We’ve all heard the saying that it’s never a good idea to try a brand new recipe when having guests, but what about the Thanksgiving turkey? It’s certainly not every day that we’re cooking a whole turkey for our families. To be honest, it’s been about a year since we cooked our last turkey! Seems like a recipe for disaster if you think about centering an entire meal around a not-so-familiar main. That’s why we’ve compiled decades of family knowledge and experience into this post! We’re talking turkey: Here is everything you’ll need to know to be ready to take on your Thanksgiving turkey with confidence.
Step 1: Buy your turkey
It’s best to order a turkey a few weeks in advance to avoid the risk of having them sell out (we like to place our orders right around now, about 3 weeks before Thanksgiving). Not sure what size to order? Simply look at your guest list and assume 2 pounds per adult and 1 pound per child to allow for leftovers. If you’re ordering a specialty bird, be sure to order ASAP as they can sell out in early November. Plan to pick up a week before serving to allow ample time for defrosting.
While you’re looking at your guest list and doing portion math, here’s our guide for figuring out the rest of your meal!
Step 2: Thaw your turkey
If you’re going the frozen route, be sure to keep your turkey frozen until it is time to defrost. To give your frozen turkey plenty of time to thaw in the refrigerator, the general rule is to plan on 24 hours in the refrigerator for every 4-5 pounds of turkey. So, for example, a 16-pound turkey would require about 4 days in the fridge to defrost and a 20-pound turkey would require about 5 days. Do yourself a favor and calculate defrosting time on the day you purchase your turkey and set a reminder in your calendar!
The defrosting setup is simple: line the bottom of a sheet pan with paper towels and put a cooling rack on top of the paper towels but inside the rim of the sheet pan. Place your frozen turkey on top of the rack (keep all turkey packaging and wrapping on) and move your turkey and pan into the refrigerator. By lifting the turkey up a bit on the rack, the drippings will be caught in the pan and won’t pool around your turkey. We recommend you change out the paper towels daily, as they will get wet as the turkey defrosts.
Step 3: Cook your turkey
This is one of our go-to best recipes for Thanksgiving turkey! We love the crowd-pleasing, classic simplicity of our Mimi’s recipe.
Mimi’s Roasted Turkey
- 1 Roasting pan and rack
- 1 Turkey baster
- Aluminum foil
- Meat thermometer
- 1 whole Turkey (fresh or defrosted)
- 4 tbsp Butter (melted)
- 1 tbsp Garlic powder
- Salt and pepper (to taste)
One day before
- Remove the giblets from inside of the turkey. Mix butter and garlic powder. Using a turkey baster, inject the mixture under the skin onto the breasks and thighs.
- Season o utside of turkey with salt and pepper to taste. Then tuck the wings under the breast.
- Cover the turkey well with aluminum foil and place breast side up on a rack in a roasting pan. Place in the refrigerator to marinate overnight.
Day of roasting
- Preheat oven to 450°F (note, temperature to bereduced to 350°F when turkey is placed in oven).
- Prepare turkey stuffing and stuff turkey justbefore putting into the oven. Place turkey back on rack in roasting pan breast side up. Add ½ cup of water into the pan.
- Create an aluminum foil tent over the turkey. Place it in the oven and turn the temperature down to350°F. Cook for about 1-1 ½ hours, then remove the aluminum foil and place the turkey back in the oven. Continue cooking, uncovered, for the recommended length of time per the turkey roasting guide.
- Every 45 minutes, remove the turkey from the oven.Close the oven door completely so the heat does not escape and baste the turkey all over. Use a turkey baster or spoon to scoop up the pan liquids and drizzle them on top of the turkey to help brown the skin and cook the meat evenly.
- Cook the turkey until the skin is a light golden color, and then cover loosely with a foil tent.
- During the last 45 minutes of baking, remove the foil tent to brown the skin.
- Begin checking the internal temperature of the turkey an hour before it’s set to be finished, in 15 minute intervals. When the internal temperature of the thigh meat reaches 165°F, remove the turkey from the oven and allow to stand for 20-30 minutes before carving.
Turkey roasting guide
To roast, preheat the oven to 450°F then drop the temperature to 350°F after putting the turkey into the oven. Cover turkey with aluminum foil at the start of cooking time, and at the end if it starts getting too browned, but uncover it through the majority of the cooking time. Make sure the thigh meat has an internal temperature of 160°F to be sure the turkey is fully cooked. Let the turkey rest for 20-30 minutes before carving.
|Size of turkey||Unstuffed||Stuffed|
|10-12 lbs.||3 – 3 1/4 hours||3 1/2 – 3 3/4 hours|
|12-16 lbs.||3 1/4 – 3 3/4 hours||3 3/4 – 4 1/4 hours|
|16-20 lbs.||3 3/4 – 4 1/4 hours||4 1/4 – 4 3/4 hours|
|20-24 lbs.||4 1/4 – 4 3/4 hours||4 3/4 – 5 1/4 hours|
Step 4: Serve your turkey
Presentation is everything when it comes to your Thanksgiving turkey. While serving your turkey whole is a great way for your guests to feast with their eyes, it’s even more important to understand the basics of carving so the turkey can be served. We love Youtube videos for this task! This video from America’s Test Kitchen is a great one and we like to re-watch it as a refresher while our turkey rests.
Once carved, carefully plate the turkey on a large platter. Adding garnish like fresh herbs and lemon slices are a great way to bring color to your dish. When choosing a large platter for your turkey, keep in mind available space on your table and overall weight of your piece to make sure guests of any age can pass the turkey around.