How to Stuff and Roast a Turkey Like a Pro

Our Classic Roast Turkey
Photo: Blaine Moats

If roasting turkey isn't something you look forward to (or is something you have no idea how to do!), that's about to change. With our help, you can cook a bird that's as beautiful as it is juicy. Here, we walk you through the process, step-by-step. And while it's not a crazy-fast process, we promise your guests will be thankful you spent the time roasting and stuffing the turkey until it's ready to gobble up.

01 of 22

Plan Ahead

thanksgiving turkey
Greg DuPree

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.

02 of 22

Thaw the Turkey

thawing frozen turkey with water
Scott Little

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.

03 of 22

Find the Giblets

pulling giblets out of turkey
Scott Little

Before stuffing the turkey, remove the giblets—the turkey's heart, liver, and gizzard—which are tucked inside the neck or body cavity. Discard these or use them to make broth for gravy (we'll give you directions for that a little later on). If you are stuffing the turkey, plan about 3/4 cup of stuffing per pound of poultry.

04 of 22

Dry the Turkey

drying turkey with paper towel
Scott Little

Blot the inside of the turkey dry with paper towels. It's not necessary to rinse the bird, but if you do, thoroughly dry it before moving on to the next step.

05 of 22

Prep the Turkey

cutting off turkey skin with shears
Scott Little

With a pair of kitchen shears ($9, Target), cut away and discard extra fat around the opening of the turkey cavity. This will help you cook a nicer-looking stuffed turkey.

06 of 22

Begin Stuffing

scooping stuffing into turkey
Scott Little

If you're stuffing the turkey, start with the neck cavity—it makes the next steps easier. You can make the stuffing ahead of time, or whip up an easy stuffing recipe on Thanksgiving morning.

07 of 22

Close the Neck

closing neck of turkey with skewer
Scott Little

Thread a bamboo or metal meat skewer ($4, Target) through the neck skin to seal the cavity closed. This keeps the turkey stuffing from falling out of the bird as you handle it.

08 of 22

Finish Stuffing

finishing filling turkey with stuffing
Scott Little

Next, stuff the main cavity of the turkey, but stuff loosely so the stuffing will have room to expand as the bird roasts.

09 of 22

Tuck the Wings

tucking turkey wings under bird for base
Scott Little

When you've finished stuffing the turkey, 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.

10 of 22

Prepare to Tie the Bird

preparing to tie stuffed turkey
Scott Little

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.

11 of 22

Tie the Tail

tying turkey tail with string
Scott Little

Next, loop a piece of 100% cotton kitchen twine around the tail and cross so it makes an X shape. We've found that a 24-inch piece is just the right length.

12 of 22

Tie the Drumsticks

tying turkey drumsticks with string
Scott Little

Then, bring the twine up around the outside ends of the drumsticks. This will help the turkey stuffing stay inside the bird.

13 of 22

Finish Tying the Drumsticks

finishing tying turkey drumsticks
Scott Little

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 metal clamp to keep the drumsticks together. Some turkeys also come with an oven-safe leg clamp.

14 of 22

Choose the Right Roasting Rack

turkey roasting pan with wire rack
Scott Little

Once you've prepped the bird, it's time to cook it! A baking pan with a flat rack ($42, Bed, Bath & Beyond) is the 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.

15 of 22

Prepare for Roasting

stuffed turkey in roasting pan with meat thermometer
Scott Little

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 ($10, Walmart) in the thickest part of the thigh.

16 of 22

Begin Roasting

turkey in pan with aluminum foil on top
Scott Little

When your oven reaches the correct temperature, brush the bird with cooking oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, cover loosely with aluminum foil ($4, Walmart), and roast.

17 of 22

Separate the Drumsticks

cutting the string on turkey drumsticks
Scott Little

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.

18 of 22

Cook the Giblets

pot with giblets, carrots, and celery
Scott Little

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, ¼ 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.

19 of 22

Finish Roasting

pulling roasted turkey out of oven
Scott Little

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.

20 of 22

Remove the Turkey

lifting turkey with carving fork and pot holder
Scott Little

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.

21 of 22

Remove the Stuffing

scooping stuffing out of turkey
Scott Little

Once you've removed the bird, spoon the stuffing out of both sides of the bird. Be careful; it's very hot.

22 of 22

Carve the Turkey

carving turkey drumsticks
Andy Lyons

When the bird has cooled a bit, it's time to carve the turkey. We've broken it down into a few simple steps so your Thanksgiving turkey will look as good as it tastes:

  • Pull the legs away from the body and cut the joints that attach the drumstick and thighs.
  • Slice the thigh meat.
  • Cut off the wings.
  • Carve each breast away from the breast bone and ribs.
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