Thanksgiving Roast Turkey Recipe

Cook Time

Prep time: 3 hours
Cook time: 3 hours 30 min
Ready in: 6 hours 30 min
Yields: 12 plus leftovers


  • 2/3 cup salt, kosher or table, doesn't matter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 gallons water
  • 1 turkey, approx. 15 lbs.

Brine the Turkey

Adapted from a recipe I saw in the Los Angeles Times.

I use a 5 gallon Home Depot bucket, reserved for the annual turkey brining. In the bucket, mix up 2/3 cup salt, 1 cup sugar, and 2 gallons water. My kids tell people we're having "Turkey in a Bucket" for Thanksgiving.

Unwrap and rinse the turkey well. My turkey is usually around 15 lbs. Remove the giblet/neck package from the inside of the bird. I cook these separately and the dog usually gets them (not the neck, of course, too many bones). Put the turkey in the bucket and make sure it's fully covered with the brine solution. You can add a bit more water if it's not. Now you have to empty out your refrigerator shelves and rearrange things so that the turkey bucket will fit. For me it means removing one shelf.

I defrost the turkey in the fridge first for a couple of days. If the turkey is already defrosted, you need about 2 days of brining time in the fridge. If the turkey is still frozen, you can defrost and brine at the same time, but you'll need to add extra time, 1-2 days, in the fridge. I have heard of people actually storing their brining turkey in their garage or outside in the cold weather, but that is not an option here!

Roast the Turkey

On roasting day, remove the turkey from the bucket, rinse and pat dry with paper towels. Let it sit on the rack in its roasting pan at room temperature for 1-2 hours before roasting. Letting the turkey warm up after coming out of the fridge helps it to cook more evenly and rapidly, with a juicier result.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Dry off the bird once more and then brush it all over with melted butter. Put a couple of carrots and celery stalks, cut up, into the cavity, along with a small onion, cut into halves. Add about 3 cups of water to the bottom of the roasting pan.

Roast in the oven until it reaches a temperature of 165 degrees when a thermometer is inserted in the thickest part of the thigh; start checking at about 2 hours. It seems like a short time, but remember the bird started out close to room temperature already. Total roasting time will depend on the size of the bird, your oven, and how cold the turkey was when it started in the oven. Mine usually takes about 3½ hours.

The dilemma is always that breast or white meat is considered done at 160°F, while dark (leg) meat is considered fully cooked at 170°F. So if you cook until the dark meat is fully done, the breast gets all dry and tough. Most people cook until the thigh registers a temperature of 165°F as a compromise.

I would rather have the breast juicy and tender at the risk of having the dark meat undercooked so I go with 160°F. That's what everyone eats first anyway. I can always put the dark meat pieces back in the oven after the turkey breast has been cut up for a few more minutes to finish cooking.

If the turkey isn't browning well, raise the oven temperature to 400° after your temperature check registers 130°F. Or if you have a convection oven, turn on the convection fan at this point.

When the turkey has reached the right temperature, remove it from the oven and cover it well with foil. It will finish roasting and the internal temp will rise another 5 - 10 degrees as it rests for 20 - 30 minutes. I have to keep the dog out of the kitchen as she is going crazy by now with the smells. A cooked bird just sitting on the counter is just too tempting!

After it has rested, the turkey is ready to carve and serve. I use the liquid in the roasting pan to make gravy, or use whatever gravy recipe you like.

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