An easy, step by step guide for how to cook a turkey. You will be a pro in no time at all!
Tutorial How to Cook a Turkey
I had this posted over on my old blog, and wanted it over here, since I wrote it myself and well, it just belongs. I hope you find it helpful.
It’s almost time guys, we are in an hours countdown to the big day and there are some important steps you need to begin NOW to ensure you have the perfect turkey the day of the big meal.
How many days does it take to thaw a turkey?
It is imperative that you begin the thawing process now. Most people bring home a huge turkey and toss it right back into the freezer. Then they think they can take it out the day before and by the morning it needs to go in the oven it will be thawed.
Thawing a Turkey
A very simple way to figure it out is to have 1 day to thaw per 5lbs. Here’s a sample breakdown.
- An 8 to 12 lb. turkey needs to thaw for 2 to 3 days.
- A 13 to 17 lb. turkey needs to thaw for 3 to 4 days.
- An 18 to 20 lb. turkey needs to thaw for 4 to 5 days.
- A 21 to 24 lb. turkey needs to thaw for 5 to 6 days.
What if I don’t have enough time left to thaw my huge turkey?
Now hold on a second, don’t get upset if you have this huge turkey that is still frozen solid and you don’t have five days until Thanksgiving (thus we have three until it would go in the oven). Here’s how you can handle this situation.
One of two ways.
First, pull it out of the freezer. Now. Run.
Now allow it to sit in your sink, or on your counter on a platter (to collect the water) for about 4-5 hours. Then put it in the refrigerator.
Tomorrow morning, take it out of the refrigerator and allow it to sit on the counter once again for about 4-5 hours or so.
Repeat this process until Wednesday night OR until you can noticeably feel that the turkey is no longer frozen all over.
Wednesday night if it seems it is still frozen in some parts, the best option is to get up quite early Thursday morning (about 4-5 hours before you want to put it in the oven) and allow it to sit at room temp.
This REALLY only goes for those that have a huge turkey that needs extra days to thaw. You want to be super careful because bacteria growth does occur at room temp if left too long.
Also, please note that it is possible to cook a frozen turkey.
Here are estimated cooking times at 325 degrees for cooking a frozen turkey. (check the center before serving to ensure it is cooked and not still frozen.)
- An 8 to 12 lb. frozen turkey: 4 to 4 1/2 hours
- A 12 to 14 lb. frozen turkey: 4 1/2 to 5 3/4 hours
- A 14 to 18 lb. frozen turkey: 5 3/4 to 6 1/4 hours
- An 18 to 20 lb. frozen turkey: 6 1/4 to 6 3/4 hours
- A 20 to 24 lb. frozen turkey: 6 3/4 to 7 1/2 hours
How do I prepare a turkey?
We are now getting the turkey ready to cook.
Many people don’t realize that a turkey usually comes with some extras inside. Reach inside the cavity of your turkey and pull out the neck and giblets. Toss them unless you use them.
You can use the heart and gizzard for making stock for the stuffing if you make it from scratch.
If you are a truly frugal nut, you can use the neck too. The neck can be cooked along side the turkey or saved for a later turkey soup.
I know it’s disgusting and it probably seems funny to someone who has cooked a bunch of turkey’s before, but many people forget they are inside the turkey and that never leads up to good things.
ANOTHER thing to watch out for is many turkey’s come with a plastic tie around the feet.
Read the packaging because many times you do not need to remove them before cooking, but then sometimes you do. So reading the instructions is important.
What temperature do I cook a turkey?
Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.
You are more than likely looking for a moist turkey – who wouldn’t be?
Many families have members who literally fight over the dark meat because the white meat is often so dry.
I was one of those people until I figured out how to properly cook my thanksgiving turkey – it is possible to get moist white meat.
Many chef’s enjoy putting the stuffing inside the turkey cavity to cook. I do not.
The reason for cooking stuffing inside the turkey is that it allows the turkey the ability to cook thoroughly all over. This keeps the temperature steady, and allows for a moister bird at the end.
Some people enjoy quartering an onion, adding celery and/or carrots and some herbs into the cavity – this is your choice, but if you do it, close off the hole with some wadded tin foil and then tie the legs together with string so the added items don’t fall out.
What should I put on the turkey so it doesn’t dry out?
Now it’s time to rub your turkey.
You have two choices. Either using olive oil or melted butter.
I recommend olive oil because I feel it better seals in the juices or you can start with olive oil and then add some melted butter later.
The melted butter does taste good – no doubt, but you will need to baste it a lot during cooking.
Sprinkle salt (we use a little garlic salt too) generously all over the outside of your turkey.
Then sprinkle pepper all over the turkey. Remember you will be basting during the cooking time so that will help keep it moist.
How long do I cook a turkey?
Usually a turkey cooks for about 25-30 minutes or so per lb.
My favorite method of following for cooking the turkey is to simply use the Butterball website or read the packaging on the turkey – it usually tells you.
If you use the butterball website, all you have to do is plug in the size of your turkey and it will give you estimated cooking times. So cook your turkey for the determined amount of time. Uncovered.
Example: We have a 20lb turkey this year and will be cooking it for 3 1/2- 4 hours. I will also be basting it with the juices about every half hour or so.
Since I originally wrote this guide, we began cooking our turkey tented with tinfoil for the first 3/4 of cooking time.
We pour two cups of water or chicken broth into the bottom of the roasting pan. Make sure you are using a roasting pan with a roasting rack to elevate the turkey.
Melt some butter and coat the entire turkey in butter. If you want to season or add herbs, do that now.
Use a piece of tinofoil and create a tent over the turkey. Stick in the oven for 3/4 of the length of time to cook. We baste frequently with butter during the cooking process. When it only has about 1/4 of the time left, remove the tin foil and baste frequently.
This has given us a very juicy, wonderfully moist bird each year. White meat tends to dry out so easily but with this method we have not had that problem. Enjoy!
How do I know if my turkey is cooked?
You will know the turkey is done when a meat thermometer reaches 180 degrees deep in the thigh. At this temperature, juices should be clear.
You do not want any pink at all.
You also need to check the center of the stuffing if you’ve stuffed your turkey. I never do, but that’s me. You are looking for 165 degrees in the center of the stuffing.
Remove the turkey when finished and allow it to sit for about 15-20 minutes before carving.
How do I carve a turkey?
Ask someone else to do it. No just kidding.
I actually really do not like being the carver and having a carving knife is almost a must – it makes it so much easier.
I give the job to hubby or my oldest son. But if you are doing it alone – use butterball’swhich include photographs – oh yeah.
Now, serve and enjoy and eat a lot and get really full and be sure to save any leftovers for the next day.
Tomorrow’s article is all about leftovers. YUMMY!
Nicole Cook is the owner/editor of Daily Dish Recipes, a lifestyle blog with an emphasis on food/cooking/cocktails and much more.
She calls the Midwest home – Missouri to be exact. Coffee is her go-to drink, music is her vice and she is endlessly tethered with devices to her online world. She loves all things planner, lives for her great big family and loves her pets endlessly!
Her motto in life: Live Simply, Dream Big, Be Grateful, Give Love, Laugh Lots. Always, always laugh lots.