Roasting turkey isn’t that difficult when you plan ahead. The ideal roast turkey is succulent and juicy with a crispy, golden-brown skin. The first step to roasting a turkey your crowd will love is choosing the right bird. When you buy your turkey, allow for 1 to 1-1/2 pounds of turkey per person. That amount will leave enough for leftovers, too.
Start by thawing the bird in the refrigerator. Allow 24 hours of thawing time for every 4 pounds of bird. That means a 12-pound turkey takes three days to thaw, but we recommend allowing an extra day to make sure it thaws completely. It's safe to keep a thawed bird in the fridge a day or two before roasting the turkey. If you find your bird is still frozen Thanksgiving morning, place the still-wrapped turkey in a clean sink filled with cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes until the turkey is thawed. Do not thaw the bird at room temperature or in warm water.
Before stuffing the turkey, remove the giblets—the turkey’s heart, liver, and gizzard—which are tucked inside the neck or body cavity. Discard or use to make broth for gravy (we give directions a little later on). If you are stuffing the turkey, plan about 3/4 cup of stuffing per pound of poultry.
Blot the inside of the turkey dry with paper towels. It's not necessary to rinse the bird, but if you do, dry thoroughly once you’re through.
With a pair of kitchen shears, cut away and discard extra fat around the opening of the turkey cavity. This will help you cook a nicer-looking stuffed turkey.
If you’re stuffing the turkey, start with the neck cavity—it makes the next steps easier.
Thread a bamboo or steel skewer through the neck skin to seal the cavity closed. This keeps the turkey stuffing from falling out of the bird as you handle it.
Next, stuff the main cavity of the turkey, but stuff loosely so the stuffing will have room to expand as the bird roasts.
Fold the tips of the turkey wings under the back to make a stable base for the bird to rest on. This also helps the stuffed turkey roast evenly.
Here's a trussing trick that will help you serve a great-looking turkey: Start off by pushing the turkey drumsticks up and back toward the tail.
Next, loop a 24-inch piece of 100-percent-cotton kitchen twine around the tail and cross so it makes an X.
Then, bring the twine up around the outside ends of the drumsticks—so the turkey stuffing stays inside!
Finally, tie the twine together, allowing the drumsticks to rest one atop the other. If you prefer not to tie the legs together with kitchen twine, you can also use a leg clamp to keep the drumsticks together.
Flat racks are best because they'll flatten the back of the turkey as it roasts; that way, it won't roll while you're carving. Use a shallow pan—if the sides are higher than 2 inches, they'll act as a heat shield and prevent turkey thighs from cooking evenly.
Place the oven rack on its lowest position, then preheat the oven. Use our roasting chart to determine cooking times. While the oven is preheating, place the stuffed turkey, breast side up, on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. Insert a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh.
When your oven reaches the correct temperature, brush the bird with cooking oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, cover loosely with foil, and roast.
Two-thirds of the way through the cooking time, cut the string between the drumsticks or remove the clamp. This is why we prefer to tie our legs with twine: One snip and it's done! Remove the foil tent during the last 30 to 45 minutes of cooking to create a crisp, golden skin.
Want to use the giblets to make the broth for gravy? Once you've got the bird in the oven, transfer giblets to a saucepan with 3 cups water, carrots, celery, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and a bay leaf. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered about 30 minutes. Remove from heat, strain broth into a measuring cup, and refrigerate until ready to use.
According to the USDA, all turkey meat and stuffing is safe to eat when a meat thermometer reaches 165°F. However, for best flavor and ease in carving, thigh meat should be cooked to 180°F. Pop-up timers on turkeys are reliable as well.
Lift your stuffed turkey from the roasting pan with a carving fork and pot holder. Or lift the turkey off the roasting pan with two sturdy forks under either end of the breast.
Spoon the stuffing out of both sides of the bird. Be careful; it's very hot.
Now it's time to carve your bird. We've broken it down into four simple steps so your Thanksgiving turkey will look as good as it tastes.