Don’t panic if you have everyone coming over this Thanksgiving. With these easy instructions and a meat thermometer, you can easily serve the perfect roast turkey.
This Thanksgiving, I am not hosting the big meal. Now that my parents have moved to San Diego, my mom enjoys having us all over at her house for Thanksgiving. For the past 20 years, my parents lived in Houston and there were no kids or grandkids around for Thanksgiving.
Although I am not roasting turkey this year, I am bringing over side dishes. You can’t keep me totally out of the kitchen! Well, confession time. I did roast a turkey this week. I couldn’t help myself.
I LOVE the Thanksgiving meal! My husband thought I was crazy, but I didn’t care. Stuffing, cranberry sauce, green beans and turkey – I made it all. Even a pumpkin pie. And honestly, it didn’t take days and days to prepare the perfect roast turkey.
One of my favorite Thanksgiving memories was when my kids were little (4, 2 and 6 weeks old). We were invited to a friend’s house that year and we got the call Thanksgiving morning. Everyone was sick with the stomach flu!
Plans got cancelled and my hubby ran off to the grocery store so I could whip up a Thanksgiving meal for ourselves on the fly.
Lucky for us, they had thawed turkeys. There are two keys to the perfect roast turkey, and they happen before you even stick it in the oven: the quality of your bird and the thawing process.
How to Thaw a Frozen Turkey
Frozen turkeys need a few days to thaw in the fridge, approximately 24 hours for every five pounds of turkey. You can thaw your frozen turkey more quickly, by placing it in a cold water bath and changing the water every 30 minutes until it’s thawed.
Um, that’s great when you are pressed for time, but that’s a lot of water. And you don’t want salmonella poisoning with all the water flying about. So, take the time to thaw your turkey safely in the fridge. (For more information on safe turkey thawing, check out the USDA website)
Once your turkey is thawed, the rest is easy.
Equipment Needed to Roast a Turkey
The equipment list is basic, too. You need a roasting pan WITH rack. Don’t have a rack? Then add a layer of carrots, onions and celery stalks to the bottom of a pan and place your turkey over it.
You will also need a turkey baster, that long tube with a rubber ball on the end that sucks up the liquid so you can squeeze it all over your turkey. If you do not have one, no fear. A long handled big spoon can scoop up the juice for you to pour over the turkey.
To Brine or Not to Brine?
For flavor, you can brine your bird, but it is not necessary. Many turkeys come already brined. Brining takes extra time, so if you are able to work ahead you will need to let the turkey soak in the brine for 24 hours.
I don’t brine my turkey. This roast turkey recipe is super simple and I always get a moist, delicious turkey without the brining.
You start by seasoning the entire turkey with salt and pepper. Then, you rub the ENTIRE down with FAT. It can be butter, extra virgin olive oil, or even coconut oil. Don’t worry, you won’t be eating all that fat, but it will add flavor and moisture to your roast turkey.
Stuff the Turkey or on the Side?
This one question can cause a real argument for some families! Some people feel that the only way to serve stuffing is inside a turkey. If it is on the side, it is called dressing. Just remember that if you do stuff the turkey with a bread stuffing, to be sure that your turkey is cooked all the way to prevent salmonella poisoning.
I cook my stuffing separately and do not stuff my turkey. So, what you CAN do with the cavity of your turkey is add MORE flavor. I stuff my turkey with onions, lemons, oranges and fresh herbs like rosemary and sage.
How to Long Do I Roast a Whole Turkey
Place your turkey breast side up onto the rack of the roasting pan and roast at 325°F until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the turkey breast reaches 170°F. How long is that?
The general rule of thumb for roasting an unstuffed turkey is 13-minutes per pound, but a thermometer is the best method of testing the turkey’s doneness and to insure a moist turkey. So estimate the time using the 13-minute rule of thumb, but use a meat thermometer to determine when the turkey is really done.
This is super important: don’t skimp on the meat thermometer. It’s not expensive to buy and you can roast with it worry free.
That Thanksgiving where I had to whip up a turkey dinner in one day? It was one of the best Thanksgivings we ever had – just the five of us. And I was able to make the turkey, my Moist Stuffing with Swiss Chard, Pomegranate Cranberry Sauce, Creamed Spinach with Swiss Chard and Beet Greens, Twice Baked Butternut Squash and Pumpkin Pecan Pie with Whiskey Butter Sauce (minus the whiskey sauce for the kiddos).
Was I tired? YES! Was it delicious? YES! Was it worth it? YES!
OMG they were so small then. And boy, did my little digital camera suck or what?
Faster Ways to Cook a Turkey
Of course there are other ways, faster ways, to cook a whole turkey. One way is to butterfly, or spatchcock, your turkey. By removing the backbone and flattening your turkey the roasting time is cut in half.
For more detailed instructions and recipe for spatchcocked (butterflied) turkey click here.
You can also deep fry a whole turkey. But this method does require some special equipment and extra caution. This must be done outside, for one thing, and you will need a large turkey fryer, like this one. We borrowed one from a friend for our experiment.
My husband placed the fryer over a large metal tray he had (long story) as precaution. We knew the oil would bubble up and we wanted to protect our little patch of grass in case it boiled over the pot and spilled down.
The key to safely deep fry a turkey is make sure your turkey is completely thawed and has no water or moisture on it or in it. As you know, oil and water do not play nicely. So pat the inside cavity and outside of your bird thoroughly with paper towels. Then rub it down with your favorite seasonings – a dry rub.
When deep frying your turkey, you will need to cook it in the oil for about 3 to 4 minutes per pound. Again, use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature of the turkey to insure doneness.
Then drain the turkey of excess oil, a large baking sheet will do nicely, and pat it down with paper towels. Let the turkey rest 20 minutes before you start to carve it and serve. My family and I really enjoyed a deep fried turkey, which yields a super crunchy skin and a super moist turkey.
I don’t have a recipe yet for deep fried turkey, but Butterball has great detailed instructions here.
And if you don’t need to roast a whole turkey and want a downsized thanksgiving meal, you can roast a turkey breast, which is the perfect size when you are serving a Thanksgiving meal for two.
- 16 lb whole turkey
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
- 8 TBS unsalted butter, softened
- 1 small onion, quartered
- 1 small orange, quartered
- 1 small lemon, quartered
- 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
- 3 sprigs of fresh sage
- 2 TBS all purpose flour
- Preheat oven to 325ºF.
- Pat turkey dry with paper towels. Turkey must be completely thawed prior to cooking.
- Season entire turkey, including cavity, with 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper.
- Remove gizzards and neck and reserve and place in a small saucepan, cover with water and simmer to create broth for gravy.
- Simmer for 45 minutes. Discard the gizzards and neck and reserve broth for gravy.
- Generously cover turkey with 6 TBS butter. Make sure you butter under the skin and between the different parts of the turkey.
- Insert onion, orange, lemon, rosemary and sage into cavity of the turkey.
- Insert your meat thermometer into the thickest part of the turkey's breast.
- Place turkey, breast side up, in a large roasting pan and tent with foil.
- Roast until thermometer reaches 170°F. General rule of thumb for roasting time is 13-minutes per pound, but a thermometer is the best method of testing the turkey's doneness and to insure a moist turkey.
- Approximately 1 hour before turkey is done, remove foil and baste with pan drippings.
- Remove turkey from the oven. Place turkey on serving platter and tent with foil. Don't forget to remove the thermometer! Let the turkey rest like this for 20 to 30 minutes before carving.
- To prepare gravy, scrape pan drippings into a fat separator and reserve strained turkey drippings.
- Heat a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat and add 2 TBS butter and flour.
- After flour is browned, whisk in reserved turkey broth and strained pan drippings.
- Whisk until fully incorporated and cook on medium heat for 5 minutes or until gravy has thickened.
- Season gravy with salt and pepper to taste.
If you prefer, you can also rub your turkey with 2-3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil instead of butter. You can also add other combinations to the turkey's cavity: thyme, marjoram, peeled garlic cloves, apples, mushrooms, celery, carrots and bay leaves. A stuffed turkey will take longer to cook. For more answers on roasting times, check out Butterball's website here.
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 1049 Total Fat: 45g Saturated Fat: 15g Trans Fat: 1g Unsaturated Fat: 27g Cholesterol: 582mg Sodium: 784mg Carbohydrates: 3g Net Carbohydrates: 0g Fiber: 0g Sugar: 1g Sugar Alcohols: 0g Protein: 148g