Updated: Nov 20, 2021
Thanksgiving is a time when people all around the country bake, grill, smoke and deep fry turkey. In fact over 45 million turkeys are eaten in the United States each Thanksgiving. If you are cooking one for the first time it is exciting but stressful with all the options of how to cook one.
This guide is on how to bake a turkey, we will do future articles on deep frying and smoking at a later date. Baking is the classic Norman Rockwell version of a Thanksgiving meal so it makes sense to start with this version.
I'll explain things first and then at the bottom of this page you will get he recipe and a handy timeline calculator so you can get everything on the table at the appointed time.
So getting the right size turkey for your family is important, you want some leftovers but not so much that you have no room in the fridge for mayo. You should get a turkey that is about 1.25 pounds for each guest. So if you you have 4 people eating (including yourself) you need a 5 lb turkey minimum, 6 people would require a 7 and a half pound bird or more. I usually add a couple of pounds to make sure I have enough leftovers for a cool meal the next day.
So you need to plan to start the turkey so it will be done about 45 minutes before you eat. Roasting it at 325 F for about 15 minutes per pound will be your starting point, then the last 30 minutes you will check the internal temperature (inserted on middle of thigh and breast) until it reaches about 165F. This means if you have 6 people you are serving and you get a 9 pound turkey so you have a lot of left overs, you should plan to cook it for 2 hours and 15 minutes.
Warm it Up
About 45 minutes to one hour before you put the bird in the oven you need to take it out of the fridge and let it rest on the counter. Allowing it to come to room temperature first will decrease the time it spends in the oven. This will help improve texture and prevent the white meat from drying out.
Always preheat your oven you're letting the bird warm up, you warm up your car in the winter, so warm up the oven so you get things done on time.
God Rest Ye Merry Turkey Parts
After you take your turkey out of the oven. Put down the knife and walk away! If you want your turkey to taste as good as it looks it needs to rest. Plan to give a full 30 minutes before carving.
So here's the thing, cutting the turkey at the table takes lots of time and is tough to do with a house full of hungry guests, so here's the secret. Pull the turkey out of the oven and put it on a large cutting board ... take pictures from all sides, call your mom in to see it, pose with it for selfies (let it rest like I told you) then cut it up and plate it in the kitchen before you take it to the table. No one wants to wait while yo cut it up as they sit there wondering if you will get things taken down right. In the kitchen you can slice the breast meat and cut off the drumsticks and pick the loose tender meat that doesn't come in a full sized piece, then arrange them on a serving plate with tongs for your guest's simple serving.
So below I've put a simple recipe and attached a spreadsheet that will give you the timeline for each step. Let us know how it goes. I've links some of the spices to our webstore to make it easy for you to order. Good luck!
Onion fresh about 4 inches in diameter
a fresh lemon
a large apple
1/2 pound of unsalted butter
1/4 ounce dried ground sage leaves
1 12-20 pound turkey
1 onion, peeled and quartered
1 lemon, quartered
1 apple, quartered
1 tablespoon dried rosemary leaves
1 tablespoon dried thyme leaves
1 tablespoon dried ground sage leaves
Herb butter ingredients
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon bourbon barrel smoked salt
1/2 teaspoon bourbon barrel smoked ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried rosemary leaves
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon dried ground sage leaves
Prep the night before
Remove turkey from packaging and remove the neck and giblets from the inside the cavities of the bird. (Reserve them for gravy, if you want, or throw them away). Pat your turkey dry with paper towels.
Make the herb butter by combining the room temperature butter, garlic, salt, pepper, rosemary, thyme, and half a teaspoon of sage.
Use your fingers to loosen and lift the skin above the breasts (on the top of the turkey) and push in a few tablespoons of the herb butter underneath that skin.
Season the cavity of the turkey with salt and pepper. Stuff it with the quartered lemon, onion and apple and herbs.
Tuck the wings of the turkey underneath the turkey and set the turkey on a roasting rack inside a roasting pan.
Save the remaining herb butter mixture for cooking day.
Day of meal
Remove the thawed turkey from the fridge 1 hour before roasting, to let it come to room temperature.
Adjust your oven rack so the turkey will sit in the center of the oven. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
Microwave the remaining herb butter mixture for 30 seconds (it doesn’t need to be completely melted--just really softened). Use a basting brush to brush the remaining herb butter all over the outside of the turkey, legs and wings.
Roast at 325 degrees F for about 13-15 minutes per pound, or until internal temperature (inserted on middle of thigh and breast) reaches about 165 degrees.
I remove the turkey from the oven once it gets to 160 degrees. Then, I use foil to tent it, and let it rest. It will continue cooking under the foil, to reach 165F.)
Check the turkey about halfway through cooking, and once the skin gets golden brown, cover the top of the turkey with tinfoil, to protect the breast meat from getting too brown.
Allow turkey to rest for 30 minutes before carving. Then serve it to your guests and enjoy.
Use the spreadsheet below to calculate the timeline for your turkey. This will be a meal to remember.
The Turkey Timing Calculator