Ever wondered how to cook a turkey? You’ll be the talk of your family’s holiday get-togethers with this easy to make Best Thanksgiving Turkey Recipe!
Making this Thanksgiving turkey recipe for the first time? Be sure to read our FAQs at the end of this post!
There’s something magical about the holidays; seeing friends and family, sharing some much needed quality time, and the food. Oh, the food! There is always a table lined with food beckoning everyone to eat, drink, and be merry! The quintessential Thanksgiving main course is a turkey here in the states and today I’m showing you how to cook a turkey that is flavorful and moist and that will have everyone raving!
BEST THANKSGIVING TURKEY RECIPE
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 – I didn’t know how to cook a turkey! 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 recipe, I decided to combine a few methods. The turkey was edible and I felt accomplished.
HOW TO COOK A TURKEY
Since learning how to cook a turkey, I’ve made whole turkeys almost every year at Thanksgiving. I’ve basted. I’ve brined. I’ve rubbed. If you’re thinking about brining your turkey, and don’t mind getting up at 2 am to start it, go for it! The turkey recipe I used that year was crazy good. However, lots of butter paired with a great dry rub and aromatics has become my favorite flavoring system. The real secret to this bird is 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 recipe is juicy and super flavorful!
Tips, Tricks & FAQs for this Turkey Recipe:
- How long do you thaw a turkey? Place the frozen turkey in the refrigerator. You’ll need to allow about 24 hours for each 4 to 5 pounds of frozen turkey you plan to thaw in the fridge. Check out this handy online calculator to determine how long it will take to defrost your frozen turkey.
- How many pounds of turkey do I need? If you are the family who wants leftovers, I recommend 2 pounds per adult and about half a pound per child. Cut that if half if you don’t want leftovers.
- Why increase the temperature for the last hour? Increasing the temperature during only the last hour helps the skin to get nice and crispy, without drying out the meat.
- The most important thing to remember is to adjust the time for the weight of your bird. Use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature of the meat to make sure the breast and legs both reach 165 degrees F. Those are absolute basics.
- Why do you cover the breasts with foil? The foil over the bird thing is a trick I picked up from watching Alton Brown. It helps make sure the breast meat doesn’t get overcooked. Dark meat takes longer to cook than light meat and the foil helps deflect a little of the heat to slow the cooking of the breast slightly. That’s the one “trick” I stand by.
- Do I have to use the onions inside the turkey? Nope! You can stuff your bird or don’t stuff it. The onions and garlic absolutely do help give a nice flavor boost though.
- My turkey is 16 pounds, do I increase the seasoning? You could add a little extra seasoning, but it won’t change the flavor too much.
- I’m not saying I have some magical trick that makes this recipe better than any other out there. There are TONS of posts saying theirs is the best or they know the “secret” to a perfect bird. But this recipe is tried and true at my house and has always produced a gorgeous, juicy bird. So I stand by it. Just remember, a turkey is like a really, really big chicken. You can do it!
- How long do I cook a 16 pound turkey? This recipe is for a 12 pound bird. You will add 15 minutes per pound at the 325 degree cooking time. The temperature increase at the end does not change. Here is a handy list of how long to cook your turkey at different weights:
- 10 pounds: 1 hour 30 minutes at 325 degrees; 1 hour at 400 degrees.
- 12 pounds: 2 hours at 325 degrees; 1 hour at 400 degrees.
- 14 pounds: 2 hours, 30 minutes at 325 degrees; 1 hour at 400 degrees.
- 16 pounds: 3 hours at 325 degrees; 1 hour at 400 degrees.
- 18 pounds: 3 hours, 30 minutes at 325 degrees; 1 hour at 400 degrees.
My Favorite Thanksgiving Side Dishes
Need some ideas for what to serve with your Thanksgiving Turkey?
- One Hour Dinner Rolls
- Twice Baked Sweet Potatoes
- Twice Baked Potato Casserole
- Easy Turkey Gravy Recipe
- Chai Cream Pumpkin Pie
- Best Mashed Potatoes (Make Ahead Mashed Potatoes)
- Orange Cranberry Sauce
- Classic Sausage Stuffing
Hosting Thanksgiving this year? Be sure to check out our tips for keeping it simple and looking like a pro HERE.
Watch How to Cook a Turkey:
Best Thanksgiving Turkey Recipe
- 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
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 teaspoons dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon dried sage
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon ground mustard
- 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.
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