total prepping my vegetables and turkey and getting it ready to roast. If this is your first time, give yourself up to 30 minutes for this part of the process.
How to Cook Your Turkey
Your mission at this point: get that turkey to 165°! I cooked my turkey in a 350° oven for roughly 2 hours, 15 minutes. From there, I opened the top of the bag a bit, added 4 tablespoons more melted butter and then upped the temperature to 425° to get a nice golden roast and cooked an additional 20 minutes like this.
So what should you do?
Here are some great general turkey cooking guidelines:
- Plan on cooking your turkey for approximately 15 minutes per pound in a 350° oven. For instance, a 10-lb turkey may take about 150 minutes (or 2 1/2 hours).
- Adding stuffing is going to increase the cooking time. (I personally make my stuffing as a casserole – not in the bird.)
- For a nice, crisp skin, remove the foil tent or top of the bag for the last 20-30 minutes and increase the temperature to 425°. This would be a good time to baste with additional butter and/or pan drippings.
Remember, there are lots of factors that will impact your turkey’s cooking time including oven variances, weight of the turkey, if it’s stuffed or not, and other mysterious things. Make sure to give yourself plenty of extra time allowance so you end up with a safely cooked dinner.
For more guidelines, please see AllRecipes.com.
Make sure to give your bird at least 15 minutes to rest before carving it. Otherwise, all the juices will run out, leaving you with a dry disappointment of a dinner. The final part is to carve your turkey.
What tips do you have for cooking the perfect turkey?