How to Cook a Turkey

Learning how to cook a turkey is easier than you may have thought.  With a few simple tips and tricks you can have a perfect juicy, golden brown turkey on your holiday table.

overhead view of a turkey on a platter.

I had been married almost 30 years before I cooked my own turkey.  Up until that point our Thanksgivings had been spent with family in Utah or at my mother’s house.  I was usually put on roll or pie duty so I never needed to know how to cook a turkey.

Well, times have changed and often I am now the head cook on Thanksgiving and the turkey is my responsibility. After I overcame my initial fear I discovered that cooking a turkey is easier than I thought.

cooked turkey on a platter.With just a few tips and tricks you can have a beautiful, golden brown  turkey on your holiday table every time!

I have used a roaster oven to cook my turkey in the past but my favorite way to do it is in the oven.  That can be a problem though because you don’t have room to cook anything else if you don’t have two ovens.  I have discovered that using my slow cookers (I have more than one) for my side dishes is the best way to go.

My Holiday Slow Cooker cookbook has all my favorite Thanksgiving slow cooker recipes in it.

If you are cooking Thanksgiving dinner for two be sure and check out my Thanksgiving for Two ebook.

side view of a roasted turkey

How to Cook a Turkey in the Oven

  • Thaw your turkey if it is frozen.  I usually put mine in the refrigerator 2-3 days before Thanksgiving.  You want to allow 24 hours for every 5 pounds of turkey.
  • Before cooking, allow the turkey to sit at room temperature for one hour.
  • Preheat oven to 500 degrees F.  We are going to cook the turkey at a high temperature for the first 30 minutes to get that skin nice and golden brown.
  • Remove the neck and giblets from inside the turkey.  Pat the turkey dry with a paper towel.
  • Mix together your herb butter.

losening skin on turkey

  • Loosen the skin on the turkey with your fingers.
  • Rub herb butter underneath skin of the turkey and onto the top of the turkey skin too.

turkey ready for the oven

  • Stuff the turkey with apple, lemon, onion and fresh herbs.  Tuck the wings under the turkey and using kitchen string, tie the legs together.  Place the turkey on a rack in a roasting pan.
  • Create a triangular foil tent for the turkey that you will put on the turkey after it cooks at 500 degrees F for 30 minutes. You want the foil to cover the breast of the turkey.

Foil over a turkey

How Long Does it Take to Cook a Turkey?

  • After the turkey has cooked at 500 degrees F for 30 minutes, turn the oven down to 350 degrees F and place the foil tent on the turkey and insert a meat thermometer into the breast of the turkey, making sure it doesn’t hit the bone. You want it in the meatiest part of the turkey breast.
  • Cook the turkey until the breast reaches 160 degrees.  This will take about 2-3 hours.  Be sure and use a meat thermometer. Plan on about 12-15  minutes per pound for total cook time.

Oven Roasted Turkey

golden brown turkey in roasting pan

  • Let the turkey rest for 15 minute before carving which will allow the temperature to rise to 165 degrees F.  I like to tent with foil as it rests to help keep it warm.

roasted turkey in a roasting pan

  • Reserve any drippings or juices in your roasting pan to make your gravy.
  • Garnish the turkey platter with fresh herbs such as sage, bay leaves and rosemary.  I like to add red grapes and lemon slices.

Turkey on a platter

How many pounds of turkey do I need?

A good rule of thumb is 1.5 lbs per person.  I cooked a 13 pound turkey which will feed 8 people without a lot of leftovers.  If you like a lot of leftovers I would recommend a 15-18 lb. turkey for 8 people.

Other favorite Thanksgiving recipes:

For all of my other favorite kitchen products and tools visit my Amazon Store.  I like to use a roasting pan like this one.

Did you know I wrote a cookbook?  Check out the Holiday Slow Cooker Cookbook for 100 delicious recipes

Turkey Recipe

How to Cook the Perfect Turkey

Learning how to cook a turkey is easier than you may have thought.  With a few simple tips and tricks you can have a perfect juicy, golden brown turkey on your holiday table.

  • 13-15 lb. turkey (thawed)
  • 1 onion (quartered)
  • 1 lemon (quartered)
  • 1 apple (quartered)
  • 2- springs rosemary
  • 2 spring sage
  • 2 sprigs thyme or oregano

Herb Butter

  • 1/2 cup butter (softened)
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1-2 Tbsp fresh herbs (chopped (rosemary, oregano, thyme, etc.))
  1. Thaw turkey in refrigerator. 24 hours for every 5 lbs.

  2. Allow turkey to sit at room temperature one hour before putting in the oven.

  3. Preheat oven to 500 degrees F with rack at the bottom of oven, you want the turkey in the center of your oven.

  4. Mix together herb mixture.

  5. Remove neck and giblets from inside of the turkey, rinse and pat turkey dry.

  6. Using your fingers, loosen the skin of the turkey and rub half the butter mixture under the skin. Spread the other half over the top of the skin.

  7. Stuff the inside of the turkey with lemon, onion, apple and fresh herbs. Tuck the wings under the turkey and tie the legs together with kitchen string.

  8. Place turkey on rack in roasting pan.

  9. Fold a piece of foil into a triangle and shape it to fit the turkey, covering the breast area. See photo above.

  10. Roast the turkey at 500 degrees F. for 30 minutes to let the skin turn golden brown.

  11. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees F, insert oven safe meat thermometer in the thickest part of the breast, being sure not to hit the bone. Cover turkey with foil triangle. Cook the turkey until it reaches 160 degrees F. and remove from oven. Tent with foil and allow to sit for 15-20 minutes before carving.

If you’ve tried this turkey recipe or any other recipe on Your Homebased Mom, then don’t forget to rate the recipe and let me know how it went in the comments below, I love hearing from you!

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thanksgiving turkey on a platter

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