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How To Roast A Turkey

Follow step-by-step, photo illustrated instructions to learn just how easy it is to roast a Turkey in your oven.  No brine is involved, and you can do many of the steps ahead of time to make it even easier. You’ll have your turkey in and out of the oven in plenty of time to finish off those other favorite side dishes without all the last minute rush.  Printable recipe is included.

Roast Turkey, slider.

How To Roast A Turkey:

There is absolutely NO reason for you to be afraid to roast a turkey.  Maybe this is your first time cooking Thanksgiving or Christmas Dinner for the family and in-laws, but you have nothing to fear… but fear itself.  (Where have I heard that before?)

All you need is enough time to do some pre-meal planning and a good enough plan to make it all happen.  If you’ll take some time now, before the holiday arrives, to layout your plans for prepping and preparing the meal, I think you’ll find it to be pretty easy.  It should also be enjoyable, for not only the family, but for YOU as well.  I hope we can help make that happen for you.

Over the years, I’ve cooked turkeys in brown grocery bags, in plastic cooking bags, and smoked them on the grill.  Smoked would be my favorite, but we’ll have to get to that one another time.  This will be a basic step-by-step on how to safely roast a turkey… in the oven.

YES, cooking a turkey can present some problems.  And, if you’ll search cookbooks, and the internet, you’ll find a thousand and one different recipes and ways to cook one of the birds.  This is just a good basic way to roast one in the oven without stressing out over the holidays.

Food safety is always super important.  It just seems that we read and hear so much more about it when it comes to cooking turkeys for Thanksgiving or Christmas.  Most problems are caused by unsafe food handling practices, or failure to properly clean up after yourself as you go along, to keep from cross contaminating some of your other foods.  You CAN do it safely and without fear of making someone sick.

The Internet is full of ideas and information on how to prepare the perfect Thanksgiving Menu.  Whatever that might be for your family, I think we can at least get you off on a good start with some easy steps to roasting that turkey to perfection.  We’ll try anyway.

This recipe starts out with a fully thawed, whole turkey.  We also start out one day before the actual day we intend to roast the turkey, so keep that in mind as you read on.  Most turkeys purchased these days will have information on how to thaw and roast the turkey right on the outside of the packaging for the bird itself.  Read over that carefully, making mental notes as needed, and you shouldn’t have any problems.

I’ve tried to cover the basics with this recipe and make it easy to follow.  I do want you to make note that we start roasting the turkey in a 425º oven, but after 30 minutes, we reduce that down to 325º.  And, as mentioned, we don’t use a brine for our turkey, nor are we making it with stuffing on the inside.  It’s just a pretty simple and basic primer on how you can Roast A Turkey.

Before we begin, let me also remind you of some really good information and helpful sources you might also want to consult.  From properly thawing out your turkey, to roasting, grilling or whatever else you might need to do.  I happily recommend the Butterball Turkey website… AND… the Butterball Turkey Talk Line where you can talk to real people and get real answers to your turkey cooking questions.

Years back, I would interview many of the Butterball Turkey Talk Line operators on my radio programs.  They were always extremely courteous, very helpful, and eager to answer questions.  They aren’t paying me one penny to tell you that.  They aren’t a sponsor, nor do they advertise on our site… yet.  Maybe one day.  I just think they have a ton of useful information, too much for me to try and duplicate here, so you might want to check them out as well.  You can do that… HERE.  Just click the link.

So, ready to get in there and show everyone you can tackle Thanksgiving or Christmas Dinner with ease? Alright then, Let’s Get Cooking!

Roast Turkey, ingredients.

Oven Roasted Turkey:  You’ll need these ingredients.  How simple is that?

One day prior to roasting.

The day before roasting your turkey, do the following few steps to prepare the turkey.

Roast Turkey, remove from wrapper.

Yes, I’m going to remind you that you’ll need to remove the turkey from it’s packaging.  No, I don’t think you’re so dumb that you wouldn’t do that before we get started.  I do it, to remind you that there is usually some good information about your turkey right there on the outside of the package your bird came in.  Be sure to look it over, and read it carefully before you begin.

Most importantly, it should tell you how to properly THAW your frozen turkey if that’s what you’re using. Most folks will use frozen as they are usually much cheaper than a fresh turkey.  I brought this one home and placed it in my refrigerator where it thawed over several days as directed.  Now that it’s fully thawed and ready to start the process of cooking, let’s proceed.

I place my turkey in a clean sink in order to do the prep work for it.  You’ll just want to use lots of good safe food handling practices as you work with chicken or poultry, and be sure to clean up properly after each step.  More on that later.

Roast Turkey, remove any strings or bands.

The turkey legs can be secured in several different ways.  Some companies use a plastic tie contraption of sorts, some use a metal band, some might use string.  This one just had the ends of the legs tucked under a section of the skin.  Either way, you’ll want to free up the legs so we can properly wash and clean the turkey.  Remove any plastic or metal bands and let those legs kick free.  If your turkey has the legs tucked under some skin, like this one, be very careful not to cut or break that as you’re pulling the legs free.  We’ll need that skin flap to hold the legs in place later.

Roast Turkey, remove any pieces from the body and neck cavity.

Many folks will somehow overlook this next step.  We don’t want YOU to be one of them.  Reach inside the body of the turkey and see what pieces are inside.  This one had the neck bone hidden inside.  You’ll want to remove it and set it aside for later.  You could also find other turkey parts inside, like the gizzard and livers, or they could be in the neck cavity.

Lift the flap of skin covering the neck cavity and fully check inside for any other goodies.  Make sure you remove everything from inside this area.

Roast Turkey, remove all parts.

This particular turkey had a package of parts inside the neck cavity.  Different companies do it differently, so don’t be surprised if you don’t get a paper packet.  Just remove all of the turkey parts and set them aside for later.  These pieces will be used to make the Giblet Gravy later on.

Roast Turkey, trim any loose skin.

You might also find some flaps of loose skin around the neck area.  Just use a sharp knife and trim them off, saving them with the giblet parts for later.  Look the bird over and trim away any other large pieces of loose skin that might be hanging loose.  The companies have worked hard to trim their turkeys so they can leave this attached, and so that you’ll have more turkey to pay for at the register.  I guess you can’t blame them, they’re just being smart about it.  It’s not a big deal as these parts will help add more flavor to the gravy.

Roast Turkey, rinse inside.

Use cold running water to rinse the inside of the body and neck cavities.  Don’t be shy about sticking your hands inside to make sure there isn’t anything left in either area.  Just rinse them out really good.

Roast Turkey, rinse the outside.

Then, continue by rinsing the outside really well.  Rub your hands over it and check it carefully for any pin feathers that might still be attached.  I found a couple but failed to actually get a good picture of it.  They’ll probably look like small yellow pieces of skin, but just pull them out and remove them if you find a few.

Roast Turkey, pat dry with paper towels.

Once you’re sure the turkey is clean inside and outside, drain out any water from the neck and body cavities.  I just hold each end up for a minute or so and let the water inside drain out.  Then, use several layers of folded paper towels to pat the turkey dry.

Roast Turkey, pat dry the insides as well.

Poke the paper towels inside and wipe dry the inner parts.  The turkey likes this as you can easily tell by the expression of the “happy wings.”

Roast Turkey, salt the bird all over.

With as much water removed as possible, sprinkle salt all over the outside of the bird.  Flip it over as needed, and be sure you get some salt down in between the legs and the wing sections.  It needs a good light coating of salt over all the parts.

Roast Turkey, save the giblets.

Save the giblet pieces, neck bone, and any other pieces you’ve trimmed away.  You can refrigerate these until needed, or go ahead and start work on that Giblet Gravy.  We’ve got a recipe for making Giblet Gravy here on Taste of Southern that you might want to try.  Check it out:  Giblet Gravy

Roast Turkey, refrigerate the turkey over night.

Place the lightly salted turkey in a roasting pan or baking pan.

Refrigerate overnight, uncovered.

Then, place the turkey and pan in your refrigerator over night.  Leave the turkey uncovered during this time.

Adding the salt and letting it set in the refrigerator overnight is going to help dry out the skin so we’ll have a good crispy outer layer on the turkey once it’s cooked.  It’s best that you not have any other uncovered food dishes in your refrigerator at the same time.  If you do, you might want to just wrap them with plastic wrap while the turkey is in the fridge.  Again, safe food handling is what you want to concentrate on most while roasting a turkey.

Roast Turkey, wash the sink and any other surfaces.

Use hot, soapy water, to wash out your sink and any other surfaces that the raw turkey might have come in contact with.  Just give it all a good scrubbing and rinse it out really well.

Roast Turkey, sanitize the surfaces.

I keep a small spray bottle in my kitchen that contains a mixture of water and a little bleach.  After I’ve thoroughly washed out the sink with hot soapy water, I spray a thin layer of this solution all around the inside of the sink and let it air dry.  This goes back to my days of working in the restaurant where we were required to have this solution on hand at all times to clean cutting boards and tables with.

In the restaurant, we also had to keep a supply of test strips on hand so we could check the chlorine content in the spray bottles.  It had to be mixed to the proper proportions or you’d get docked a point or more on your ratings when the Health Inspector stopped by for a surprise visit.  Nothing could ruin your day more than seeing the Health Inspector pull up in your parking lot.  Even though we ran a tight kitchen, you always wondered what you might have overlooked on that particular day.

And, in case you’re wondering, I do indeed have the test strips in my home kitchen to make sure I mix the bleach and water correctly.  The amount of water in the bottle determines how much bleach to add, then you use a strip to test it and make sure it’s correct.  Mostly though, I keep this on hand for the days I go out with my brother and help with a barbecue catering job.  Those can get inspected as well and we have to keep everything up to standard pretty much just like being inside a restaurant.  It’s all a good thing though.

Two hours prior to roasting.

On the day you plan to cook the turkey, take it out of the refrigerator two hours before the time you plan on placing it in the oven to roast.  You will also need to figure in an additional hour to give the cooked turkey time to rest and regain moisture AFTER it’s cooked.  Figure carefully.

2 hours prior to cooking.
?? actual cooking time needed, based on weight.
1 hour to rest, after roasting.

Good planning helps remove the stress of the days activities.

Roast Turkey, refrigerate the turkey over night.

TWO HOURS before you intend to put the turkey in the oven and start the cooking process, remove it from the refrigerator.  You’ll also need to take out the stick of butter and let it come up to room temperature.

If desired, take a clean paper towel and wipe away any excess amount of salt that might be on the skin.  This is a personal preference and not necessary, unless you were really heavy handed when you applied the salt.  You don’t want the skin to ruin the taste of the turkey by being over salty.

Let the turkey sit uncovered on the counter for one hour, then proceed to the next steps.

Roast Turkey, butter the turkey.

After one hour:  I placed a large piece of parchment paper on my board and placed my turkey on it to prepare it for roasting. I’m not going to let it come completely up to room temperature but this time of sitting out will help greatly in roasting the bird more evenly all the way through.

Slice the stick of butter into several pieces and begin rubbing it all over the turkey, massaging it into the skin.  Lift the legs, lift the wings, and make sure you have it well coated all over.  It will reward your tender massaging techniques with some great tasting food very shortly.

Roast Turkey, secure the legs.

Once it’s buttered all over, I tucked the legs back inside the section of skin, just as it was when I opened it.  You might need to use some kitchen string to tie the legs together on your particular bird.  Trussing the legs is pretty easy to do, and you can find how to do that somewhere on the Internet I’m sure.  If I actually had any kitchen twine here at home, I would have tried to include that in this tutorial.  I’m sorry if I’ve let you down, please forgive me.

Note to self:  Buy some kitchen twine very soon, it really comes in handy when you need it.

Roast Turkey, secure the wings.

Some folks prefer to cut off the tip end of the wing.  I don’t do that personally.  I tuck it under the body of the turkey and find that it helps hold it up straight while it’s roasting.  If per chance it burns, or gets overcooked, I will take it off afterwards, and no one will ever see it on the serving platter.

Roast Turkey, roasting pan.

If your bird isn’t too large, you don’t have to have one of those fancy roasting pans.  They’re great if you do, but not a necessity.  Here, I’m using a regular sheet cake baking pan.  I’ve rolled some strips of aluminum foil and placed them inside the pan as pictured.  You could also line the pan itself with aluminum foil just to make clean up easier.

These rolled strips will keep the bird up off the bottom of the pan and help it cook better.  The bottom of the bird will not sit in liquid all the time and will come out cooked on bottom about as well as it’s cooked on top.  The wire racks I have were a bit too big for the pan, but this works just as well.  Once the pan is ready, place the raw turkey in the pan, breast side up.

Roast Turkey, butter the inside.

Any left over butter is then placed inside the turkey cavity.  I’ve also rubbed inside the neck cavity as well.

At this point, you could add some sliced onions, garlic pieces, or some fresh herbs to add additional flavor as the turkey cooks.  It’s my goal here however, to just show you how to roast a basic turkey.  I don’t add stuffing inside the bird, and that would be another whole story just within itself. Keep it simple the first time or two, and then work on making the recipe your very own after you’ve got the basics down.

Roast Turkey, ready for the oven.

Here’s my turkey, all buttered up and ready for the oven.  The roasting pan needs to sit on the bottom rack inside the oven.  Any other racks should be removed.  Let the turkey sit for another few minutes while we preheat the oven.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Preheat the oven to 425º.

Roast Turkey, ready for the oven.

Place the turkey in the oven once the oven temperature reaches 425º.

Roast Turkey, baking time and temp.

PLEASE NOTE:   The turkey should only cook at 425º for the first 30 minutes.

After that, REDUCE the temperature down to 325º.

It’s very important that you not let the turkey cook at the higher temperature for the entire time, or you’ll likely burn the outer skin.

Roast Turkey, after one hour.

AFTER ONE HOUR:  This is after letting the turkey roast the first hour.  I took it out so I could get better pictures for you, but you’d want to just leave yours in the oven if at all possible while doing the next step.

Roast Turkey, baste with pan juices.

Use a small basting brush if you have one, or a spoon will also work.  Dip the brush in the juices that are in the bottom of the pan and brush a good coat of it all over the outside of the bird.  If using a spoon, scoop up the juices and drizzle it over the bird.  Slide the turkey back in the oven and close the door.  So far… so good.

Roast Turkey, after two hours.

AFTER TWO HOURS:  The outer skin is starting to brown and I’ve still got a little cooking time left to go.   Baste the turkey one more time.

Roast Turkey, tent if needed.

If you see that your turkey will need to cook much longer, you might want to fold a piece of aluminum foil, and gently lay it down on top of the turkey.  This “tent” will keep the outer surface from over browning, or burning, while the turkey continues to roast, up to the required temperature to be safely considered done.  Just slip it back inside the oven and let it cook a little longer.

Roast Turkey, check thigh meat.

You’ll want to check the temperature in both the darker thigh meat and the white breast meat.  I’m right at 170º at this point in this section of the thigh.  The darker meat will take longer to cook so check it in the thickest part of the thigh on both legs.  And, be sure to check the temperature in the thickest part of the breast meat.  Just be sure the end of the thermometer is not pushed up against a bone, as that would give you an inaccurate reading.

BY THE WAY, my turkey didn’t come with one of those popup timers.  They’re better than nothing if that’s all you’ve got, but if you have a meat thermometer, be sure to use that to check the internal temperature of the turkey as it’s cooking.

You’ll find lots of different variations on cooking temperatures that the bird needs to reach in order for it to be safe.  Most of them will be higher temperatures just trying to keep everyone from getting sick from eating turkey.  That’s good, no doubt.  I cooked this one to about 165º-170º when measured in the thigh meat before pulling it out of the oven.  The bird will continue to cook and will rise in temperature once it’s pulled from the oven anyway.  If it cooks way up to 185º as is often recommended, it could get up to 200º once it’s removed from the oven.  That’s why many turkeys come out dry and over cooked.

I certainly want you to be safe with whatever you’re cooking and I can only say that THIS is the way that I do it AND that I will ALWAYS test it with a thermometer a couple of times along the way to be sure it’s done.  I strongly suggest you do whatever you will feel most comfortable with for your family.

Roast Turkey, remove from oven.

Here’s my roasted turkey straight out of the oven.  What do you think?  I think it has great color and I’ll be proud to place it on the big table for the family to enjoy.

LET IT REST:  At this point, the turkey just needs to sit and continue to do it’s thing for about one more hour.  As I mentioned, it will continue to rise in temperature and cook for awhile longer before it starts to cool back down.  Letting the meat rest awhile is very important to the overall taste and quality of the finished product.  Resting will allow some of the juices to redistribute back into the meat and will help it to be moist instead of dry when carved.

I suggest you go ahead and move the bird over to the serving platter and let it just rest on the platter until time to carve it up.

Roast Turkey, pan juices.

Don’t throw away the juices in the roasting pan.  If you haven’t made that Giblet Gravy already, we can use the drippings to help add more flavor to the gravy.

Just pour the drippings and juices into a measuring cup.  Or, if you have one of those fancy cups that separates the fat from the juices, use that.  I’ve never invested in one, so a measuring cup works just fine for me.

As it cools, the fats will rise to the top and the pan juices will settle to the bottom.  We will use this to make gravy and you’ll find our recipe for that here… Giblet Gravy.

You can make the gravy while the turkey is resting if you haven’t already used the giblets and made it ahead of time.  Either way works well.

Roast Turkey, enjoy.


With proper planning you can cook a full Thanksgiving or Christmas Turkey without getting all frazzled out and upset about how it’s all going to turn out.  Our How To Roast A Turkey recipe allows you to do most of the prep work far enough in advance to avoid any problems.  And, by letting it rest for a good hour or so once it comes out of the oven, your oven will be free to cook, or warm up, some of the other side dishes you’ve prepared.

I wish you great success with it and I trust we’ve been able to help at least a little bit.  I’ll be waiting to hear from you.

Be Blessed!!!

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