How To Cook a Turkey for Thanksgiving
What You Need
2 cups chicken broth, vegetable broth, water, or other liquid
1 cup unsalted butter, melted, for basting (optional)
Turkey baster, brush, or ladle (optional, if basting)
- Prepare the turkey for roasting: Thirty minutes to an hour before roasting, take the turkey out of the fridge. Remove any packaging and the bag of giblets (check in the body cavity and in the neck cavity). Set the turkey breast-side up on the roasting rack and let it sit while the oven preheats. This takes the chill off the meat, which helps the meat cook faster and more evenly. It also gives the skin time to dry out, which promotes browning and crisping. (Note: Your turkey will likely still feel cool to the touch after sitting at room temperature — that's fine and you can continue on with roasting.)
- Preheat the oven to 450°F: Position an oven rack in the bottom third of your oven and preheat the oven to 450°F. If you brined your turkey, as we did, no need to do anything now. If your turkey is straight out of the package, rub it with some salt and pepper before putting it in the oven. We recommend leaving your turkey un-stuffed and un-trussed, both because it's easier and because the turkey will cook more evenly.
- Add liquid to the roasting pan: When ready to roast, pour two cups of broth or water into the roasting pan.
- Place the turkey in the oven and turn down the heat: Place the turkey in the oven and turn down the heat to 350°F. We recommend roasting turkeys breast-side up. Some people like starting the turkey breast-side down to shield the breast meat, but the idea of flipping a hot, sputtering turkey is not our idea of a good time. Instead, we prefer to simply shield the breast meat with foil toward the end of cooking if it starts getting too browned.
- Roast the turkey: The rule of thumb for cooking a turkey is 13 minutes per pound. So our 16-pound turkey was estimated to cook in about 3 1/2 hours. However, some factors like brining the bird, cooking with an empty (un-stuffed) cavity, and leaving the legs un-trussed will contribute to much faster cooking. Plan on the 13-minute-per-pound rule, but start checking the temperature of your turkey about halfway through the scheduled cooking time to gauge how fast it's cooking.
- Baste the turkey every 45 minutes: Every 45 minutes, remove the turkey from the oven, close the oven door (don't let that heat out!), and baste the turkey all over. To baste, tilt the pan and use a turkey baster or spoon to scoop up the pan liquids and drizzle them on top of the turkey. Basting with pan juices cools the surface of the turkey and slows down cooking, which in turn keeps the breast meat cooking at close to the same rate as the legs and thighs. In the last 45 minutes or so of cooking, you can also baste the turkey with melted butter or oil. This helps crisp up the skin and turn it a beautiful deep golden brown.
- Check the turkey's temperature: Begin checking the turkey's temperature about halfway through the estimated cooking time. Check the temperature in three places: the breast, outer thigh, and inside thigh. In every case, the meat should be at least 165°F when the turkey has finished cooking. If any place is under that temperature, put the turkey back in the oven for another 20 minutes. Shield the breast meat with foil if needed to keep it from overcooking.
- Rest the turkey before carving: Grab one side of the roasting rack with an oven mitt and tilt the whole pan so the liquids inside the turkey cavity run out into the pan. (These juices are used to make the gravy.) Then, lift the whole turkey (still on the rack) and transfer it to a cutting board. Tent the turkey with aluminum foil and let it rest for at least 30 minutes. This gives time for the meat to firm up and the juices to be re-absorbed into the muscle tissue, making the turkey easier to slice and taste juicier.
- Carve the turkey: Carve the turkey the same way you would carve a chicken. Remove the wings first, then the thighs, then the breast meat. Once you have the meat off, you can separate the thighs into thighs and drumsticks and carve the breast meat into individual slices.
- Don't forget about the leftovers: One final note! Once you've sat down at the table, don't forget about the turkey back on the counter. The leftover meat needs to be refrigerated within two hours of cooking.
- Ways to Add Flavor to Your Turkey: Rub your turkey with butter or oil for a richer flavor and browner skin, rub minced herbs or ground spices into (or beneath) the skin for more flavor, place a few halved lemons or garlic cloves inside the cavity of the turkey..