How to Cook a Thanksgiving Turkey

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Turkey has been a North American Thanksgiving tradition for hundreds of years. Knowing how to cook a turkey is essential for anybody who wants to host a Thanksgiving or Christmas feast for friends and family, but if youve never cooked one before, it can be a daunting task. For most people, the secret to a delicious turkey is crispy skin and tender, juicy meat, and there a few ways you can accomplish this.



  • 1 cup (288 g) kosher salt
  • cup (100 g) light brown sugar
  • vegetable stock
  • 1 tablespoon (12 g) black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoons (3 g) allspice berries
  • 1 teaspoons (3.5 g) chopped candied ginger
  • heavily iced water


  • One whole turkey, fresh or frozen
  • 1 red apple, sliced
  • onion, sliced
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • water
  • 2 tablespoons (3 g) dried parsley
  • 2 tablespoons (7 g) ground dried rosemary
  • 2 tablespoons (4 g) dried sage
  • 2 tablespoons (9 g) dried thyme
  • 1 tablespoon (13 g) lemon pepper
  • 1 tablespoon salt (17 g)
  • 2 tablespoons (28 g) butter
  • broth


  • Drippings from the turkey
  • broth
  • cup (32 g) flour


[Edit]Brining the Turkey

  1. Thaw the turkey if its frozen. Frozen turkeys must be kept frozen until you're ready to use them. A few days before cooking your meal, you can start thawing out the turkey using a poultry-safe method that will prevent the growth and spread of bacteria. You cannot safely thaw turkey at room temperature for more than 2 hours.[1]
    Cook a Thanksgiving Turkey Step 1 Version 2.jpg
    • To thaw the turkey in the refrigerator, you will need about 24 hours per of turkey. Simply place the turkey in the refrigerator a few days before you plan to cook it. Once thawed, the turkey can stay in the fridge for another 2 days. Make sure you place a protective sheet or plate under the bird to catch any liquid.
    • If you dont have as much time, you can also thaw the turkey in cold water, and this will only require about 30 minutes per . Place the turkey in a sealable plastic bag and submerge it in cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes. Cook the thawed turkey immediately.
  2. Prepare the brine. In a large saucepan, combine the salt, brown sugar, stock, peppercorns, allspice berries, and ginger. Heat the brine over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Bring the mixture to a boil and simmer until the sugar and salt have dissolved.[2] Remove the mixture from the heat and allow it to cool to room temperature. Transfer it to a food storage container and put it in the refrigerator.
    Cook a Thanksgiving Turkey Step 2 Version 2.jpg
    • To give the brine the best flavor, prepare it 3 days before you plan to cook the turkey. Then store it in the refrigerator until you're ready to brine the turkey the night before cooking.
    • This amount of brine is suitable for a turkey up to .
  3. Brine the turkey. The purpose of brining is to make the meat juicier and the skin crispier.[3] The night before you plan to cook the turkey, remove the neck and giblets from the turkey cavity and place the turkey breast-down in a large stockpot. Add the ice water and brine solution to cover the turkey.[4]
    Cook a Thanksgiving Turkey Step 3 Version 2.jpg
    • If the turkey is floating and not submerged in the brine solution, weigh it down with a plate. Cover the pot with foil or a lid.
    • Place the pot in the refrigerator for anywhere from 12 to 24 hours. Turn the turkey halfway through the brining process.
  4. Remove the turkey from the brine before cooking it. Discard the brine and rinse the turkey inside and out. Move the turkey to a roasting rack and pat it dry with paper towels.[5]
    Cook a Thanksgiving Turkey Step 4 Version 2.jpg
    • After patting the turkey dry, let it air dry for another hour before cooking it to ensure the crispiest skin possible.
    • Always make sure you wash your hands, cooking surfaces, and dishes well with hot, soapy water when dealing with raw poultry.[6]

[Edit]Dressing the Turkey

  1. Remove the neck and giblets. If you didnt brine the turkey and haven't emptied out the neck cavity, do so now. You can either discard the giblets or keep them for making broth or gravy.[7]
    Cook a Thanksgiving Turkey Step 5 Version 2.jpg
    • To find the giblets, you must first locate the head of the turkey. Look at the orientation of the legs, because they will always point toward the back of the turkey, meaning the head is opposite.[8]
    • At the head of the turkey, there will be a flap of skin that covers the neck cavity, and the giblets will be located in here. Pull up the flap, place your hand in the cavity, and pull out the giblets.
    • You may also have to remove the neck, which will likely be located in the cavity between the legs at the back of the turkey. You may also find a premade gravy pouch in either of the cavities, which you can either use or discard.
  2. Make the aromatics for the cavity. Put the onion, apple, and cinnamon stick into a small saucepan. Cover them with water and bring them to a boil over medium heat. Once the water starts simmering, allow it to boil for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, strain the water, and allow the aromatics to get cool enough to handle.[9]
    Cook a Thanksgiving Turkey Step 6 Version 2.jpg
    • You dont have to boil the aromatics first, but it will help release the flavors of the onion, apple, and cinnamon, which will help to give the turkey some subtle flavors and keep the meat moist.
  3. Place the aromatics in the cavity. Place the strained and cooled onion, apple, and cinnamon stick inside the birds large cavity. You can also fill the cavity with other or additional ingredients, such as:
    Cook a Thanksgiving Turkey Step 7 Version 2.jpg
    • Apple slices
    • Orange slices
    • Crushed garlic
    • Fresh or dried herbs, such as rosemary, thyme, and sage
  4. Baste the turkey with an herb butter. This will be rubbed on the skin of the turkey to make it crispy, tasty, and golden brown. In a food processor, mix together the butter, herbs, salt, and pepper.[10]
    Cook a Thanksgiving Turkey Step 8 Version 2.jpg
    • Using your hands or a basting brush, spread the herb butter all over the turkeys skin.

[Edit]Roasting the Turkey

  1. Position the oven rack so the turkey will fit. For a turkey thats under , use the middle rack. For a turkey thats over , move the rack to the level below. This will ensure that the bird cooks evenly without overcooking or taking too long.[11]
    Cook a Thanksgiving Turkey Step 9 Version 2.jpg
    • You will most likely have to remove additional racks from the oven to make enough room for the roasting pan. Make sure you position and remove the racks before you turn the oven on to preheat.
  2. Preheat the oven to . While the ovens heating up, gather your supplies. You will need:[12]
    Cook a Thanksgiving Turkey Step 10 Version 2.jpg
    • Roasting rack (if your turkey isn't already on one)
    • Roasting pan designed for the rack you're using
  3. Roast the turkey at for 20 minutes. Put the roasting rack in the roasting pan and set the turkey breast-up on the rack. Pour the broth into the bottom of the pan, but dont pour it over the turkey itself. Place the uncovered turkey in the oven and roast it for 20 minutes.[13]
    Cook a Thanksgiving Turkey Step 11.jpg
  4. Reduce the temperature to . After 20 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to .[14] Don't open the door, as this will let out too much heat.
    Cook a Thanksgiving Turkey Step 12.jpg
    • This process of cooking the turkey on high and then reducing the temperature will help make the skin crispy and seal in the juices.
    • Continue cooking the turkey at this temperature until its done. The rule of thumb is that you need to cook turkey for 13 minutes per . If you're working with a turkey, you'll need to cook it for about 195 minutes, or 3 hours and 15 minutes.
  5. Use a thermometer to check the temperature. About halfway into the estimated cooking time, start checking the internal temperature of the turkey regularly. Its fully cooked when it reaches an internal temperature of .[15]
    Cook a Thanksgiving Turkey Step 13.jpg
    • The 13 minutes per rule is a good guideline, but actual cooking time will vary based on whether you stuffed, trussed, or brined the turkey. Always use a thermometer to determine when the turkey is done.
    • Check the temperature in 3 separate places: the breast, inner thigh, and outer thigh.[16]
  6. Let the meat rest before carving and serving it. When the turkey is cooked, remove it from the oven and let it rest, uncovered, for about 20 minutes.
    Cook a Thanksgiving Turkey Step 14.jpg
    • When youre ready to carve the turkey, remove the roasting rack from the pan and transfer the turkey to a cutting board.
    • Resting the turkey before cutting it will help keep the juices inside the meat, preventing it from drying out.[17]
  7. Make gravy from the drippings. Transfer the liquid in the roasting pan to a large saucepan. Add of stock or broth to the drippings and heat the mixture over medium heat. In a bowl, whisk together cup (32 g) of flour and of broth. Whisk this into the stock and drippings and continue heating the gravy until it thickens.[18]
    Cook a Thanksgiving Turkey Step 15.jpg
    • You can also leave the drippings in the roasting pan and make the gravy in that, as long as you have a roasting pan thats durable enough to withstand direct heat from an element.



  • While it is safe to cook stuffing inside the bird, its not recommended because you risk overcooking the meat in order to get the stuffing to a safe temperature.
  • Never rinse raw turkey unless its brined. Rinsing wont remove bacteria effectively, and it could actually spread germs around your kitchen and increase your chances of getting sick. The best way to get rid of bacteria on the turkey is to cook it thoroughly.[19]

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