Turkey Roasting Tips

Holiday Recipes, Thanksgiving Recipes | 8 comments

When my friend Alexis found out that I would be working on a few Thanksgiving recipes ahead of time to share on GoodLife Eats, she immediately asked if she could come watch me make the turkey.

Alexis is hosting Thanksgiving for 20 people and she’s never done a turkey on her own. I am sure that many of us have been in that position and felt the pressure to perform. It is a little nerve wracking.

So today I thought I’d share some of the tips that I learned over the years of preparing turkey for Thanksgiving on my own and maybe take a little bit of that stress away from a few of you.

Brine the Turkey for Extra Flavor and Moisture

herbed turkey brine - how to roast a turkey

As a soon to be newlywed 10 years ago, my mother-in-law introduced me to the art of brining. I was fairly accomplished in the kitchen for someone my age, but I had never before heard of this method.

Her moist flavorful turkey impressed me so much that I have always brined my turkey since learning the technique.

More Info on Brining & a Few Recipes:

Room Temperature Birds Cook Faster

I learned a few years ago to bring the turkey to room temperature on the counter about 2 hours prior to the planned roasting time.

This allows to bird to cook faster because the starting temperature is much warmer than one straight out of the fridge. Makes sense, right?

How to Cook a Turkey: My Turkey Roasting Method

Since we are a small family, I typically choose a turkey around 16 lbs. If using a larger turkey, simply extend the roasting time and tent the breast with foil to avoid over browning.

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Slather the outside of the turkey in butter as well as under the breast skin. Place herbs under the skin covering the breast, if desired. Stuff the cavity with additional herbs, if desired, and an onion cut into sixths. Cover the wing tips with foil.

2. Use a V-Rack roaster for your turkey. Place 3 cups of water in the bottom of the pan. Add chopped onion and carrots at the bottom of the roasting pan. Place the turkey on the rack, starting with it facing breast side down. Roast for 45 minutes.

  • If you don’t care to fuss with flipping your turkey, simply add 45 minutes on to the time on the following step. Some feel that the roasting position makes no difference. I’ve always used this method with great results so I’m not inclined to change.
  • It helps to have a big wad of paper towels in each hand so you can easily flip it without slipping or burning yourself.

3. Remove the turkey from the oven, flip it breast side up, and baste the turkey with pan drippings. Cover the breast with foil. Add an 2 more cups of water to the pan. Roast the turkey for an additional 1 1/2 hours to 2 1/2 hours, or until the meat thermometer inserted in the breast registers 160 degrees F and the leg/thigh registers at about 170 degrees F.

  • For an evenly browned turkey, rotate the turkey in the pan every 45 – 60 minutes during roasting.
  • Remove the foil from the breast during the last 45 minutes of roasting.

4. When the turkey has reached the correct temperature, remove it from the oven, tent with foil and let it rest for 30-45 minutes on a large cutting board before carving.

Apple Cider Sage Turkey Recipe

Additional Tips for a Successful Thanksgiving Turkey

Fresh, unfrozen birds taste best. If possible, search for a free range turkey. You will typically have to place an order for these quality birds, so check your local specialty grocery store in advance.

Don’t stuff the turkey’s cavity. This has never been an issue for me, because I don’t really care for in the bird stuffing anyway. But, it can cause a safety hazard as the stuffing generally does not reach a high enough temperature by the time the turkey is done to kill any bacteria. Your turkey will also cook faster without a stuffed cavity.

Know your doneness temperatures. Overcooked turkey = dry meat. The meat is safely done when the thigh meat reaches 170 degrees F and the breast meat reaches 160 degrees F. The turkey’s temperature will continue to rise a few more degrees during the resting period.

Know how much turkey to purchase per person. How much turkey do I need for this many people? The easy answer: Plan to purchase 1 lb. per person attending. This allows enough turkey to enjoy on the Thanksgiving day, plus a bit for leftovers. If you like to have plenty of leftovers for the freezer or cooking up a big batch of soup, plan on 1 1/2 lbs of turkey per person.

What are your best tips for a perfect turkey on Thanksgiving?

Katie Goodman

About the Author:

Katie’s lifelong interest in cooking good food has shown her that part of the goodness in life is enjoying delicious food with friends and family. She is: Mom. Writer. Photographer. Recipe Developer. Website Founder. Lover of all things good in life. A mix of great recipes, family memories, and yummy photography is what Katie serves up each week at GoodLife Eats™. Katie and her family reside in Colorado.

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  • 1
    Stephanie @ Girl Versus Dough - November 12, 2012 @ 8:52 am

    We’re making the turkey for the first time ever this year (eek!), so these tips will DEFINITELY come in handy!


  • 2
    Erin @ Texanerin Baking - November 13, 2012 @ 1:49 pm

    Fresh herb and citrus brine sounds amazing! Definitely about to check that out. I’ve never made an entire turkey but often make boneless and skinless turkey breast. And I’m pretty sick of my regular recipe so I can’t wait to try that one.

    I’ve also never bothered with brining! You’ve convinced me. Will do next time!


  • 3
    Loraine - November 19, 2012 @ 6:39 pm

    Thanks Katie! With all your awesome tips (and my mom here), I really think my turkey will be a huge success this year!


  • 4
    Erin - November 21, 2012 @ 11:23 pm

    Please help!
    I had no choice this year and had to buy a frozen turkey. It has salt injected in it…. I’ve heard brining isn’t necessary if previously injected. So… My thought was to do the aromatics inside & then rub herbs/olive oil under the skin. What are your thoughts? To brine or not to brine? Thank you!


    • Katie Goodman

      Katie replied: — November 22nd, 2012 @ 7:04 AM

      I would chop herbs and garlic and mix with soft butter and olive oil. Spread all over inside and out and under the skin covering the breast as well. Put carrot, celery, onion, and a few sprigs of herbs inside the cavity. Good luck!

  • 5
    Kathy - November 11, 2015 @ 1:31 pm

    For the last 4 years I’ve been the Thanksgiving cook, but have never tried a brine, because I didn’t want a sweet fruity turkey. Herbs and butter are all good, but most brines include juice or fruit. Your thoughts/suggestions?



    • Katie Goodman

      Katie Goodman replied: — November 11th, 2015 @ 2:21 PM

      Hi Kathy,
      You can substitute water for the fruit juice if you’d like. I would recommend this Fresh Herb Brine. Eliminate the citrus and allspice berries if you don’t want a fruity flavor. You’ll be left with a pretty basic salt water brine with garlic, peppercorns, lots of herbs: thyme, sage, rosemary, parsley, and bay leaves.

      It would also be good to chop up some fresh herbs and mix that with butter and finely minced fresh garlic. Rub that in between the turkey’s skin and the meat just before you roast the turkey. If you pull the skin up carefully you’ll be able to form a pocket of sorts to put all of that herbed butter in, which will flavor the turkey while it cooks and help keep the breast meat moist. You can also rub some inside the turkey cavity. Hope that helps!

    • Kathy replied: — November 13th, 2015 @ 2:16 PM

      Thank you so much for your response. I’ll give it a try.

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