Don’t let this big bird worry you! Learn How to Cook Thanksgiving Turkey and slice it up right for your holiday guests. This recipe is fool-proof and your turkey will come out juicy every time!
I remember the first Thanksgiving dinner I hosted…AKA my first time making a whole turkey. It was just a few short years ago and I was SO nervous! What if the bird came out dry? What if it wasn’t cooked all the way through? Ahhhhh! I had a friend give me some words of encouragement and remind me that a turkey is basically a really big chicken, and I had roasted LOTS of chickens before. So I did some research and after finding tons of different ways to make the “perfect” turkey, I decided to combine a few methods. The turkey was edible and I felt accomplished.
Since then I’ve made whole turkeys almost every year at Thanksgiving. I’ve basted. I’ve brined. I’ve rubbed. If you’re thinking about bringing your turkey, and don’t mind getting up at 2AM to start it, go for it! The turkey that year was crazy good. However, lots of butter paired with a great dry rub and aromatics has become my favorite flavoring system. The real secret to this bird it the foil. Placing aluminum foil over the turkey breast helps dissipate some of the heat. Since dark meat takes longer to cook than the light meat, this method lets the thighs and legs get their roast on while the breast gently cooks. Once the foil comes off, everything cooks at the same pace and that gorgeous golden skin forms. This turkey is juicy and super flavorful!
When you’re ready to begin, take a breath and repeat this mantra “It’s just a big chicken.” Now let’s do this! While Thanksgiving has always had this stigma of being a daunting meal to pull off, I promise it’s not. It’s all about timing and not letting your bird get the best of you. So let’s take this one step at a time. You can do this! I believe in you!!
Now, this whole butchering thing. You’ve seen a million movies when the dad at the head of the table slices of the edge of the turkey breast and works his way in for a big presentation at the table. Don’t do it. While this turkey comes out nice and juicy, the outer edges of the breast will still be drier than the centers.
To give everyone at your table the same turkey experience…
- Cut off the whole breast and then slice across it. Everyone will get the same delicious piece of white meat. Slide your knife down along one side of the breastbone cutting the meat from the bone. Toward the bottom of the breast, turn your knife out slightly towards to outside of the turkey to finish separating the breast from the rest of the bird. Repeat on the other side. Easy peasy, promise. And if you miss a little meat, pick it off with your fingers and snack while you work on the rest of dinner!
- For the rest of the bird, cut through the skin and locate the joints (leg to thigh and thigh to body). Slide your knife blade in between the end of each bone and slice through to remove the dark meat. I like to bone the thighs before serving and leave the legs whole.
- If you’d like to serve the wings, find the wing to body joint and cut through it just like the leg and thigh. (You can see how to cleave the joints HERE).
- Place all the turkey meat on a large platter and serve immediately. (OR keep the platter covered loosely with foil in a warm oven until ready to serve, but the skin may not stay as crispy.)
Our favorite Thanksgiving recipes to serve with this holiday turkey
Hungry for Turkey Leftovers?
How to Cook Thanksgiving Turkey
- One 12-pound turkey thawed
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter cut into 1 Tablespoon pats
- 1 1/2 yellow onions peeled and halved
- 4 garlic cloves peeled
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 teaspoons dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon dried sage
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon ground mustard
Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F.
In a bowl, combine the salt, thyme, sage, paprika, pepper, and ground mustard until evenly incorporated.
Remove the turkey from its packaging. From the bird's cavity, remove the neck and the bag containing the gizzards and heart. (You can keep these items to make stock or discard them.)
Use a few paper towels to dry off the skin of the bird and inside the cavity.
Lift the skin over the turkey breast (on the side closest to the legs) and slide your hand under the skin separating it from the breast meat. Do this on both sides of the breast.
Insert three pats of butter under the skin on one side fo the turkey breast spreading them around evenly. Repeat on the other side.
Sprinkle the dry rub all over the turkey - breast, legs, wings, anything you can see. Using your hands press the rub into the skin a little. If you have any extra rub sprinkle it inside the cavity.
Place the onion halves and garlic cloves inside the turkey's cavity.
Transfer the bird to your roasting pan. (I like to use a pan with a rack to keep the bottom of the turkey from getting soggy.)
Take a good-sized piece of foil and place it over the turkey breast. (You want to make sure to the foil piece is big enough to fit over the whole breast.) Press down and mold the foil to the breast., let the ends stick out if the foil's a bit big.
Place the turkey in the oven and roast for 2 hours. Carefully remove the foil from the turkey. Increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees and cook the turkey for another hour, or until the internal temperature of the breast reaches 165 degrees F and the skin is golden and crispy.
Remove the turkey from the oven and let it rest briefly before carving.
If your bird is bigger then 12 pounds, add 15 minutes of cook time at 325 degrees F for each additional pound. (ex. a 14-pound turkey will roast for 2 1/2 hours at 325 degrees F and then 1 hour at 400 degrees F.)
This post first appeared on Yellow Bliss Road where I am a contributor.