There are many, many ways to cook a turkey. You might have a special method that has been passed down in your family and it works great. By all means, keep using your method. The method in my family is the most basic recipe you will find anywhere and likely the easiest.
I don’t care if you have a twelve or twenty-two pound turkey the method will be the same and absolutely anyone do it. (any size)
Of course, at this point your turkey is already thawed out. If not, please read How to Safely Thaw a Turkey. Once you are ready to cook your bird follow these simple directions that have never failed me yet.
Remove the wrapper and giblets
Remove your turkey from the refrigerator or the water if you were thawing it that way. Take off the wrapper and remove that bag of giblets. Those will be found inside the turkey if this is your first one. Simply check in the neck cavity and you should find them there.
Heat the oven
Heat the oven to 350°. Make sure that the rack in the oven is low enough to fit your roasting pan. Usually this will be the second position from the bottom.
Place turkey in pan
It is no longer recommended to wash your turkey before cooking. If you have a rack place the turkey on the rack breast side up. This is the traditional method and works best when using a rack. If you do not have a rack do not fret because your bird will still be great. Simple place it in the pan directly. If this bothers, you feel free to roll up some aluminum foil into logs or place some stalks of celery underneath and place the turkey on top. Most people say to cook it breast side up.
I personally do not put anything in the bottom of the pan. If you come from a family that does, no worries…Pour two cups of water in the bottom of the pan. Some people prefer to use chicken broth but it is totally unnecessary and only personal preference.
I rub margarine on my turkey before I put it in the oven. Some people put the butter under the skin but I never have and I have always had good results. It is really not necessary to season your turkey. You may use salt and pepper but it really won’t make a difference.
I have never tied the the legs together or tucked the wings. These are optional and also personal preference.
Tent your turkey
You may wish to tent your turkey with foil until the last hour of cooking time. This helps prevent your turkey from browning too early and getting dry.
Roast your turkey for the allotted time
Roast the turkey for 20 minutes per pound if it was purchased frozen and 15 minutes per pound if you purchased it fresh. Word of caution: This is a guideline and you should start checking your turkey early so that it is not overcooked. Conditions can change this cooking time such as if you stuff your turkey (you do know this is no longer recommended right?).
Don’t skip checking your bird early because I have had it get done in 1/2 of the time recommended. I don’t know if there was a glitch in the oven or what but imagine if I had waited the whole time to check it.
If you wish you may baste your turkey. I do not. If you want to then simply baste with the dripping in the bottom of the pan once it has cooked for a bit. A turkey baster comes in handy for this but if you don’t have one simply spoon some of the liquid over top of the turkey.
If you like a crispy skin and a more brown look when your turkey is finished use butter or margarine during the last 30 minutes to hour of cooking. Rub it all over the area you wish to be brown.
Check for doneness
The best way to tell if your turkey is done is to check the temperature with a meat thermometer. Don’t wait until the estimated cooking time is up to start checking. Start checking when there is 45 minutes left to cook. Put the thermometer in the breast first to check and it should read 165°. For the lower part of the thigh the temperature should reach 180°.
If you have stuffed your turkey be sure to measure the temperature of the stuffing. It should be 165° also.
What if you don’t have a meat thermometer?
I did not have a meat thermometer for years and I survived. If you do not have a meat thermometer cut between the thigh and the breast and be sure that the juices run clear. If you see any pink at all put the turkey back in the oven.
I have since gotten a meat thermometer and it is so much easier. I do recommend getting one.
Optional let the turkey rest
It is recommended to let the turkey rest for 20 minutes before carving. When I heard this I was so worried my turkey would get cold. Simply cover the turkey loosely with aluminum foil and this will help keep your turkey the correct temperature. For many years I did not let my turkey rest and all was well but once I let it rest that first time I truly saw the difference. If you take the time to let it rest then you will be amazed at the amount of juice inside that turkey when you do cut into it. It makes a world of difference.
Why do you need to let the turkey rest?
Well, it isn’t do or die but it does make a difference. During this time of resting the juices redistribute and you end up with a juicier turkey. This is also nice because it allows you time to make your gravy and get the table ready.
Carve, serve and enjoy!
Carve and serve and by all means enjoy. If you remove the wings and thighs first and separate the dark meat it is so easy to carve the breast meat. Simply use a sharp knife and cut close to the breast bone on each side. Be sure to slice this meat for easier serving at the table.
Don’t make yourself or anyone else sick
Food safety! The maximum time your turkey or really any food should be out of the refrigerator is two hours. Keep in mind that it during the life of the food so if you leave it out for 1 hour today you only have one hour left for other times. As soon as you know you won’t be consuming a portion or the remainder of the turkey be sure to put it in the refrigerator.
If you won’t be eating all of the turkey within three days be sure to freeze the part you won’t use for another time. Don’t forget to portion the leftovers so you are only thawing and reheating once. Otherwise, it is into the trash with it and nobody likes to waste good food.
- Unwrap turkey and remove giblets.
- Preheat oven to 350°.
- Place turkey in pan breast side up with or without a rack. Put butter on the outside of the turkey.
- Tent your turkey if desired.
- Roast the turkey 20 minutes per pound.
- Check if it is done: 165° for the breast and stuffing, 180° for the thigh
- Let the turkey rest 20 minutes while you get everything else ready. Cover with foil to maintain proper temperature.
- Carve and serve.
- Refrigerate within 2 hours.
Note: be careful if you have some plans to use sage, lemon, or other seasonings. Know your guests! Does everyone like sage? Does everyone like lemon? A good cook does not think of their own preferences but that of those that will be eating his/her offerings.
I cannot vouch for all of these but others have recommended:
- Cover the turkey with mayonnaise before putting it in the oven and you won’t have to baste it. Supposedly there is no taste of the mayo after cooking.
- You can put carrots, celery and onions in the bottom of your pan instead of using a rack.
- Some people say to use unsalted butter. I do not and I have never had a “salty” tasting bird.
- Wrap the bird in bacon and skip the basting.