Roasting Turkey 101
Do you want to learn how to bake a turkey and have it turn out moist and delicious? Of course you do. I have many different methods below that you may use to cook the turkey.
Thanksgiving or not, learning how to roast a moist turkey the proper way will impress your family and you may start a new family tradition. Many marinade recipes follow.
How to Bake a Turkey
Buying the Perfect Turkey
If you are a hunter, you already have a bird to roast (lucky you). Buying a fresh bird at the supermarket is the best (and easiest) way to purchase your turkey. No thawing.
How big of a bird should you buy? For leftovers, figure 1 pound per person. If you are serving 10 people, purchase a ten pound turkey.
How To Defrost Frozen Turkey
If you are learning how to bake a turkey (or picking up some new tips), you must get one first. Purchasing a frozen turkey is easy and economical, because the supermarkets have sales on them during the holiday season.
If you purchase a frozen turkey, you can have a beautiful roast turkey in a couple of days after defrosting in the refrigerator.
To defrost turkey for roasting, leave it in the refrigerator (in the original wrapping) for 2 to 4 days. Allow 24 hours for every 6 pounds of weight. If you have a 24 pound turkey, you will need 4 days to defrost it.
In a pinch? Place the turkey in the kitchen sink and fill with cold water. Change the water every hour until completely thawed; approximately 8 hours.
How big of a bird should you buy? For leftovers (a must), figure 1 pound per person. If you are serving 10 people, purchase a ten pound turkey. If you have big eaters, you may want to purchase a larger turkey. Only you know the appetites of your family. Now on the learning how to bake a turkey.
How To Bake a Turkey
How do you bake a turkey? It’s easy. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Rinse the bird with cold water, drain and pat dry. Season with salt, pepper, and a little ginger. Stuff turkey if desired, and truss like a chicken. Place turkey on a rack in a shallow roasting pan, breast side up.
Brush skin with 1/2 cup melted butter. To keep the turkey moist, cover the top with double thickness of a cheesecloth and baste occasionally. Remove the cheesecloth during the last 30 minutes of baking.
Turkey is done when the thickest part of the drumstick feels soft when pressed between fingers. Or insert a thermometer in the thickest part of the drumstick (but not touching the bone), and it registers 185 degrees.
Learning how to bake a turkey can’t get any easier than that.
Roasting Turkey in Foil
Turkey of any size may be cooked at a high oven temperature when wrapped in aluminum foil. This method is particularly suitable for cooking larger birds, weighing 16 to 24 pounds.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Prepare the turkey as for How To Bake a Turkey above. Place the turkey in the center of a foil strip long enough to meet on top of the turkey, plus 12 inches.
If the standard 18-inch foil is not wide enough, splice two sheets of foil with a double-fold pressed flat. You can also purchase the extra strength foil which is usually sold in wider widths.
Bring the ends of the foil together over the breast of the turkey and make a double-fold to fasten above the bird. Bring the sides of the foil up high enough to prevent drippings from escaping into the pan, but do not seal. Package should not be airtight.
Place turkey breast up in a shallow pan, but not on the rack. Cook to within 30 to 40 minutes of the total time given in the chart below. Carefully open the foil. Continue cooking until the bird tests done, and it is browned.
Roasting 1/2 of a Turkey
Here’s another way…
Rub the cavity of the uncooked half-turkey with salt or seasoning. Place cut-side down on rack in a shallow pan. Brush with melted butter and cover with cheesecloth as you would with a whole turkey (how to bake a turkey), basting as directed.
Roast according to the chart below, or use a meat thermometer. If stuffing is desired, when the turkey is half way through the cooking time, remove to a platter.
Place a double thickness of well-greased foil on the rack. Shape a mound of dressing on the foil (like the cavity of the bird) so that you can put the half-turkey over it. Finish roasting.
6 – 8 pounds
Bake at 325 degrees for 3 to 3-1/2 hours (stuffed)
Bake at 450 degrees for 1-1/2 to 2 hours (stuffed turkey wrapped in foil)
8 – 12 pounds
Bake at 325 degrees for 3-1/2 to 4-1/2 hours (stuffed)
Bake at 450 degrees for 2-1/2 hours (stuffed turkey wrapped in foil)
12 – 16 pounds
Bake at 325 degrees for 4-1/2 to 5 hours (stuffed)
Bake at 450 degrees for 3 to 3-1/2 hours (stuffed turkey wrapped in foil)
16 – 20 pounds
Bake at 300 degrees for 5 to 6-1/2 hours (stuffed)
Bake at 450 degrees for 3-1/2 to 4 hours (stuffed turkey wrapped in foil)
For UNSTUFFED turkey, reduce cooking time by 20 minutes.
My BEST TURKEY BRINE and MARINADES
Do you want to try something different with your turkey? For this roast turkey recipe, use my Holiday Brine and Marinade recipes. You can create a new family tradition during the holidays.
This is started two days before Thanksgiving, or the day that you plan on cooking the turkey. Get a nonreactive container large enough to hold the turkey and the brine overnight. A large cooler works well.
TWO DAY HOLIDAY TURKEY BRINE
HOLIDAY TURKEY BRINE – Day 1
1 gallon water
1 small container frozen orange juice, thawed
1 cup kosher salt
1 cup homemade brown sugar, packed
1 tsp ground cinnamon
Mix all of these ingredients together until the sugar and salt is dissolved. You can put the kosher salt in a blender for a couple minutes to make salt powder, so it dissolves faster. Place the turkey in the brine and cover. Let sit overnight in the refrigerator, or outside if it’s cold enough.
HOLIDAY TURKEY MARINADE – Day 2
Take the bird out of the brine, drain and pat dry. Discard the brine. In a large stock pot (one that can hold your turkey, or clean out the cooler and use again), mix the following ingredients together:
3 fresh oranges, sliced
3 fresh lemons, sliced
1/2 fresh green pepper, sliced
1/2 cup fresh onion, chopped
1/4 cup homemade garlic powder
2 TBS paprika
2 tsp ground cinnamon (two cinnamon sticks will work too)
1/3 cup canola oil
1 tsp cloves (optional)
2 TBS freshly ground black pepper
Place the turkey back in the cooler or in the stock pan and rub the inside and outside of the turkey with this marinade. Place back in the refrigerator overnight to marinade. (Is your mouth watering yet? It should be, this is unbelievable.)
It’s Thanksgiving morning. Take the turkey out of the cooler and shake off the excess marinade. It is now ready to roast. You will hear oohs and aahs during dinner. It’s wonderful. “Happy Thanksgiving.”
Following is another marinade that make the turkey so flavorful.
How To Bake a Turkey – HOLIDAY GARLIC MARINADE
2 cups lemon juice
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed
2 TBS homemade garlic powder
2 TBS homemade onion powder
2 TBS fresh oregano, roughly chopped (or 1 tablespoon of dried oregano)
2 TBS kosher salt
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp ground cumin
10 to 16 pound turkey (if it’s bigger, just double the recipe)
Mix all of the marinade ingredients together, let sit for 5 minutes and whisk well again until salt is dissolved. Pierce the SKIN ONLY (just like you would a duck or goose) of the entire turkey and lower into a large stock pot or cooler. Cover inside and out with the marinade and place in refrigerator overnight.
The next day, shake any excess marinade from the turkey. Use the marinade for basting the turkey using one of the above methods for cooking the turkey or do the following:
PREHEAT oven to 325 degrees and spray a roasting pan with canola or vegetable oil. Roast turkey until the internal temperature of the thickest part of the thigh measures 180 degrees, or approximately 5 hours.
Baste the turkey every 30 to 45 minutes with the marinade. Once the breast has browned, cover loosely with aluminum foil to prevent it from becoming burnt.
If you want a beautiful brown turkey, simply set your oven to 500 degrees and leave the turkey in for approximately 30 minutes.
This will vary depending on size of turkey and your oven, so check at 20 minutes; if not browned enough check again in 30 minutes; if not browned enough, check in 40 minutes.
Once the skin has reached the desired color, lower oven temperature to 300, add chicken broth to the pan, cover tightly and finish cooking based on the bird’s weight. This helps seal in the juices and keeps the meat moist.
If you want crisp skin (it will soften due to the covering), just pull off the cover the last 15 minutes of roasting time.