Turkey Roasting Tips

Here are some of my best turkey roasting tips for a turkey that is full of flavor. The turkey is the center piece of the Thanksgiving meal and is arguably the trickiest part of the meal. Learn all about turkey brining, turkey roasting times, and turkey roasting temperatures.

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This post has been updated from the archives. Originally published on November 12, 2012.  

When one of my friends 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.

My friend would be 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.

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

Should I Brine a Turkey?

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Yes! Definitely. Brining the Turkey will give it extra flavor and moisture! You should brine a turkey because it has so much more flavor, the meat gets seasoned all the way through, and it is much more juicy!

Before you begin preparing your roasted turkey on Thanksgiving, you’ll need to make sure you have some of the required equipment. If  have roasted a turkey before, none of this should be new to you.

Previously, turkey had never been my favorite part of the Thanksgiving meal. I LOVED all the sides and desserts, but turkey was something that always tasted dry and without flavor to me.

The answer was that the turkey was brined. I had never heard of this method before even though  I was fairly accomplished in the kitchen for someone my age.

It was usually something that seem to have a never ending supply of leftovers. UGH. 15 years ago I had ate a turkey that was a complete game changer for me. I asked what was different and why it was so good.

It had flavor, it was seasoned all the way through. The meat was tender and juicy instead of tough and dry.

I Had Some Questions About Brining

  • What is brining?
  • How do you brine a turkey?
  • What is in a turkey brine?

What Do You Need to Brine a Roasted Turkey

In order to brine and roast a turkey, you need a few things:

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Turkey Brining Tips and Recipes

Brining your turkey will help infuse it with flavor while also keeping the meat incredibly moist. Note that you’ll have to plan ahead as a turkey needs to soak in the brine for approximately 24 hours.

This recipe for Garlic Herb Peppercorn Dry Brine is full of flavor and will make your turkey shine on Thanksgiving! Dry brining a turkey is really simple and produces juicy, seasoned turkey meat.

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This recipe for Garlic Herb Peppercorn Dry Brine is really simple and produces juicy, seasoned turkey meat.

Brining your turkey with this Apple Cider Sage Brined Turkey before roasting will not only infuses the meat with the delicious flavors of fresh apple cider and sage, but it will help keep the meat moist and tender.

Fresh Herb Citrus Brined Turkey combines lots of fresh herbs with a subtle hint of citrus.

Brining a turkey in this Rosemary Beer Brine will tenderize the meat and infuse it with a TON of flavor for Turkey Day!

How to Roast a Turkey: My Turkey Roasting Method

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How Long Does it Take to Roast a Turkey?

First, find out how much your turkey weights – this is important to estimate your cooking time. You can estimate your cooking time at approximately 10 minutes per pound when cooked at 375 degrees F.

However, this is for estimation purposes only turkey cooking times vary depending on a variety of things, such as:

  • the size of the bird
  • internal temperature the bird when you begin
  • did you stuff your turkey?
  • your oven – every oven runs slightly different (some hot, some cold, some exactly right)

COOK BY TEMPERATURE NOT TIME

There are a few things to know about roasting your turkey, and an important keys to success is cooking by temperature.

It is better to have general time guidelines and specific temperature milestones to meet rather than cooking for x number of hours. You avoid overcooked dry meat and undercooked unsafe meat when you use a digital probe meat thermometer. Place the probe in the thickest part of the breast before you begin cooking.

I typically choose a turkey around 16-18 lbs because I don’t like to have TONS and TONS of leftover turkey. 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.

I like to chop up a lot of fresh herbs (thyme, rosemary, sage) and garlic and mix it with softened butter. Then, I rub that garlic herb butter UNDER the skin that covers the breast as well as all over the inside of the bird’s cavity.

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 160-165 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.

This Cranberry Orange Walnut Relish is so easy to make and will definitely become a staple at your Thanksgiving table.

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Gravy or Cranberry Sauce?

A big part of the Thanksgiving turkey is what you serve alongside the meat. Do you like cranberry sauce or turkey gravy? I have great recipes for both!

Fresh, tart cranberries are cooked and blended with agave, brown sugar, red wine, and pomegranate juice create a deliciously simple and smooth Red Wine Pomegranate Cranberry Sauce for your Thanksgiving feast. If you like a chunkier cranberry topping, this Cranberry Orange Walnut Relish is a big hit!

If you prefer gravy instead of cranberry sauce, don’t worry I have you covered there too. Check out my How To Make Turkey Gravy with No Lumps.

Additional Tips for a Successful Thanksgiving Turkey

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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.

Bring the turkey to room temperature before roasting.

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?

Don’t stuff the turkey’s cavity.

Stuffing a roasted turkey 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.

How to Safely Stuff a Turkey – The BEST Way

If you really love stuffing inside your roasted turkey, this is the best way to safely stuff a turkey.

  1. First, prepare and cook the stuffing separately while the turkey roasts.
  2. Then, place the stuffing into the turkey once it is done roasting.

An alternative, though not the best way, is to stuff the turkey as is traditionally done by placing the stuffing in the cavity of the raw turkey. The air needs to circulate, so DO NOT pack it tightly.

To know if the turkey and the stuffing is safe to eat, you’ll need to take the temperature of BOTH. The breast meat AND the stuffing also needs to reach 165 degrees F to be safe to eat. 

Probe Thermometers are great for checking temps! The problem with this method is that the meat can often reach higher temperatures and then turn out dry while waiting for the stuffing to reach the appropriate temperature.

Brining a turkey in this Rosemary Beer Brine will tenderize the meat and infuse it with a TON of flavor for Turkey Day! Check out this recipe for lots of tips on how to brine and roast a turkey.

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What Temperature is Turkey Done At?

A whole turkey is safe to eat when the breast meat reaches a minimum of 165 degrees F and the thigh meat reaches 170 degrees F.

The temperature will usually continue to rise during the initial few minutes of the rest period after you pull the turkey out of the oven, so I personally like to take my turkey out of the oven at 160 degrees F. Keep the thermometer in to ensure that it does make it up to 165 during the rest period.

Overcooked turkey = dry meat, so it is best to monitor the temperature closely and not rely on one of those pop up indicators. The pop up indicators usually activate long past the recommended turkey temp, yielding a dry, overcooked turkey. That is, if they work at all…often times those indicators will malfunction completely!

Should you Rest your turkey?

Absolutely, yes! You might wonder: is it necessary to let the turkey rest. YES! The answer is definitely YES. If you carve your turkey before a 30 minute rest period, all of the juices will end up on your carving board rather than in the meat.

Why Do You Let Turkey Rest after Roasting?

The turkey’s temperature will continue to rise a few more degrees during the resting period. Resting allows the turkey to reach it’s final temperature without the meat becoming over cooking.

Letting the turkey rest helps the juices redistribute throughout the meat and be reabsorbed. The meat fibers also relax and widen. The result is incredibly juicy, tender meat that is also easy to cut.

If you carve your turkey right after it finishes cooking, you will lose all of those juices on your carving board because they won’t have time to redistribute throughout the bird, leaving you with dry turkey.

How Much Turkey Do I Need Per Person?

How much turkey do I need for this many people? The easy answer: Plan to purchase at least 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 double that, about 2-2.5 lbs of turkey per person.

My Turkey Finished Roasting Too Early – What do I Do?

Place a disposable roasting tray inside a well insulated cooler. Then, place the finished turkey on the roasting tray. Close the cooler, and store until ready to serve (within a reasonable amount of time).

The cooler will act as a warming drawer for the turkey, keeping it warm and ready for serving time, and the juices will have plenty of time to redistribute while while the turkey rests.

If your turkey finished roasting earlier than 2 hours too early, then you’ll need to take alternative measures:

  1. Let the turkey rest for 30 minutes after roasting completes.
  2. Carve the breast meat, legs, and, thighs.
  3. Arrange the carved meat on a large serving platter.
  4. Cover the platter with foil. Transfer the platter to the refrigerator.
  5. Just prior to serving your meal, reheat the platter in the oven for 20 minutes at 350 degrees F.

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What is Another Way to Cook a Turkey Besides Roasting?

If you’d rather smoke your turkey, come check out my tried and true method along with my 8 pro tips for the best smoked turkey!

Looking for ways to use your leftover turkey?

Check out The Ultimate Guide to Thanksgiving Leftovers. This post has lots of tips for reducing Thanksgiving waste, information on how long it is safe to eat Thanksgiving leftovers, how to properly store and freeze leftover roasted Turkey and Ham, and how to donate Thanksgiving leftovers. You’ll also find a great selection of recipes that can be made using your leftover Roasted Turkey, Ham, and Cranberry Sauce.

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

How To Roast a Turkey

How To Roast a Turkey

Yield: 1 turkey
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 5 hours
Additional Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 5 hours 50 minutes

The turkey is the center piece of the Thanksgiving meal and is arguably the trickiest part of the meal. Here are some of my best turkey roasting tips for a turkey that is full of flavor.

Ingredients

  • 16 lb. Turkey
  • Butter
  • Rosemary
  • Thyme
  • Sage
  • Garlic
  • Onion
  • Carrots

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. 
  2. Slather the outside of the turkey in butter as well as under the breast skin. I like to chop up a lot of fresh herbs (thyme, rosemary, sage) and garlic and mix it with softened butter.
  3. Then, I rub that garlic herb butter UNDER the skin that covers the breast as well as all over the inside of the bird’s cavity.
  4. Stuff the cavity with additional herbs, if desired, and an onion cut into sixths. Cover the wing tips with foil.
  5. Use a V-Rack roaster for your turkey. Place 3 cups of water in the bottom of the pan.
  6. Add chopped onion and carrots at the bottom of the roasting pan.
  7. Place the turkey on the rack, starting with it facing breast side down. Roast for 45 minutes.
  8. 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.
  9. It helps to have a big wad of paper towels in each hand so you can easily flip it without slipping or burning yourself.
  10. Remove the turkey from the oven, flip it breast side up, and baste the turkey with pan drippings. 
  11. Cover the breast with foil. Add an 2 more cups of water to the pan.
  12. 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 160-165 degrees F and the leg/thigh registers at about 170 degrees F.
  13. For an evenly browned turkey, rotate the turkey in the pan every 45 – 60 minutes during roasting.
  14. Remove the foil from the breast during the last 45 minutes of roasting.
  15. 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.

Notes

The meat is safely done when the thigh meat reaches 170 degrees F and the breast meat reaches 160-165 degrees F.

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Nutrition Information
Yield 14 Serving Size 1
Amount Per ServingCalories 980 Total Fat 38g Saturated Fat 11g Trans Fat 1g Unsaturated Fat 25g Cholesterol 565mg Carbohydrates 0g Net Carbohydrates 0g Fiber 0g Sugar 0g Sugar Alcohols 0g Protein 148g
GoodLifeEats.com offers recipe nutritional information as a courtesy and is an estimate only. This information comes from online calculators. Although GoodLifeEats.com makes every effort to provide accurate information, these figures are only estimates.