Many home cooks are intimidated by the prospect of preparing a turkey for Thanksgiving. However, it’s simpler than you think, I assure you!
The ideal Thanksgiving turkey is easy to prepare, can be prepared the day before, and tastes lovely even without basting.
This method stuffs seasoned butter under the skin of the turkey meat to bast it while it roasts (it also helps bring salt into the meat to effectively “brine” it from the inside).
At the same time, it wonderfully crisps up the skin on top. This approach works regardless of the size of your turkey; adjust the roasting time appropriately.
To the seasoned butter under the skin, add 2 tablespoons lemon or orange zest (or both), chopped rosemary or thyme, or 2 teaspoons crushed red chile flakes for a spicy kick.
You can impress your family and guests with this perfectly golden, juicy, and insanely flavorful roasted turkey recipe in just a few easy steps.
Are you ready?
- 1 turkey (whole) (preferably 16 to 18 pounds)
- 3 tbsp kosher salt Diamond Crystal, split
- + 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 226 g (8 oz; 1 cup) room temperature unsalted butter
- 2 lemons plus extra for garnish
- 2 huge peeled, halved, and cut into 1-inch-thick half-moons yellow onions
How to Cook a Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey
- Remove the neck and any gizzards from the bird and set aside for gravy, if desired. Remove any excess skin or fat from the turkey and set aside or discard. Using paper towels, thoroughly dry the turkey inside and out.
- Please wait until the wishbone has finished cooking before attempting to remove it. Season the interior of the turkey well with salt and pepper.
- Slide beneath the skin of the breast using the tips of your index and middle fingers or the rounded tip of a tiny silicone spatula, entering at the neck and on each side of the breastbone.
- As you do this, a thin transparent membrane will tear, separating the skin from the flesh. Tear through the membrane, not the skin, on both sides of the turkey breast.
- Using a spoon, stir the softened butter, 1 tablespoon of salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Lift each opening on the turkey breasts and put the spoon with part of the butter inside, raking the butter off the spoon and onto the flesh with the skin itself; repeat until most of the butter is below the skin over every entrance point on the breasts.
- Massage the butter into the skin with your hands, forming an equal layer over the meat. Scrape the remaining butter from your fingers and the bowl onto the exterior of the turkey and spread it evenly over every area, especially the drumsticks, thighs, and wings, where there is no butter beneath the skin.
- Depending on the size of the turkey, season the exterior with 1 to 2 teaspoons of salt; you want an equal, liberal coating. Season with more pepper, if desired. Place the turkey, breast side up, on the rack insert of a roasting pan and place it in a roasting pan or on a rimmed baking sheet. Refrigerate for at least 24 hours or overnight (this helps the skin air-dry and become crisp when you bake it).
- The next day, remove the turkey from the refrigerator 112 hours before cooking to allow it to come to room temperature and cook evenly. Then, preheat the oven to 350°F. While the oven is heating up, quarter the lemons and stuffs them into the bird’s cavity.
- If desired, tie the ends of the drumsticks together with the kitchen string. Scatter the onions in the roasting pan beneath the turkey, or if using a baking sheet, corral all the onions immediately beneath the roasting rack to catch the drippings.
- Bake, turning the pan halfway through cooking, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of each thigh reads at least 160 degrees, 10 to 13 minutes per pound, or 212 to 312 hours, depending on the size of the bird.
- To keep the turkey warm, remove it from the oven and tent it loosely with foil (the temperature will continue to rise to 10 degrees more while it sits). Allow the turkey to rest for at least 1 hour before slicing (it will still be pretty hot).
- Remove the foil and place the turkey on a large cutting board, preferably with channels along the sides to catch any juices, and carve. Scrape the onions from the roasting pan or baking sheet onto the bottom of a large serving plate.
- Place the carved turkey pieces on top of the onions and drizzle with any liquids from the pan or cutting board. Serve immediately, garnished with more lemon slices if desired.
How Long Should You Roast a Turkey?
- 1 1/2 to 3 1/4 hours for 4 to 8 pounds (breast alone).
- 2 3/4 to 3 hours for 8 to 12 pounds.
- 3 to 3 3/4 hours for 12 to 14 pounds.
- 3 3/4 to 4 1/4 hours for 14 to 18 pounds.
- 4 1/4 to 4 1/2 hours for 18 to 20 pounds.
- 4 1/2 to 5 hours for 20 to 24 pounds.
What happens if my turkey is cooking faster than expected?
If the turkey is getting too close to being ready to serve, reduce the oven temperature and tent the breasts with aluminum foil. If all else fails and the bird is already cooked, cover it in layers of foil and place it in a warmed cooler until serving time.
What happens if my turkey skin is burning, but it’s not yet done inside?
It occurs when the oven is overheated. If the skin of your turkey is burning, but the flesh is still undercooked, it’s most likely due to a high starting temperature. There is an easier approach to achieving crispy golden skin!
Slowly cook the turkey between 350 and 400 degrees F (175 and 200 degrees C) to get crispy golden skin and juicy flesh.
What if the top of the turkey’s breast skin cooks faster than the rest?
Check that your turkey is not too high in the oven. Lower your rack if possible. Then, wrap only that section with aluminum foil.
Why is My Fully Cooked Turkey Pink?
Pinkness is caused when gases in the environment of a hot gas or electric oven react chemically with hemoglobin in the meat tissues, giving the turkey a pink color. The same chemicals give smoked hams and other cured meats their red hue.
The presence of large quantities of myoglobin, or some of its redder variants due to insufficient denaturation during heat processing, can explain why turkey has a pink-to-red hue akin to an undercooked product.