This post first appeared on Yellow Bliss Road where I am a contributor.
Need to know How to Cook a Thanksgiving Turkey for your holiday guests? This step-by-step recipe for a fool-proof roasted turkey comes 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.
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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.
How to Cook Thanksgiving Turkey
Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F.
In a bowl, stir together the salt, thyme, sage, paprika, pepper, and ground mustard until everything’s mixed up really well. Set the turkey dry rub aside.
Remove the turkey from its packaging. Remove the neck and the bag containing the gizzards and heart from the turkey’s cavity. (You can keep these items to make stock or discard them. Your choice.)
Use paper towels to dry off the skin of the bird and inside the cavity. Then place the turkey on the rack of your roasting pan. If you aren’t using a roasting rack, roll some foil into a thick snake-like tube and then form into an oval. Place the oval in the bottom of the roasting pan and set your turkey on it. This will help keep the bottom of the bird doesn’t get soggy.
Lift the skin on the turkey breast by sliding your hand under the skin on the side closest to the legs. Don’t be afraid to get in there and separate it from the breast meat. Do this on both sides of the breast.
Insert three pats of butter under the skin on each side of the turkey breast spreading them evenly across the breast.
Sprinkle the dry rub all over the turkey. On the breast, legs, wings, anything you can see. Don’t worry about the bottom of the turkey. The juices and butter are going to drip on the bird and season that area. If you have any extra rub once the turkey is coated, sprinkle it inside the cavity.
Place the onion halves and garlic cloves inside the turkey cavity. Shove ’em all the way in there.
- Next, 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 and plus extra sticking over the sides. Press down and mold the foil to the breast while avoiding the legs. Let the ends stick up if the foil is a little big so the legs aren’t covered.
Place the turkey in the oven and roast for 2 hours (depending on the size of your turkey – see my cooking chart below).
After 2 hours, remove the turkey from the oven. Carefully take off the foil from the turkey and baste the bird in the pan juices.
Increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees F and cook the turkey for another hour. The internal temperature of the breast will reach 165 degrees F and the skin is golden and crispy when your bird is done. If the pan is too hot for the fats and juice that ran off during the first roasting, pour in 1/2 cup chicken broth to help stop the popping and smoking.
Remove your turkey from the oven and let it rest for 10 to 20 minutes before carving.
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!!
How Long to Cook a Turkey
If you’re filling your turkey with stuffing: Add another 30 minutes to the 325F roasting time regardless of bird size. Then continue on as planned.
Now, this whole butchering thing. You’ve seen a million movies with Dad at the head of the table. He slices of the edge of the turkey breast off 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.
How to Carve a Thanksgiving Turkey
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.)
Thanksgiving Side Dishes & Desserts!
These are my favorite recipes to round out our Thanksgiving dinner. Mix and match to create your perfect holiday meal!
- Easy Turkey Gravy Recipe
- Pesto Mashed Potatoes or Roasted Red Potatoes
- Maple Glazed Sweet Potatoes with Bacon
- Southern Fried Corn
- Thanksgiving Sausage Stuffing
- Green Bean Casserole from Scratch
- Brown Sugar Cranberry Sauce
- Copycat Cheddar Bay Biscuits
Recipes to make with turkey leftovers
- Cranberry, Brie & Bacon Turkey Sandwich
- Ham & Turkey Sliders
- Sweet Potato & Turkey Pizza
- Green Chile & Avocado Turkey Club
Holiday Dinner Entree Ideas
- How to Cook Prime Rib
- Spiral Ham with Pineapple Glaze
- Spinach Dip Stuffed Pork Loin
- Brown Sugar Bourbon Ham
- Corned Beef and Cabbage
- More dinner recipes…
How to Cook Thanksgiving Turkey
- 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
- 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.