How to Roast a Turkey

Have you got your taste buds set on a moist, succulent, golden brown, fall-off-the-bone tender turkey this Thanksgiving? Do you want to sink your teeth into a perfectly cooked and seasoned turkey drumstick, or slice into a perfectly juicy, tender breast? No matter how you like your bird, the secret is in the roasting. It's easy to get it right, and best of all, the whole house will fill with delicious, savory aromas!


  • Turkey
  • Chicken or vegetable stock (optional)

Optional spices

  • 1/2 of a large red onion
  • 2-4 garlic cloves
  • Rosemary
  • Black pepper
  • Salt
  • Oregano
  • Sage
  • honey


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    Make sure that the turkey is fully thawed. This can be done one of two ways:
    • Place the turkey still in its wrapper on a large tray, such as a cookie sheet, to catch any juices. Slide the turkey-laden tray onto the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. Allow one day of thawing per four to five pounds of turkey. Start defrosting a 20 pound turkey on Saturday to ensure it will be ready to cook Thanksgiving morning.
    • Place the turkey still in its wrapper in the sink and cover with cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes. Allow 30 minutes per pound (a 20 pound Turkey will take 10 hours to thaw). Cook immediately. The USDA also provides the following information on how to defrost a turkey safely.
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    Remove the giblets. Stick your hand in the cavity and remove any packages, or liver, heart, neck, and other things you may find inside of the bird. If desired, save everything but the liver for giblet gravy. Fry the giblets or, except for the liver (which has a non-turkey-like flavor that, although pleasant to many, would make the drippings or gravy taste odd), just leave them to roast and eat them. The gizzard and heart are tough, so cut them up––do not give them to a small child who could possibly choke on them.
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    Rinse off the turkey. Hold the turkey under room temperature or cold water and rub it gently with your fingers. Make sure there isn't any dirt, pieces of feathers, etc.
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    Pat dry. Use a cloth or paper towel, pat it dry; don't rub it. Make sure you dry the whole bird, inside and out, as much as you can. If you use a cloth towel, put it straight into the washing machine afterwards.
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    Place the turkey in the roasting pan, breast side up. Try to keep it centered to promote even heating.
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    Oil the bird. Spread a tablespoon or two of olive oil over the skin of the turkey. This will help brown the turkey nicely, as well as promote a really crispy skin.
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    Season the turkey. Sprinkle oregano, rosemary, garlic powder, and pepper lightly over the top of the turkey. Put some on the inside as well.
    • Quarter the onion and put it all inside the turkey. Put the three garlic cloves in with the onion. Make sure that both are peeled. After this is done, pour in broth until it is surrounding the turkey (about 1 cup).
    • Insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of a thigh making sure it does not touch the bone. An electronic thermometer with a cord extending to the outside of the oven and an alarm for a particular temperature is particularly convenient. Even with these, leave the pop-up thermometer to help confirm that you are not long overcooking the turkey due to a measurement error.
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    Preheat the oven to 325°F (160°C).
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    Roast the turkey. When the oven is at temperature, place the turkey in oven (bottom rack) and until meat is 161°F (72°C). Allow about 15 minutes per pound.
    • If you're using a roasting bag, shake a turkey size oven bag with 1 tablespoon of flour. Place the bag on the roast pan. Slide the turkey breast side up, in the bag. Twist tie shut. Cut slits in the bag. Do not add any broth. Make sure the bag isn't hanging over the edge.
    • If you're not using a roasting bag, put about a quarter-inch of water in the pan and cover the pan with its lid or some foil. Basically the turkey should steam for most of the cooking time. Check on the turkey every hour or so and replenish the watery liquid if it is almost all gone.
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    Make it golden. Uncover the turkey and turn your oven to Broil for ten minutes. Make sure to keep a close watch on it during this time as ovens vary and broil is usually a very high temperature. If you are using a roasting bag, open the top completely before broiling.
    • Start this process when the turkey is still a few degrees from done temperature, because it will continue to heat.
    • You may wish to remove a meat thermometer, especially a more expensive and probably more fragile electronic one, so the intense radiant heat does not destroy it. In that case, err on the side of potentially warming the turkey a few degrees more than you expected, to make sure it's safe.
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    Let it rest. Remove the turkey from the juices and place on a cutting board. Remove any stuffing. Loosely cover with tinfoil and wait 20 minutes before slicing to prevent the turkey from losing all of its juices. Use this time to make gravy.


  • Try rubbing an herb butter or herb-infused olive oil mixture between skin and meat and on the outside.
  • USDA turkey roasting times are listed below. The roasting times are for a unstuffed turkey baked at 325ºF:
    • 8 to 12 pounds –– 3 to 3 1/2 hours
    • 12 to 14 pounds –– 3 to 3 3/4 hours
    • 14 to 18 pounds –– 3 3/4 to 4 1/4 hours
    • 18 to 20 pounds –– 4 1/4 to 4 1/2 hours
    • 20 to 24 pounds –– 4 1/2 to 5 hours
  • Instead of putting onions and garlic in the turkey, you can fill it with stuffing.
  • Use leftover giblets (excluding the liver)and the liquid left in the roasting pan to make giblet gravy.
  • You can replace the "Optional Spices" with an all-purpose seasoning.
  • A variation on this method would be to sear the turkey in the beginning of the cooking process, thereby sealing in the fat of the skin and juices of the meat. Preheat oven to 450ºF/230ºC. When oven is ready cook turkey at 450°F/230ºC for 30 minutes. After the thirty minutes have expired, cover breast with foil and cook at 350°F/180ºC until done (internal temperature of 161ºF). One author believes, however, that it is much better to sear the turkey only at the end. The turkey's skin and subcutaneous fat, much as in life, keep the moisture inside from dissipating to the outside as the bird cooks. When it is seared, the fat melts away from a continuous layer into the flesh, and the skin becomes thin, cracked and delicious. But it will not then continue to reduce drying over an extended cooking process.
  • Baste often with drippings.
  • Slice a stick of butter into tablespoons and evenly place between the skin and the meat. Chopped scallions and garlic are great as well.


  • Watch meat while broiling. The broiler on most ovens can burn food in a very short time.
  • Cooking stuffing in the turkey is not recommended due to concern for salmonella and other bacterial contaminants that thrive in warm, moist conditions.

Things You'll Need

  • Roasting pan with rack
  • Roasting bag (optional)
  • Poultry thermometer (meat thermometer)

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