Even a novice can cook a moist, delicious turkey.
Follow these 5 tips on how to cook the perfect turkey. Plus step by step instructions on how to prepare your turkey from start to finish to include how to brine and baste your turkey.
Your turkey will be so good, you will want to cook it all year!
Growing up, I would listen to the adults talk about how difficult it was to cook a turkey.
They described it as labor intensive and stressful.
In addition, the cooked turkey was plain, boring, dry meat that I would have preferred not to eat other than for continuing on tradition for Thanksgiving.
When it became my turn to break into the Thanksgiving Rite of Passage, I was terrified.
After doing a little research and experimenting, I discovered that cooking that bird is quite easy; even for a novice.
My turkey always turns out beautifully brown, moist, and full of flavor. I had no idea what I was missing out on.
Therefore, I am sharing with you my tips and tricks for cooking the perfect turkey!
Watch this video on how to cook a turkey
Follow these steps and you will have the best tasting turkey ever!
Tips to cook a perfect turkey:
Tip 1 - Completely thaw your turkey!
You can buy a fresh turkey and alleviate some of the stress, but odds are you are going to buy a frozen turkey.
You must give yourself adequate time for thawing out your turkey.
If you cook a half-frozen turkey in the oven, you will have a nightmare in the kitchen.
TRUST ME!! It will not cook evenly and the frozen part probably will not cook to a done temperature at all.
Completely thawing your turkey is probably the most crucial part of cooking your turkey.
How to thaw a turkey
Place your turkey breast side up unwrapped in the refrigerator thaw. Thaw the turkey on cookie sheet or pan to catch any dripping juices from the turkey. Calculate 24 hours in the fridge for every 4 lbs of turkey.
To Cold Water Thaw: Butter Ball says: Thaw breast side down, in an unopened wrapper, with enough cold water to cover your turkey completely. Change water every 30 minutes to keep the turkey chilled. Estimate a minimum thawing time of 30 minutes per lb.
- You cannot buy a 20 lb turkey the night before to cook the next morning for your Thanksgiving meal! There will not be enough defrosting time! Give yourself ample time for defrosting.
- Buy a smaller turkey if you do not have days to thaw it.
- You can not thaw your turkey at room temperature. You will need to thaw it out in the refrigerator.
- You can also "cold water thaw" it.
*This post contains affiliate links.
Tip 2 - Brine
Why brine? Brining enhances the flavor of your turkey and most importantly, it keeps that bird moist!!!
If you brine your turkey, you almost can't mess it up…. I did say ALMOST.
Brine your bird for at least 2 hours. I often brine my bird overnight.
To make the brine, you will need apple juice, coarse Kosher salt, brown sugar, ice, and water.
What to use to brine?
Brine your turkey in a stainless steel pot, bucket, or a brining bag such as Large Turkey Brine Bags Heavy Duty for Turkey or Ham XL, 2 pack, with Cooking Twine
You will need to be able to fit your container in the refrigerator! You do not want to use a cooler because it will not regulate the correct temperature to keep it from spoilage.
How to brine your turkey:
- Dissolve kosher salt and brown sugar in hot water.
- Stir in apple juice and ice.
- Submerge turkey in brine for 2 to 12 hours in the refrigerator. I recommend 10 hours.
Discard the brine when ready to cook. You do not use the brine in your cooking.
The brine should never be used as a sauce to cook your turkey in.
Tip 3 - Use a meat thermometer!
You are dealing with a BIG bird and estimating cooking time based on the SIZE of the bird. Key word is ESTIMATING. Your bird may cook slower or faster than planned.
- It takes about 15 minutes per pound at 325 degrees to cook the turkey.... However, this is truly an estimate.
- The only way to know it is exactly the temperature you want is to use a thermometer. If you use a thermometer, you can stop cooking it the minute it reaches perfection.
- Use a leave-in oven-safe thermometer. This prevents you from repeatedly poking the turkey skin and letting out that beautiful juice.
What temperature to cook a turkey?
People will argue about what temperature you want to cook the turkey. I have seen everything between 165 degrees to 185 degrees. It is safe to eat at 165 degrees. I recommend cooking until it reaches 165 degrees and letting it rest. It will actually increase in temperature as it rests. Therefore, it will be at a very safe temperature to eat after resting.
This Famili MT004 Digital Electronic Kitchen Food Cooking Meat Thermometer for BBQ Oven Grill Smoker with Timer Alarm and Large LCD Display has very good reviews on Amazon. I haven't personally used it, so I can't be 100% sure, but based on the reviews, it looks like it would be good.
Tip 4 - Baste
Do you see that pretty brown color of my turkey? All of my turkeys look this way.
Do you know why? I lovingly baste them.
I slather them up in an AMAZING butter and maple syrup recipe I found in a Cuisine at Home magazine.
I start basting my turkey about the last hour of cooking every 15 minutes.
It makes that skin a beautiful color and it makes my turkey taste WICKED GOOD!
For the Baste:
- ¼ cup maple syrup
- ¼ cup of melted butter
Mix butter and syrup together. Baste the turkey the last hour every 15 minutes.
Tip 5 -Rest
Resist any temptation to carve the turkey the minute it comes out of the oven. You have to give it time to rest.
Resting allows the juice in the meat to redistribute evenly. If you carve it too soon, you will lose some of that lovely juice. It also allows the meat to firm back up a bit, allowing it to be easier for carving.
Ideally you should rest your turkey about 30 minutes. I would not do anything less than 20 minutes.
Use that resting time to set the table, fill the drink cups, or any other last minute things you need to do before serving Thanksgiving dinner.
How to cook a perfect turkey- brine and baste recipe included
- 8 lb turkey
- ½ cup kosher salt
- ½ cup brown sugar
- 2 cups hot water
- 2 cups apple juice
- 4 cups ice
- ¼ cup butter
- ¼ cup maple syrup
- Completely thaw turkey.
Make the brine.
- Dissolve ½ cup kosher salt and ½ cup brown sugar in 2 cups hot water.
- Stir in 2 cups apple juice and 4 cups of ice.
- Submerge turkey in brine for 2 or more hours in the refrigerator. I recommend 10 hours for optimal flavor and tenderness.
Cook the turkey.
- Roast turkey uncovered on a rack in a roasting pan at 325 degrees. Turkey cooks about 15 minutes per pound. Use a thermometer to know exact temperature. Turkey is done once it reaches a 165 degree temperature.
Make the baste on the last hour of cooking turkey.
- In a pan, melt ¼ cup butter and mix in ¼ cup maple syrup.
- Baste turkey every 15 minutes on the last hour of the turkey cooking.
- Rest for 20 to 30 minutes before carving to serve.
**This recipe is for an 8 lb turkey. Adjust and double to the size of your turkey.
Nutrition- Nutrition info is based on estimation only.
Should you cover the turkey when cooking it?
I only cover the turkey if it starts cooking too fast.
If the turkey is very large, it will take longer to cook in the oven. Then the skin and/or breast may begin cooking too soon before the inside of the turkey is ready.
In this case, I would cover the actual turkey breast area or any spots that are cooking too quickly with foil.
If you cover the entire turkey in the pan it will steam cook it. That would not be good.
A smaller turkey most of the time doesn’t have this problem. If it isn’t browning too fast before the last hour, you won’t need the foil. The foil is the backup. The meat thermometer will let you know if only part of the turkey is cooking too fast.
Follow these 5 tips. Allow yourself plenty of time to cook the turkey.
And save plenty of room in your belly to eat it, because you will want seconds and thirds!! Enjoy!!
I do not suggest stuffing the turkey. The turkey will be overcooked before the stuffing on the inside is safe to eat.
When choosing a turkey, you want about 1.5 lbs per person. That seems like a lot, but it will cook down and you will want a little for leftovers.
Thanksgiving side dishes:
- Granny Moore's Dressing
- Cranberry Apple Casserole
- Southern Sweet Potato Casserole with Pecans
- Southern Crockpot Green Beans and Potatoes
- Southern Collard Greens
- How to Cook Field Peas
- Tomato Grits Casserole
- Hash Brown Casserole
- Seven Layer Salad
- Ambrosia Salad
- Salted Caramel and Chocolate Pecan Pie Bars
When you make your turkey, please let me know how it turned out in the comment section! I want to hear all about it!! My other readers do too!