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How to Roast a Turkey

Updated on October 21, 2016
Cooked Turkey
Cooked Turkey | Source

How to Prepare a Turkey

If you are purchasing and cooking a turkey for the first time, don't panic. Here you'll find all of the instructions you'll need including what size turkey to buy, how to thaw the turkey, how to prepare and how to stuff and the best way to cook it.

If the turkey is for a Thanksgiving or another family meal, prepare all of your other dishes that can be cooked the day ahead to make the day go stress free.That way you won't be frazzled for the party.

Wild Turkey
Wild Turkey | Source

Purchasing a Turkey

You need to decide if you want a fresh turkey or a frozen turkey. Fresh is wonderful, but you will usually be charged a higher price. It might be worth it to you. I've only cooked a fresh turkey once and I will it admit that it was good. You may want to purchase just a turkey breast

if your family prefers white meat only. You can purchase the breast with the bone-in or boneless.This requires a lot less work. You won't have to clean leftovers off the bone.

The following amounts are suggested by the Michigan State University Extension.

If you decided on a whole turkey, you will need to purchase 1# per person.

Boneless breast of turkey requires 1/2# per person.

Breast with the bone-in requires 3/4# per person.

Pre-stuffed frozen turkey requires 1 1/4# per person

Pre-stuffed turkeys need to be kept frozen until you are ready to cook them.

How to Thaw a Turkey

There are several ways to thaw a turkey. For refrigerator thawing you need to make sure that the temperature inside is 40 degrees Fahrenheit or less. Allow 24 hours for each 4-5 pounds. Leave the wrapper on until you remove it from the fridge.

Another option is to thaw the bird in cold water. Thawing in the fridge is easier, but if you don't have room for the turkey, you can choose this method. Submerge the turkey in cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes. It will take approximately 30 minutes for each pound of turkey.

If you have a smaller turkey, you can thaw it in the microwave. Be sure to check your manufacturers instructions for proper times to thaw. Immediately cook the turkey after thawing.

After thawing, remove the giblets and neck from the turkey. These are sometimes stuffed in the neck cavity or on the inside of the bird. If you thawed in the fridge, wash the bird under cold clear running water, both inside and out.

Preparing the Turkeys

You will need a large roasting pan big enough for the turkey. You'll also need a meat thermometer unless the bird comes with a pop-up one. A throw away foil roasting pan is nice to use if you don't want to scrub the roasting pan later. Be sure to use a cookie sheet underneath, because the foil will give and you will end up with a hot turkey on the floor. This can also cause you to be burned badly.

Different cooks do different things to the turkey before roasting. I like to spray the turkey with cooking spray to help seal in the juices if I am going to bake it without a cooking bag. Other cooks like to butter the top of the turkey and still others don't do anything at all. Syringes work well to inject juices in the bird. It is up to you how you'd like to cook the turkey.

Stuffing the Turkey

If you decide that you'd like to stuff the turkey, stuff loosely and be sure the stuffing is moist. You want to be sure the stuffing rises to a safe temperature. Heat will kill bacteria much faster if the stuffing is moist rather than dry.

If you prefer you can bake the stuffing in a baking or casserole dish.

Cooking Times

Set the oven for 325 degrees F. The times are approximate and are the recommended by the Michigan State University Extension. I always allow extra time if guest are arriving. Somehow my turkey is never ready in time if I don't.

A faster way to cook a turkey is in a cooking bag. This will cut the time baking by almost half and it makes a very moist turkey. If you decide to do this instead, the instructions for times are included in the package.

Unstuffed Turkey

8-12#----------- 2 3/4 to 3 hours

12-14#---------- 3 to 3 3/4 hours

14-18#-----------3 3/4 to 4 1/4 hours

18-20#-----------4 1/4 to 4 1/2 hours

20-24#-----------4 1/2 to 5 hours

Stuffed Turkey

8-12#-------------3 to 3 1/2 hours

12-14#------------3 1/2 to 4 hours

14-18#-------------4 to 4 1/4 hours

18-20#-------------4 1/4 to 4 3/4 hours

20-24#--------------4 3/4 to 5 1/4 hours

When the time is completed, use a meat thermometer and check the whole turkey has an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees F. Check both the inner most part of the wing and thigh and the thickest part of the breast. You don't want to overcook the turkey or it will be dry, but you need it at a safe temperature.

Let the turkey cool for about 20 minutes before removing the stuffing and carving. If your guest haven't arrived yet, you may want to cover it with aluminum foil. This will keep the meat warm for a while.

If you have overcooked the bird, pour a can of turkey or chicken broth over the took. Cover it and the turkey will absorb the juice.

Turkey is easy to make, if you just follow these easy instructions.


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    • Barbara Kay profile imageAUTHOR

      Barbara Badder 

      6 years ago from USA

      alocsin, Because a turkey is big, a lot of people think it is hard and a lot of work. Actually it is one of the easier things to cook as long as you cook it the proper length of time. Give it a try and you'll be surprised how easy it is.

    • alocsin profile image

      Aurelio Locsin 

      6 years ago from Orange County, CA

      Useful information but I don't know that I'm ready to roast one just yet. I'll bookmark this though, to consult when I'm ready to take the plunge. Voting this Up and Useful.

    • Barbara Kay profile imageAUTHOR

      Barbara Badder 

      6 years ago from USA

      Jackie, I completely agree. I hate it fried. Thanks for commenting.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 

      6 years ago from The Beautiful South

      Great advice and I am with you on the deep fried. Well I did like it but I can't handle the thoughts of something like that deep fried when it is so fantastic baked and healthy. The oil must cost a fortune too!

    • Barbara Kay profile imageAUTHOR

      Barbara Badder 

      7 years ago from USA

      Carol, Thanks for looking at the hub. I saved the info for myself too. I forget every year how long to leave it in the oven. Thanks for commenting.

    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 

      7 years ago from Arizona

      This is a straightforward hub with all the information you need to know about preparing and cooking turkey. I am going to bookmark it so I can refer to it when cooking turkey next time. I usually cook one once during the year. I think it is the leftovers that really get me!!! Thumbs up

    • Barbara Kay profile imageAUTHOR

      Barbara Badder 

      7 years ago from USA

      Cardisa, Yes you can deep fry a whole turkey. A friend did it that way one year at our house. I didn't care for it, but he thought it was the best turkey ever. I guess it's a matter of taste. I thought it was dry, but he may have over cooked it. Another reason I might not have liked is that I don't care for anything greasy. Thanks for stopping by.

    • Cardisa profile image

      Carolee Samuda 

      7 years ago from Jamaica

      Barbara, I wanted to know if people deep fry whole turkeys. I have seen it in the movies but was not sure if it can be done. They make a big fire outside with a huge pot of oil. Then they lower the turkey in the oil very carefully. Only seen it on tv.

    • Barbara Kay profile imageAUTHOR

      Barbara Badder 

      7 years ago from USA

      Arlene, I'll have to get it written before Thanksgiving. Thanks again.

    • profile image

      Arlene V. Poma 

      7 years ago

      Thanks for getting my hint! Looking forward to your writing if you have the time. I do agree with you. Leftovers are the best part of Thanksgiving.

    • Barbara Kay profile imageAUTHOR

      Barbara Badder 

      7 years ago from USA

      Arlene, The leftovers are the best part! I've been thinking about publishing a few leftover recipes. I'll see if I have time.

    • profile image

      Arlene V. Poma 

      7 years ago

      We never seem to have leftovers, Barbara Kay. I think my husband is dropping some hints because he did the shopping this year. There's so much you can do with leftover turkey, so I'm looking forward to bookmarking all the suggestions I find on HubPages.

    • Barbara Kay profile imageAUTHOR

      Barbara Badder 

      7 years ago from USA

      Arlene, Thanks for commenting. Wow! A 24 pounder is a big bird. I think the biggest one I've ever done was an 18 pound.

    • profile image

      Arlene V. Poma 

      7 years ago

      Thanks for the reminder, Barbara Kay. My husband purchased a 24-pound turkey this year, so I need to make sure I defrost it before the big day. My last two tries at cooking a turkey have been successful. I did forget about the bag containing the neck and giblets the first time around, so imagine my surprised when I fished them out of the turkey before serving the meal. No one knows except my husband.

    • Barbara Kay profile imageAUTHOR

      Barbara Badder 

      7 years ago from USA

      I'm happy to hear that you've learned all the lessons. If you are cooking a turkey this Thanksgiving, I hope everyone tells you, it is the best they ever had.

    • missolive profile image

      Marisa Hammond Olivares 

      7 years ago from Texas

      Very informative and helpful.

      I've made all the errors...

      Not thawing in time.

      Forgetting to remove the giblets from the neck cavity.

      Not timing the cooking time accordingly.


      However, I've learned and I make a pretty good turkey with all the fixings. Plus, the family STILL chooses my house for Thanksgiving. So, I guess I've learned. LOL

      Again, great info and useful - thank you for sharing!

      Voted up, useful and interesting


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