Learn how to cook a perfect turkey this Thanksgiving. Get all my top tips to roast the best holiday turkey to serve to your friends and family. How to prep it, how long to cook it and all of my favorite methods to make the most flavorful and juicy turkey you’ve ever had!
Thanksgiving is right around the corner and if you are anything like me, you are still just trying to figure out where this whole year has gone. Nonetheless, this is my favorite time of the year. I cannot wait for all the family fun and delicious food we’ll be eating in just a few weeks.
When I first started cooking big dinners at home for the holidays, I was completely scared and intimidated by the act of cooking a whole turkey. With the years, I’ve been able to learn how to make the process easier so that come the day I’m not struggling to get a perfectly cooked turkey on the table. The trick is to plan and prepare. To help you do just that, here is a list of everything you need to know to roast the perfect holiday turkey.
How big a turkey do you need to buy?
A good rule of thumb is to plan for 1 pound of turkey per person (including bone weight. This is plenty to serve on the day.
However, if you are like me and plan for leftovers, then allow 1 1/2 pounds per person. For eight people, I will buy a 12 pound bird.
Buy the turkey 2 weeks ahead of time
You’ll need at least one week to begin preparing your turkey, so make sure that you buy the turkey well in advance to ensure that you have the appropriate time to get it ready for cooking. Plus, you’ll be surprised just how fast grocery stores would run out of the precious bird.
Thawing the turkey
If bought frozen, thaw the turkey in the refrigerator 3-4 days in advance or approximately 24 hours for every 5 pounds of turkey. Be sure to thaw thoroughly before cooking.
Prepping the turkey the day before cooking
Brining the turkey
Brining is a method used to prepare the turkey that involves immersing the turkey in salt water for a day before cooking. It helps to break down the tougher proteins and helps to retain it’s moisture, so you don’t end up with dry meat. Check out this turkey brine recipe for a really flavorful meal.
Season the turkey
If you choose not to brine your turkey, then seasoning is a must. Season your turkey (both outside and inside) the day before and let it marinate overnight in the refrigerator. Remove from the refrigerator and place in the counter for about one hour to allow it to come to room temperature before roasting.
How to cook a perfect turkey
Place the turkey on a rack over a baking tray
This allows the juices to drip down so that the bottom of the turkey doesn’t sit in fat.
Start the turkey in a hot oven
Start roasting the turkey at 450 degrees for about 30 minutes. Then, lower the temperature to 350 degrees and continue roasting until cooked through. This will render the fat quickly and crisp the skin. If the skin starts browning too quickly, cover it with a piece of foil and continue cooking.
Do you roast breast side up or down?
The traditional way to cook the turkey is breast side up, as this creates a wonderfully crispy skin. Lots of people cook breast side down. The fat from the thighs transfers into the breast meat and the turkey self-bastes. The problem with this, is that you don’t get the crispy skin. If you are feeling brave, you can flip the bird breast side up for the last half of the cooking time, although this can be tricky.
Take the temperature the right way
To know when the turkey is done, use a meat thermometer to measure the turkey’s temperature. This is the best way to know that your turkey is perfectly roasted.
Start taking the temperature after 2.5 to 3 hours of cooking. If it isn’t done, check the temperature every 15 minutes. Insert the thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh. When the turkey reaches a temperature of 165 degrees, it’s done.
Let it rest
This is such an important step to get the juiciest turkey. Remove from the oven and let it rest for 30 to 40 minutes before carving. I like to cover it loosely with foil. Resting it allows the juices to redistribute.
How to carve a turkey
Be sure to check out this video for a step by step guide on how to carve a turkey. Properly carving a turkey allows you to get as much meat as possible off of the bird and nothing goes to waste.