BEGINNER Roasted Turkey for Thanksgiving

5 from 3 votes

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Thanksgiving is here and you want to roast a Turkey. Great! Here is the ‘How to Roast a Turkey” for beginners guide; the simplest method to getting a juicy, golden brown bird every.single.time. I promise it’s so much easier than you think. ANYONE can make a great turkey. Add my tutorial for making amazing Gravy and Cornbread Stuffing and Thanksgiving is served!

roasted turkey in roasting pan

Calm Down, Roasting a Turkey Is Easy!

Thanksgiving wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without turkey. Being the one responsible for roasting *THE* turkey for Thanksgiving is like the ultimate job. A lot of pressure rides on you. You either give everyone food poisoning or you dry that sucker out. Well, believe it or not, there is a happy medium! You can get a juicy, thoroughly cooked bird with minimal effort that everyone will surely love. Read on, my loves, a gorgeous golden bird is at the end of this road.

Let’s start at the very beginning:

Picking a Turkey

Should you buy a fresh or frozen turkey? Should it be organic? Free range? All of those things come down to personal preference. The vast majority of Turkeys roasted for Thanksgiving are previously frozen. They can be bought in advance, are typically the least expensive out of the group and come in a variety of sizes (I’ve seen turkey’s range from 11 to 25 pounds at the grocery store!)

How Large Should My Turkey Be if I Have a Large Group to Feed?

Typically, most experts will tell you that you need 1 pound of turkey per person. If you have a lot of side dishes that are being served with the roasted turkey, I’d bring that down to 3/4 pound per person. It’s always better to have too much than too little. Plus leftovers are the bomb. 

defrosted butterball turkey in packaging

How to Defrost a Frozen Turkey

Ok, friends. Here’s the deal. You absolutely must transfer your frozen turkey from the freezer into the fridge several days before Thanksgiving to give it enough time to defrost. You can’t roast a frozen bird, ya’ll. Refrigerator thawing will take 24 hours per every 4 pounds of turkey. After the turkey is thawed, it can stay in the fridge for another 4 days. So, it’s better to transfer it sooner rather than later so its just ready and waiting for you.

What if you forget to defrost your turkey? Use the cold water method to defrost. Just stick your frozen turkey in the sink {still in its packaging} and cover with cold water, breast side down. This thawing method will take 30 minutes per pound. Once it’s completely thawed, roast it immediately.

Getting the Turkey Ready for the Oven

Once your turkey is all defrosted, it is ready to prep and go in the oven to roast. What do I mean by ‘prep the turkey’? This simply means taking a few small steps to ensure a crispy, golden roasted turkey. Here’s what to do:

  • remove the giblets and neck from the cavity
  • blot the entire exterior of the turkey with paper towels to dry it completely
  • brush the entire turkey with softened or melted butter and sprinkle generously with salt (the exterior and interior)
  • tie the legs together with kitchen twine (unflavored dental floss works in a pinch)
  • tuck the wings back behind the bottom of the turkey (so it sort of looks like the turkey is sunbathing)
blotting turkey with paper towels

How Long to Roast a Turkey

So there are all sorts of oven temperatures and roasting instructions floating out in the ether online when it comes to turkey roasting. Here’s how I do it and it seems pretty fail proof: Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Once your turkey is prepped and ready to go, stick that pretty bird inside your preheated oven and immediately reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees. Roast your turkey until the breast reaches an internal temperature of 170 degrees F and the thigh is 175 degrees F, about 12-13 minutes per pound for an unstuffed turkey. Start checking for doneness thirty minutes before it is estimated to be done with an instant read meat thermometer (this is the one I have and works great! Under $20.)

For a stuffed turkey, you can estimate 15 minutes per pound.

My Turkey Isn’t Browning/My Turkey Is Getting Too Brown!

Where you place your turkey in the oven matters. Your turkey will brown quicker if its on a higher rack. If its on a lower rack, it will brown slower. If you notice your turkey has browned really nicely but still isn’t cooked, simply cover with foil, lower it down in the oven and keep roasting until it reaches the proper internal temperature. That meat thermometer is key for roasting a juicy bird.

Do I Have to Baste my Turkey?

In my opinion, no, you absolutely do not have to baste your bird. Is it a nice thing to do and is pretty traditional as far as Thanksgiving goes. Does it help promote browning? Sure! But since we covered the entire turkey with butter, it should remain juicy and promote some seriously crispy skin.

brushing turkey with melted butter

How to Keep Your Turkey Juicy

Many people will tell you that you need to brine your bird or incorporate some kind of rub or seasoning to promote a juicy turkey. Some even say fresh is king and frozen birds are the problem. I don’t believe any of it. A fresh bird is plenty juicy. So is a frozen one! If you happen to have a frozen turkey, read the label. Odds are you’ll see that it says “contains up to 8% of a solution of water, salt, spices and natural flavor for tenderness and juiciness.”  This basically means that if you defrost your bird in the fridge for a few days, it will be sitting in this solution…therefore brining itself before you roast it. The work has already been done.

All you have to do now is roast it until it hits the proper temperatures without going past too far, and you’re there! Roasted turkey heaven. Once you get that turkey out of the oven, tent it with foil to let it rest 15-20 minutes and then slice and serve. 

A Small Note About Brines

Some people don’t like the ingredients or the “natural flavors” in the solution that come in a frozen turkey and choose to brine a fresh bird. To each their own! Good for you if this is what you choose to do. Some people will brine their frozen bird to impart more flavors THEY like. Again, you do you, boo.

If you’re a beginner or don’t want to have to deal with brines or just simply don’t know where to begin, just know that skipping a brine or a special rub is aok, and you’ll still have a great turkey.

fresh herbs and butter in a skillet

Adding Flavor

Of course if you wanted to add some sort of flavor to your turkey, feel free to add those flavors to your butter that you will spread all over your turkey. Delicious options include:

  • fresh sage or thyme
  • lemon or orange zest
  • garlic
  • marjoram

For an extra oomph of flavor (and moisture), feel free to fill your turkey cavity with any of the following: onion, garlic, celery, apples, lemon slices, orange wedges, fresh sage and thyme.

Traditional Thanksgiving Sides

If you are going for a traditional Thanksgiving table, all of these recipes are perfect! Click here to browse my full catalogue of Thanksgiving Recipes. Here are some of the classics you won’t want to miss:

Quick Turkey Roasting FAQ’s

How long do I roast a turkey?

Roast your turkey until the breast reaches an internal temperature of 170 degrees F and the thigh is 175 degrees F, about 12-13 minutes per pound for an unstuffed turkey, 15 minutes for a stuffed turkey.

How do I defrost a turkey?

Refrigerator thawing will take 24 hours per every 4 pounds of turkey. After the turkey is thawed, it can stay in the fridge for another 4 days.
Forget to defrost your turkey? Use the cold water method: stick your frozen turkey in a clean kitchen sink {still in its packaging} and cover with cold water, breast side down. This thawing method will take 30 minutes per pound.

Do I have to brine my turkey?

Nope! You absolutely do not need to brine a turkey to have a good finished product. Just an instant read thermometer to ensure you aren’t under (or over) baking.

What temperature should I cook a turkey at?

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Once your turkey goes into the oven, reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees and roast your turkey at this temperature until the breast reaches an internal temperature of 170 degrees F and the thigh is 175 degrees F, 12-13 minutes per pound of (unstuffed) turkey.

How do I keep my turkey juicy?

Basting *can* help, but rubbing the exterior in butter before roasting and then using your meat thermometer to ensure your bird does not over bake is key.

Do I have to baste my turkey?

Basting is certainly a nice, traditional, Thankgivingy thing to do, but isn’t necessary. You’ll still end up with a lovely deep golden brown turkey just by rubbing with butter.

Should I get a frozen turkey or a fresh turkey? Which is best?

You do you, boo. Whatever you prefer! None is supreme over the other. At the end of the day, it’s all turkey.

How do I know when my turkey is done?

When the breast reaches an internal temperature of 170 degrees F and the thigh is 175 degrees F.

So, there you have it! Super simple directions for the easiest roast turkey everrrr. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, friends! 

5 from 3 votes

Perfect Roast Turkey

Get perfectly Roasted Turkey every time with my simple how to roast a turkey guide! Thanksgiving food coma, here we come.
servings 14 people
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 3 hrs 15 mins
Total Time 10 hrs 25 mins

Ingredients

  • 14 pound turkey
  • 1/4 cup salted butter
  • Kosher salt to taste (+ pepper, if desired)

Instructions

  • Thaw your turkey according to how much it weighs. Dry with paper towels and don’t forget to pull out all the giblets and innards.
  • Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Once your turkey is dry, rub it with softened or melted butter. Sprinkle interior and exterior of turkey generously with salt (and pepper, if desired). Fold the wings back and under the bird (like its sunbathing) and tie the legs together with kitchen twine. Set on roasting rack in roasting pan.
  • Place your turkey into the oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 350 degrees. My turkey was 14 pounds, so it took about 3 hours. Start checking for doneness when the bird is looking golden brown OR 30 minutes before it is estimated to be finished, whichever comes first.
  • Turkey is done when the breast reaches an internal temperature of 170 degrees F and the thigh is 175 degrees F.
  • Take your turkey out, tent with foil and let it rest for 15 minutes. Slice and serve. (I recommend making this Amazing Turkey Gravy as a great accompaniment.)

Nutrition

Calories: 483kcal | Carbohydrates: 1g | Protein: 70g | Fat: 21g | Saturated Fat: 7g | Cholesterol: 241mg | Sodium: 390mg | Potassium: 721mg | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 282IU | Calcium: 36mg | Iron: 3mg
Course: Dinner, Main Course
Cuisine: American, Thanksgiving
Keyword: How to Roast a Turkey, Roast Turkey, Roast Turkey Breast, Thanksgiving Turkey
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24 Responses
  1. Rachel @ The Avid Appetite

    I am making a turkey for a pre-Thanksgiving with my friends on Saturday. For me, it’s all about the brine! I’m getting my Alton Brown on Friday evening 🙂

    1. Robin

      Rachel, we always use the brine from the Good Eats Roast Turkey. We even use it for our pork ribs before we smoke them. Comes out so tender.

  2. Diane in Cincinnati

    Thanks for the details on how to cook a turkey – I’ve never had the giblets (!!!) to do it before. Do you put it in the pan breast up or down?? My mom was a firm believer of breast down but yours looks breast up.

  3. Kayla H Johnson

    5 stars
    If good home cookin is important to you , then you want to choose a Butterball turkey for your Holiday celebration!! Butterball means Tradition!! Soooo Good!

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    1. Lauren

      Try placing two butter rubbed turkey breasts (with skin on!) on a bed of carrots, onion and celery. You can always add in a splash of turkey (or chicken) broth to the bottom of the pan to help create drippings and having the veggies will help. Then once the turkey is baked all the way through (at 170 degrees), set them aside to rest and then drain the veggies to get all those yummy drippings and use that to create the gravy.

  14. LESLEY JACKSCH

    5 stars
    I have been buying a fresh turkey at Costco. They are truly amazing. I do make a bread stuffing that everyone does love including myself. One of the best part of the dinner for me.

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