Trussing a turkey correctly is essential to assuring that your bird cooks evenly without any unwanted burned spots—or worse, uncooked spots. Luckily, the process of trussing is extremely straightforward and won't take long at all, so there's no excuse for skipping such a crucial part of the process. Whether it's your first time hosting Thanksgiving or you've been around the block a couple times with this, get your trussing skills down now so that you're ready for the big day.
Once the turkey is fully thawed, it’s time to prepare it for roasting. These simple steps make a big difference in the finished bird, and couldn’t be easier. The tuck and truss give the turkey a compact shape and keeps the wing tips and drumsticks from drying out. An elevated roasting rack lets juices drip away from, rather than submerge the bird. A final baste ensures a gorgeous bronze and moist, tender meat.
Step 1: Lift and Tuck Turkey Wings
Lift the wing tips up and over the back so they are tucked tightly beneath the turkey (imagine placing both hands behind your head, elbows bent; the tucked wings will look the same). This will help to prop up the bird and keep the wing tips from burning. Tucking turkey wings also makes handling the bird much easier, and it gives your turkey that classic Thanksgiving centerpiece look.
Step 2: Place the Turkey on a Roasting Rack; Tie Turkey Legs
Elevate the turkey on a roasting rack so heat can circulate beneath and around the bird. This will ensure the bird has adequate airflow, which will help with even cooking. Cut a piece of kitchen twine to about eight inches. Cross the turkey legs, and tie the turkey legs together for a compact shape that will cook more evenly and make handling the turkey more manageable. The neck will flavor any liquid at the bottom of the pan for a fantastic gravy base, so don't toss the pan into the sink once you remove the turkey. You need those delicious liquids.
Step 3: Baste Turkey
While the turkey is cooking, prepare a flavorful liquid for basting the turkey. You can use the natural juices in the bottom of the pan, stock, gravy, oil, butter, or any flavorful basting liquid you want. Baste the turkey in the last 20 minutes of cooking. This final dousing serves as a barrier between the bird and the heat. Since the meat is mostly cooked at this point, this last baste will keep it from drying out.
Now that you've mastered the steps for cooking the turkey, pick out a recipe for the big meal. Our Roast Turkey Recipes are the classic Thanksgiving centerpieces you've treasured your whole life. You'll find traditional recipes, as well as a few adventurous turkey brines and rubs.
If you're looking to try a new cooking technique, our guide to spatchcocking a whole turkey will help you turn out the best roast turkey you've ever had. Once your recipe is decided, learn how to slice up the turkey for your big presentation. Watch our How to Carve a Turkey tutorial for simple tips and techniques for the perfectly carved turkey every time.
- 1 (18 pound) whole turkey
- ½ cup unsalted butter, softened
- salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1 ½ quarts turkey stock
- 8 cups prepared stuffing
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Place rack in the lowest position of the oven.
Remove the turkey neck and giblets, rinse the turkey, and pat dry with paper towels. Place the turkey, breast side up, on a rack in the roasting pan. Loosely fill the body cavity with stuffing. Rub the skin with the softened butter, and season with salt and pepper. Position an aluminum foil tent over the turkey.
Place turkey in the oven, and pour 2 cups turkey stock into the bottom of the roasting pan. Baste all over every 30 minutes with the juices on the bottom of the pan. Whenever the drippings evaporate, add stock to moisten them, about 1 to 2 cups at a time. Remove aluminum foil after 2 1/2 hours. Roast until a meat thermometer inserted in the meaty part of the thigh reads 165 degrees F (75 degrees C), about 4 hours.
Transfer the turkey to a large serving platter, and let it stand for at least 20 to 30 minutes before carving.
Potato Gnocchi Recipe
Crisp, bronzed skin, juicy meat, flavorful pan drippings: These are the hallmarks of a perfectly cooked turkey. Unfortunately, these qualities aren’t always easy to achieve, and all too often, the turkey ends up dry and overcooked. To roast the tastiest bird, cooks employ a wide array of culinary tricks here are some of the most common ones, plus the science behind how (and whether) they work.
Brining makes a bird juicy
This process involves soaking a whole turkey in a salt solution, also known as a brine. The salt in the brine breaks down proteins in the meat and exposes more bonding sites for water molecules, which allows the meat to retain more water as it cooks. During brining, a turkey absorbs 10 to 15 percent additional weight in water. As it cooks, the bird naturally loses 20 to 30 percent of its initial water content, so brining cuts the net loss in half. The result: a juicier turkey. The meat is also tenderer, because some of the broken-down proteins stay soft during cooking, rather than coagulating and firming up as they normally would. Another plus, the salt in the brine makes the bird taste more seasoned (Read Why Brining Keeps Meat So Moist for more on this). On the downside, the pan drippings from a brined bird can be very salty, so be sure to use little to no additional salt in gravy made from the drippings. (Watch the video to learn how to apply a dry brine to your turkey).
Trussing is just for good looks
Tying the turkey’s legs in place helps the bird hold its compact shape, allowing for a more attractive presentation at the table. (Watch our Test Kitchen demo to learn how to properly truss a turkey). But it also reduces the amount of hot air circulating around the legs during roasting and increases the likelihood that the breast meat will overcook before the leg meat is done. You can truss for appearance’s sake, but if you’re planning to skip the table presentation and carve in the kitchen, you’ll get a more evenly roasted bird by leaving it untrussed.
Basting prevents over cooking and browns the skin
Moistening the bird with broth or another watery liquid slows down heat transfer, because the surface cools as the basted on moisture evaporates. This can help keep the turkey breast from overcooking. Basting the turkey evenly with a clear fat like clarified butter or oil during the last 20 to 30 minutes of roasting has the opposite effect, speeding up heat transfer and helping to create a darkly bronzed bird with crisp skin.
Turning the turkey lets it cook evenly
Roasting a bird breast side down for at least half of the cooking time shields the delicate breast meat from heat currents in the oven. It also exposes the thigh meat to direct heat, resulting in more even doneness overall. But at some point, the bird has to be turned breast side up to allow the skin on the breast to brown and crisp. Plan on roasting the turkey breast side up for at least the last hour of roasting. If the breast skin doesn’t show signs of browning, raise the oven temperature slightly and baste the skin with clarified butter or oil. Or as an alternative to flipping, cook the bird breast side up the whole time, but shield the breast with foil until the last half of the roasting time.
Resting the bird makes it easier to carve
A turkey that sits at room temperature for at least 30 minutes after roasting tastes juicier. As the turkey rests, the meat cools down, ideally to about 130°F, which is pleasantly hot for eating. Meanwhile, the proteins in the meat firm up as it cools, so it becomes easier to carve, holds its shape when sliced, and is better able to retain its juice in every slice.
To Stuff or Not to Stuff?
Whether it’s cooked inside the turkey or out, stuffing must reach 160°F to kill bacteria and make it safe to eat. But by the time it reaches that temperature inside the bird, the breast meat is at a much higher temperature and therefore becomes overcooked and dry. That’s why we don’t recommend stuffing the bird. Instead, cook the stuffing separately. To infuse it with turkey flavor, you can spoon some of the turkey pan drippings onto the stuffing just before baking it in its own pan, or spoon the cooked stuffing into the cooked bird for serving. (Watch a video for a step-by-step demo on the best method for stuffing a turkey, ensuring thorough, even cooking for both the stuffing and the bird).
- 2 tablespoons dried parsley
- 2 tablespoons ground dried rosemary
- 2 tablespoons rubbed dried sage
- 2 tablespoons dried thyme leaves
- 1 tablespoon lemon pepper
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 (15 pound) whole turkey, neck and giblets removed
- 2 stalks celery, chopped
- 1 orange, cut into wedges
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 carrot, chopped
- 1 (14.5 ounce) can chicken broth
- 1 (750 milliliter) bottle champagne
Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Line a turkey roaster with long sheets of aluminum foil that will be long enough to wrap over the turkey.
Stir together the parsley, rosemary, sage, thyme, lemon pepper, and salt in a small bowl. Rub the herb mixture into the cavity of the turkey, then stuff with the celery, orange, onion, and carrot. Truss if desired, and place the turkey into the roasting pan. Pour the chicken broth and champagne over the turkey, making sure to get some champagne in the cavity. Bring the aluminum foil over the top of the turkey, and seal. Try to keep the foil from touching the skin of the turkey breast or legs.
Bake the turkey in the preheated oven for 2 1/2 to 3 hours until no longer pink at the bone and the juices run clear. Uncover the turkey, and continue baking until the skin turns golden brown, 30 minutes to 1 hour longer. An instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh, near the bone should read 180 degrees F (82 degrees C). Remove the turkey from the oven, cover with a doubled sheet of aluminum foil, and allow to rest in a warm area 10 to 15 minutes before slicing.
Using a Frozen Turkey
Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes people make when cooking a turkey is not allowing enough time for either cooking it or defrosting it.
If you have a large frozen turkey, it can actually take days,and not just hours to thaw! Prepare ahead and don&rsquot wait until the last minute to defrost your turkey.
The best way to defrost a turkey is to let it thaw slowly in the fridge.
For every 4 pounds of meat, it can take a full day to thaw if you are slowly defrosting in the fridge!
Speeding up the defrosting process
If you&rsquove waited too long, and need to speed up the process, you can thaw the turkey by submerging it in cold water instead. Even then, it will take around a half hour for every pound of meat to defrost.
You&rsquove defrosted your turkey&hellip Now what?
- Don't wash the turkey. Really? You heard me right. Washing the turkey can contaminate your kitchen as water and turkey germs spray. This advice comes straight from the USDA. It's no joke. Cooking the turkey to the right temperature will kill any bacteria that may be lingering in your turkey--you can't wash it away so don't even try.
- Don't brine. To brine or not to brine? You'll find chefs who stand passionately on both sides of this issue. I'm not even going to try to settle it here. If you're a briner, go for it. Me? I don't find it to be worth the trouble. I get great tasting, moist turkeys using my simple steps explained in this post. I've tried brining and didn't find a significant difference. Sometimes I buy pre-brined turkeys from Trader Joe's, but I've abandoned brining them myself.
- Don't stuff the bird. Again, there are people strongly for and against stuffing a turkey. I'm against it. By the time the stuffing is cooked to a safe temperature, the turkey meat is likely to be overcooked. I personally prefer a drier stuffing with crispy edges I cook mine in a casserole dish or bundt pan outside of the oven. (Check out my posts Make-Ahead Cornbread Stuffing recipe and Cornbread Stuffing in a Bundt Pan.) The turkey cooks faster and remains moist when it isn't stuffed.
- Don't cook it low and slow. The outside packaging of every turkey I've ever purchased recommends roasting the turkey at 325 degrees. Not me. I cook mine at a higher heat, and the happy result is that the turkey is juicier and cooks in much less time. It doesn't have to take all day to roast a turkey to perfection.
- Don't baste the bird. Every time you open the oven door to baste, the oven loses heat, and the total cooking time required increases. Basting does nothing to moisturize the meat--it never penetrates the skin. Maybe it will give your turkey skin more unified browning, although even that is debatable. Basting is simply not necessary.
After years of experimenting, here's what I believe to be the keys to a perfectly moist and flavorful roast turkey:
- Do test your oven's temperature acccuracy. All recipe cooking time and temperature recommendations will be unreliable if your oven temperature reading isn't accurate. If you aren't certain whether or not your oven is calibrated accurately, check it well in advance of roasting your turkey. Use an oven thermometer to test your oven. If you set the oven for 350 degrees and the thermometer reads higher or lower, raise or lower your temperature setting until you know where you need to set it in order for it to actually cook at 350 degrees. Also determine the correct setting for an actual temperature of 400 degrees. Those are the 2 temperatures used in this recipe for roasting a turkey. If your oven isn't heated to an accurate temperature, my time and temperature recommendations may not work for you.
- Do thoroughly thaw the turkey. Perhaps the biggest rookie mistake in preparing a turkey is not allowing enough time for it to thaw in the refrigerator. If you buy a frozen turkey, allow at least one day in the fridge for every 4-5 pounds. Never thaw it at room temperature, because the outside will warm to an unsafe, bacteria-friendly temperature before the inside is thawed. Plan on having it completely thawed the day before you'll cook it to guarantee no last-minute frozen turkey panic. (Been there!) If not completely thawed, it will take the turkey longer to cook completely, and the turkey won't cook evenly. It will likely be overcooked and dry near the outside before it is completely cooked inside.
- Do add flavor from the inside out. Add seasonings, onion, and lemon to the inside cavity of the turkey. They infuse flavor and moisture into the meat and drippings, resulting in tastier turkey and gravy (made from the drippings). See step 7 below for more specifics.
- Do cook the turkey at higher heat for the first hour. This seals in the juices and crisps the skin.
- Do cook the turkey breast side down in the beginning and flip it over for the last hour. This way gravity sends some moisture in the naturally juicier dark meat above into the breast meat below. Also, the bottom of the turkey gets nicely browned & cooked from being on top in the beginning. See steps 14 & 15 below for more instructions.
- Do use a thermometer to cook the turkey to exactly the right temperature. This is hugely important and perhaps the most important of all of these tips. There isn't another reliable method for knowing exactly when your turkey is fully cooked, because there are too many variables that determine the necessary cooking time--turkey size, type (heritage and organic turkeys can cook faster), starting temperature anything added to the cavity (dressing or aromatics), type of rack/pan, oven heat (some heat unevenly or have unreliable thermostats, etc.). A remote probe thermometer is recommended--it stays in the turkey while it cooks and sounds an alarm when it has reached the perfect temperature. This eliminates the risk of over- or under-cooking the turkey. (An instant-read thermometer will suffice if you don't have a remote one.) See steps 16,17 & 18 below for instructions on how, when, and where to insert the thermometer.
- Do let the cooked turkey rest for at least 30 minutes. I let mine rest for as long as an hour. This allows the juices to settle in the turkey meat. If you carve it too soon out of the oven, the juices will run out and leave you with a dry turkey. Plus, during the resting time you can use the oven for cooking the stuffing, veggies, or rolls that accompany the meal.
How long to roast a turkey or chicken and how to make sure that you don’t overcook it.
To avoid a dry bird, I recommend using a cooking thermometer. There are loads of them on the market, in all price ranges. This one is my personal favorite (affiliate link). It has a probe that you fit into the thickest portion of the breast. It will stay in the bird and read the temperature all during the cooking process.
Because of carryover cooking, the bird will continue to cook after you’ve removed it from the oven, bringing it to a food-safe temperature for serving of 165 degrees F.
Cooking Time DOES VARY depending on if you are cooking chicken or turkey. A turkey does take longer to roast and therefore it’s a little difficult to say exactly HOW LONG to cook it. Which is why we recommend a cooking thermometer. General rule of thumb for cooking a turkey is 20 minutes per pound, but again that can vary.
When you’re transferring the bird from the roasting pan to the cutting board, you need to be really careful, because it’ll be very hot and very slippery, too. One of the safest ways to work the transfer is with two large serving forks or a poultry lifter.
The Ronco Rotisserie Turkey
A perfectly cooked Thanksgiving Turkey is so simple in your Ronco Rotisserie Oven. The constant rotating of the rotisserie means that your Turkey is continually basting while the high intensity heat allow you to get the delicious, brown and crispy skin you’re looking for.
For this recipe, which we’ve coined The Ronco Rotisserie Turkey, we used simple dry brine and cooked it in our 5500 Series Showtime Rotisserie for about 2 ½ hours. The result was a deliciously seasoned, moist, yet crispy Thanksgiving masterpiece. Dry brining works by opening the pores of the meat, allowing the natural juices to make the meat more moist, while crisping up the skin. I personally prefer a dry brine to wet because of the results and simplicity. A dry brine is typically 1 teaspoon of kosher salt per pound of meat and any other seasonings you may want to add. However, salt alone does the trick as well. The following recipe is what I used. Feel free to mix it up with your favorite seasonings. DO NOT use a dry brine on a Kosher Turkey. Kosher Turkeys have been pre-salted and will result in an overly salted bird.
- 1 teaspoon of KOSHER salt per pound (other salts like sea salt and table salt will make your bird too salty)
- 1-2 tablespoons of cracked black pepper
- 1 tablespoon dried thyme
- 1 tablespoon dried rosemary
How to Roast a Turkey
- Once your turkey placed in the roasting pan on a roasting rack, tied and dried (see steps above for that info,) tent with heavy duty foil making sure that the foil is not touching the top of the turkey.
- Preheat oven to 275 degrees and position rack in the lower third of the oven to allow room for the turkey.
- Roast at this low temperature for 10 minutes per pound. For a 16-17 pound turkey this will be about 2 1/2 hours depending on weight.
- Remove turkey from the oven and discard the foil. Carefully rub the entire turkey, including the cavity in garlic herb butter. It will be a melty mess but don’t worry about that. Just give the entire bird a nice butter massage.
- Turn oven up to 375 degrees and return turkey to the oven for an addition 1 1/2 – 2 1/2 hours depending on size or until the turkey reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees in the thighs.
When to Baste & Rotate:
Half way through your second roast, once the butter has been applied, remove the turkey and quickly brush with the pan drippings. This is usually after about 30 minutes. Basting beyond this point will cause the skin to not crisp up properly so do this step early and return to the oven for the remainder of the roasting time. I also rotate the roasting pan in the oven during this step!
Learn How to Roast a Perfect Turkey – Turkey Roasting Instructions and Video:
1. Oven temperature for cooking a turkey – Set the oven temperature no lower than 325 degrees F. Pre-heating is not necessary.
2. Be sure the turkey is completely thawed. Times are based on fresh or completely thawed frozen birds at a refrigerator temperature of about 40 degrees F. or below.
3. Placing Turkey in Roasting Pan – Place turkey breast-side up on a flat wire rack in a shallow roasting pans, 2 to 2 1/2 inches deep.
Truss or Not to Truss – You do not need to bother with complicated trussing. Instead, secure the legs by tucking the ankle joints into the pocket of skin at the tail end. Tuck wing tips back under the shoulders of bird (called “akimbo”).
Adding Liquid – Add 1 cup chicken broth/stock to the bottom of the turkey pan before beginning the cooking. This will create a steam room-type environment in the oven, which help keep the breast moist but will not prevent browning of the skin.
Tenting the Turkey – In the beginning, a tent of aluminum foil may be place loosely over the breast of the turkey for the first 1 to 1-1/2 hours, then removed for browning. Or, a tent of foil may be placed over the turkey after the turkey has reached the desired golden brown. As part of the study, some birds were tented with foil for the entire cooking time this increased the cooking time required.
4. How to baste a Turkey – Brush the turkey with butter or vegetable oil at the beginning before roasting it in the oven. This will contribute to browning. Basting during the roasting process is an unnecessary extra step. Basting in the last hour of roasting can actually turn a beautiful crisp turkey skin soft.
Easy ways to baste a turkey:
Use a Turkey Baster (bulb turkey baster).
Use a large spoon to scoop up the juices and drizzle over the turkey.
5. What are turkey cooking times? – The new roasting times are based on the recommendations above and on an internal temperature, and 325 degree F. oven temperature. These times are approximate and should always be used in conjunction with a properly placed meat thermometer for roasting perfect turkey.
Approximate Turkey Cooking Times:
6. Taking The Turkey’s Internal Temperature – The USDA has come up with a one-temperature-suits-all for poultry safety: 165 degrees F. For safety and doneness, the internal temperature should be checked with a meat thermometer.
This is the type of cooking and meat thermometer that I prefer and use in my cooking. I get many readers asking what cooking/meat thermometer that I prefer and use in my cooking and baking. I, personally, use the Thermapen Thermometer shown in the photo on the right. To learn more about this excellent thermometer and to also purchase one (if you desire), just click on the Thermapen Thermometer . – Affiliate Link
To Take Temperature of Thigh – Place the thermometer in the thickest part of thigh away from the bone of the turkey to check the internal temperature at intervals during the cooking time.
To Take Temperature of Breast – Insert thermometer at neck end, holding it parallel to the turkey. Confirm temperature by inserting thermometer in both sides of the turkey.
Cleaning Meat Thermometer – After each use, wash the stem section of the thermometer thoroughly in hot, soapy water.
Pop-Up Thermometer – If your turkey has a “pop-up” temperature indicator, it is also recommended that you also check the internal temperature of the turkey in the innermost part of the thigh and wine, and the thickest part of the breast with a meat thermometer. Pop-Up thermometer are not usually accurate.
Temperature of Cooked Turkey and Stuffing/Dressing – The temperature must reach a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees F. in the thigh before removing from the oven. The center of the stuffing should reach 165 degrees F. after stand time.
In Absence of a Meat Thermometer – Juices should be clear. Pierce the turkey with a fork in several places juices should be clear with no trace of pink. NOTE: The old-fashioned way of wiggling the leg to see if it’s loose will give you an indication that the turkey is ready, but unfortunately, by the time the leg is truly loose, the turkey is sadly overcooked. The only reliable test for doneness is to check the internal temperature with a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh, without touching the bone.
7. Removing the Turkey From the Oven – Once you remove the turkey from the oven, tent it with aluminum foil and allow it to rest for 20 to 30 minutes, so the meat can firm up and hold the juices, making it easier to carve.
8. Letting the Turkey Rest – Resting allows for the redistribution and re-absorption of the juices in the meat before slicing. This makes for ultra-moist, flavorful meat while also giving the turkey a chance to cool for easier carving. If you skip this important step, you will both burn yourself and end up with a flood of juices on your carving board, not to mention a dry turkey.
Learn how to carve a turkey – Video Instruction
Different Types of Turkey Cooking Styles:
Barbecued or Grilled Turkey
Outdoor barbecuing or grilling is a very easy and a efficient way to cook your Thanksgiving or Christmas turkey. No mess in your oven or the kitchen! A whole turkey may be prepared on either a gas grill or a charcoal grill. This method requires a covered barbecue grill and heavy duty aluminum foil. Your turkey will be crisp outside and juicy inside.
Cajun Fried Turkey
This is the best way of cooking a turkey I have ever tasted! This way of cooking your turkey is anything but greasy as the deep-frying process seals the outside and the turkey remains incredibly juicy, while the skin gets wonderfully crispy. These fried turkeys were a big hit at our festival!
This style of pit cooking is also know as “Bean Hold Cooking.” A pit barbecue is an exercise in turning a hole in the ground into an oven with hot coals provide the heat. Covering the top with aluminum foil and then dirt, regulates the oxygen so the coals burn slowly, providing an even, controlled heat for many hours. If you have the time and place to cook your holiday turkey in an outdoor pit. This make a great Thanksgiving or Christmas turkey dinner.
Smoking a turkey is no different from barbecuing in your back yard. You follow all these rules without even noticing them in most cases – so go ahead, give it a try. You will not be dissatisfied when you try a smoked turkey.