Skip to main content

Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey roasting tips and techniques

Written By | Nov 22, 2020
Thanksgiving, Turkey, Roasting

Roasting a Norman Rockwell perfect turkey is not hard.  But it takes more than defrosting a frozen bird and popping it into the oven.  First, try to work with a fresh turkey. Frozen birds can sit in the deep freeze for up to a year.  In fact, if you are buying frozen, don’t pick one up at the start of the selling season.  They are often birds leftover from last season.

Turkey’s are vacumn packed. You always want to check vacuum-packed turkeys by running your hand along the underside seam to check for air pockets. If the seal is not tight – no air bubbles, wrinkles or tears –  check another one.

First, take the time to brine your turkey.  You can buy a commercial brine, or make your own.  I like an apple cider, citrus brine detailed here: Brine your Thanksgiving turkey in apple cider, citrus and herbs

Always place your bird on a rack in the roasting pan so it is not stewing in its own juices.  Frozen birds will release more moisture than fresh, which is not a good thing.  The release of excess fluids from the frozen bird can also cause the meat to become tough.

Roasting your Turkey

For roasting the turkey, the rule of thumb is usually 15 minutes per pound at 350 degrees. Twenty to 25 minutes per pound at 325 degrees. If you choose to use stuffing in your bird, you may need to adjust the cooking time a bit more to accommodate that.

However, the recommendation is to make your dressing in a separate pan to avoid bacteria.

A convection oven has better air circulation, which allows the meat to be cooked more evenly throughout. Whichever type of oven you use, place your turkey on a rack to keep it from soaking in the drippings (which you should retain for gravy) and to ensure air circulation.

How long to cook a Thanksgiving Turkey

A 20-pound bird will cook for about 4½ – five hours at 325 degrees. A 12-pound bird should take about 21/2 – three hours. Some recipes call for cooking at 350 degrees, which will reduce your time to cook. Personally, in a gas or convection oven, I would suggest 350. In an electric oven, take your time and reduce that dry heat to 325.

The USDA Timetable for Turkey Roasted at 325 degrees F.

Note: These times are approximate and should always be used in conjunction with a properly placed thermometer. Be sure to check the thermometer about 3/4th of the way through the time indicated so as not to overcook.

Unstuffed Weight Roasting Time
Things to have on hand

Make sure you have a quick read thermometer, parchment paper, and aluminum foil on hand.  Before you tent or wrap the drumsticks in foil, wrap them in the paper.

Add Bone Stock or, if not available reduce turkey broth to 50%, on hand for basting, adding liquid to the bottom of the roasting pan and for making gravy.

We all want to make gravy like grandma, but sometimes it just doesn’t work.  Have store-bought turkey gravy on hand.  You can also doctor store-bought with your own juices, herbs, and stock.

Purchase fresh herbs whenever you can.

There are two ways to thaw a frozen bird. In the refrigerator, it takes about 24 hours for every five pounds. So depending on the size of your turkey, you’ll need to start thawing days in advance. If you need a quicker thaw, submerge your turkey in very cold water and ice for one hour for every two pounds.  Change the water frequently, adding more water and ice to make sure you keep it cold.

Never let the raw turkey sit on the countertop. Bacteria can grow quickly. You want to keep the bird cold to the touch.

The finishing touch

For the first two-thirds of your cooking time, keep the steam in and the turkey covered tightly. Take the cover off your turkey for the last hour, regularly basting your turkey with a mixture of one stick of unsalted butter and 1/2 cup of cider to ensure a beautiful, crisp outside while leaving the inside moist.

The turkey is done when a meat thermometer inserted close to, but not touching, the bone reads 180 degrees in the thigh and 170 degrees in the breast.

Don’t promise dinner at a specific time. Turkey can be finicky, and you want it cooked but not overcooked. Take the bird out of the oven 10 degrees before it reaches its maximum cooking time, tent with aluminum foil and allow it to continue cooking while you place your sides onto the table.

Speaking of those sides, clean out the over drawer where you store your pan lids.  The actual pourpose of this drawer is to keep your side dishes warm.  Cover them with foil before putting them in the drawer.

Your timing may need to be adjusted according to your oven’s capacity, but this recipe guarantees a flavorful, fall-off-the-bone meal.

Note: Cooking a fresh turkey and or cooking at higher altitudes can increase cooking time to a solid twenty to twenty-five minutes per pound at 325. 

Lead Image: By Norman Rockwell – U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain,

Jacquie Kubin

Jacquie Kubin is an award-winning writer and wanderer. She turns her thoughts to an eclectic mix of stories - from politics to sports. Restless by nature and anxious to experience new things, both in the real world and online, Jacquie mostly shares travel and culinary highlights, introduces readers to the chefs and creative people she meets and shares the tips, life and travel information people want to read.