From buying the right turkey, to learning the proper cook times and oven temperatures, making a turkey for Thanksgiving may seem daunting. But despite all the hype about the difficulty of cooking the perfect holiday bird, the dish really isn’t that complicated. Whether you’re a beginner or a veteran in the kitchen who needs a Thanksgiving Day crash course, this guide is for you. Here are 9 easy steps to cooking a whole fresh or frozen turkey in an oven for Thanksgiving:
You will need:
- A turkey (Don’t know the exact poundage you need for your guests? Follow this guide.)
- Cooking oil
- A flat roasting rack (or vegetables)
- A 2-2½-inch-deep cooking pan
- 2 cups of water or broth
- Tin foil
- A baster
- Anywhere from 2 to 6 hours of your time.
Before you start cooking:
- Before you even think about cooking your bird, you need to make sure it's properly thawed. It typically takes a full frozen turkey three days in the fridge to completely thaw, according to TheKitchn.com, or 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds. You can also use cold water to help speed up the process. (Find out how to do that safely here.) The U.S. Food and Drug Administration advises against leaving your turkey at room temperature to thaw for more than 2 hours due to the dangers of foodborne bacteria.
- Preheat your oven. Butterball advises customers to cook their birds at 325 degrees Fahrenheit in both regular and convection ovens.
- Don't forget to removing any packaging and the turkey's giblets in both the body and neck cavities. You can either toss these or use them for stuffing or soup.
1. Start by placing your turkey on a flat roasting rack in a shallow roasting pan breast side up (preferably a pan that is 2 to 2½ inches deep) and patting it dry of excess juices. (If you do not have a flat rack, place vegetables, such as carrots, on the bottom of the pan to keep the turkey from sticking.)
2. Tuck the turkey’s wings back to allow for more stabilization during the carving process. Brush/spray the skin with a small amount of cooking oil. This will help brown the skin and give the turkey a richer flavor.
3. Put a meat thermometer in the lower part of the thigh, away from any bone. This will help you keep track of when the turkey is done cooking.
4. In order to keep your bird from sticking and to help keep it moist, TheKitchn.com suggests putting 2 cups of broth or water in the roasting pan. The liquid can be used for basting during the cooking process. This is not required.
5. Once your oven is sufficiently preheated and your bird is prepped, place the turkey inside. When it's two-thirds done cooking (more on cook times below), take the turkey out of the oven. Cover the more sensitive parts of the bird, such as the breasts and the top of the drumsticks, with tin foil in order to keep them from drying out.
6. If you’re basting, use a baster or spoon to cover your turkey with the water or broth solution. (Williams-Sonoma suggests basting every 30 minutes.)
7. Your turkey is done when the thermometer reads 180 degrees Fahrenheit in the thigh and 165 in the breast, according to Butterball’s recipe.
8. When your bird is done, transfer it to a platter and let stand for at least 15 minutes. Carving too soon can release important juices that keep the meat tender.
9. To carve, TheKitchn.com advises using a sharp knife and removing the legs first. Do this by pulling back each leg until the joint pops and then cutting through the joint. Next, cut downward into the center of the breast. Next, remove the wings by pulling them away from the bird and cutting at the joint. Last, separate the thighs from the drumsticks by cutting at the joint.
Cook times (courtesy of Butterball):
For a regular oven
4½-7 pounds: 2-2½ hours (unstuffed), 2¼-2¾ hours (stuffed)
7-9 pounds: 2½-3 hours (unstuffed), 2¾- 4½ hours (stuffed)
9-18 pounds: 3-3½ hours (unstuffed), 3¾-4½ hours (stuffed)
18-22 pounds: 3½-4 hours (unstuffed), 4½-5 hours (stuffed)
22-24 pounds: 4-4½ hours (unstuffed), 5-5½ hours (stuffed)
24-30 pounds: 4½-5 hours (unstuffed), 5½-6¼ hours (stuffed)
For a convection oven
6-10 pounds: 1½-2 hours (unstuffed), 1¾- 2½ hours (stuffed)
10-18 pounds: 2-2½ hours (unstuffed), 2½-3¼ hours (stuffed)
18-22 pounds: 2½-3 hours (unstuffed), 3¼-3¾ hours (stuffed)
22-24 pounds: 3-3½ hours (unstuffed), 3¾-4¼ hours (stuffed)