How to Roast a Standout Turkey for Thanksgiving

Make this Thanksgiving a meal to remember as we share our best tips on how to roast a turkey—from choosing the right pan to cooking times and carving.

thanksgiving turkey in roasting pan
Photo: Brie Passano

With help from our Test Kitchen experts, learning how to roast a turkey can be easy. There's a fine line between a bird that's properly cooked and one that's unsafe for guests to eat (or one that's too dry!). Use our simple tips to keep track of how long to cook a turkey in the oven so it comes out juicy and tender. Our must-have tips and pro secrets about roasting turkey will make this year's Thanksgiving feast easier and more delicious than ever. Plus get our best roast turkey recipes and ideas for completing your Thanksgiving dinner menu.

Selecting a Turkey Roasting Pan

You may not use a roasting pan every day, but it's a valuable piece of kitchen equipment to have on hand for your holiday turkey roast recipe. The proper pan ensures that your turkey cooks up moist and golden brown. The pan should just hold the turkey with no part of the bird extending beyond the pan, or the meat juices will drip into the oven. On the other hand, if the pan is too large for the turkey, the juices in the pan will burn.

When buying a turkey roasting pan, look for:

  • Shallow depth
  • Heavy weight
  • Good heat-conducting qualities
  • Handles (especially helpful when pulling the hot pan from the oven)
  • A rack or trivet to hold the bird out of the drippings and to allow the heat to reach the underside of the bird
  • The right fit

If you aren't looking to invest in a roasting pan, you can use your broiler pan. Place a wire rack in the bottom of the broiler pan to keep the turkey out of the drippings.

Lightweight, disposable aluminum roasting pans should not be used for cooking turkey; those pans are simply not heavy enough to support the weight of the bird. It could spill or break, causing serious burns when you try to remove it from the oven.

How to Roast a Turkey

Prep your oven by placing the rack in the lowest position and preheating to 325°F. Place the turkey, breast side up, on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. To enhance browning, brush with oil. Then insert an oven-safe meat thermometer into the center of an inside thigh muscle so the bulb doesn't touch bone.

Cover the turkey loosely with foil, leaving space between the bird and the foil. Press the foil over the drumsticks and neck. Roast turkey using the timings below as a guide. When the bird has been in the oven for two-thirds of the time listed, cut skin or string between drumsticks. Remove foil the last 30 to 45 minutes.

The turkey is done when the thigh meat is 175°F and the stuffing is at least 165°F (stuffed birds usually need 15 to 45 minutes more roasting time than unstuffed birds, so adjust the timing as needed). To check temperatures, pull the bird out of the oven, then insert the thermometer into the thickest portion (if you haven't already inserted an oven-going thermometer), not touching bone or the pan. The temperature should register in about 15 seconds.

After removing the bird from the oven, the temperature of the meat will rise about 5 degrees. The drumsticks should move very easily in their sockets, and their thickest parts should feel soft when pressed. The juices from the thigh should run clear when pierced deeply with a long-tine fork. Cover loosely with foil, and let stand before carving. Release legs from leg clamp, if present. To avoid burns or splatters, do not remove the clamp until the bird has cooled slightly. Remove stuffing before carving.

Timing Guides for Whole, Unstuffed Turkeys in a 325°F Oven:

  • For 8- to 12-pound turkey, roast 2 ¾ to 3 hours.
  • For 12- to 14-pound turkey, roast 3 to 3 ¾ hours.
  • For 14- to 18-pound turkey, roast 3 ¾ to 4 ¼ hours.
  • For 18- to 20-pound turkey, roast 4 ¼ to 4 ½ hours.
  • For 20- to 24-pound turkey, roast 4 ½ to 5 hours.

For stuffed turkeys of the same weight, increase the total cooking time by 15 to 45 minutes.

Before Carving Turkey

After your bird is removed from the oven, let it stand 15 to 20 minutes before carving the turkey. This allows the flesh firm up so it's easier to slice and gives the juices time to evenly redistribute throughout the meat. Cover the bird with foil to keep it warm. Then place the bird on a carving board, remove the stuffing, and use a sharp carving knife or an electric knife for slicing.

Now that you know the basics of how to roast a turkey, all you're missing is a recipe! We've got plenty of roast turkey recipes for you to choose from, or you could even branch out and try deep-frying your turkey this year. Any way you cook it, our tips will help you ensure your turkey is the star of your Thanksgiving dinner menu, just the way it should be.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles