How to Cook a Turkey
Let's talk turkey.
Get all the tips you need to cook a turkey, from prepping and basting to roasting and carving.
So you've decided to be in charge of the turkey this year? You've come to the right place for advice. First of all, if you haven't already purchased your bird, be sure to read all about how to buy a turkey and how to safely thaw frozen turkey. Next, let's talk about how to cook that bird.
How to Cook a Turkey: Basic Steps
You'll be glad to know that cooking a turkey is actually very easy. Even with just a little bit of prep, you'll get great results you can be proud of. Here's how to prepare the turkey for roasting in the oven:
- Remove the packet of giblets from the cavity of the bird and save them for gravy or stuffing. Next, rinse the bird inside and out (optional) and pat dry with paper towels.
- If you are stuffing the turkey, stuff it loosely, allowing about 1/2 to 3/4 cup stuffing per pound of turkey. See how to stuff a turkey.
- Tie drumsticks together with string, and brush the skin with melted butter or oil. See how to truss a turkey.
- Insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh. The thermometer should point towards the body, and should not touch the bone.
- What temperature to cook a turkey: Place the bird on a rack in a roasting pan, and into a preheated 350 degree F (175 degrees C) oven (or follow recipe instructions). See how long to cook a turkey.
- Roast until the skin is a light golden color, and then cover the breast loosely with a foil tent to prevent further browning. During the last 45 minutes of baking, remove the foil tent to brown the skin. Basting is not necessary, but helps promote even browning.
How To Tell When Your Turkey Is Done
The only reliable test for doneness is the temperature of the meat, not the color of the skin. The turkey is done when the meat reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees F (75 degrees C) at the thigh. If your turkey has been stuffed, it is important to check the temperature of the stuffing as well. The stuffing should also be 165 degrees F.
Optional First Steps
Brining: If you have 8 to 24 hours to spare before you put the turkey in the oven, consider using that time to brine the turkey either in a liquid saltwater brine or with a dry rub. This optional step ensures the turkey meat will be juicy and flavorful. See how to brine a turkey.
Spatchcocking (aka butterflying): Removing the backbone of the turkey and flattening it out before roasting cooks the turkey faster and more evenly. See how to spatchcock a turkey.
After The Oven
Be sure to leave some time to prep the turkey after it comes out of the oven. Now it's time to let your bird rest for 20 to 30 minutes, and then carve your turkey. You can use that resting time to warm up your Thanksgiving side dishes and make the gravy.
Pro serving tip: warm your serving platter in the oven for about five minutes before you put the sliced turkey on it. You've put in too much work to serve cold turkey!
Other Cooking Methods
Roasting a turkey is the easiest cooking method; the oven remains a constant temperature, and it's easy to baste the turkey and check the internal temperature periodically. But for the adventurous, there are other methods that provide a different experience:
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Can I roast my turkey the day before Thanksgiving then reheat it?
A: Never partially roast a turkey the day before to save on cooking time the next day. This creates the perfect environment for bacterial growth. However, you can fully roast a turkey the day before, and heat it for Thanksgiving dinner. Carve the bird and layer the meat in a baking dish. Seal the baking dish with foil to reduce moisture loss, and heat in a 350 degree F oven for 20 to 30 minutes. Breast meat has a greater likelihood of drying out, so place it under the dark meat, and consider covering it with gravy or spritzing with a small amount of turkey stock.
Q: Can I stuff the turkey the night before baking?
A: You should never stuff a bird hours before roasting, as the cavity can provide an environment for bacteria to grow. When cooking stuffing in a turkey, it is always best to prepare it just before filling and roasting the bird.
Q: How long can cooked turkey stay out at room temperature?
A: Turkey, or any cooked food, should not be left out for more than 2 hours. Any longer than that, and bacteria will start to develop, leading to food-borne illness. No one wants that. See more about refrigerating, freezing, and reheating Thanksgiving leftovers.