Beginners' guide: How to roast a Thanksgiving turkey

By Carrie's Experimental Kitchen

Is this your first time making Thanksgiving dinner? Well rest assured, roasting this turkey is a snap! I remember my first time prepping my first grown up Thanksgiving dinner over 20 years ago. I was so nervous. Yes, I knew how to cook and carve a chicken, but I had never attempted a turkey before. It seemed like it would be much harder. Turns out, it was easier than I thought. Here are a few tips to get you on your way!

How to roast a Thanksgiving Turkey
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Beginners' guide: How to roast a Thanksgiving turkey

What size turkey do I need?

Generally speaking, a good guideline is 1 pound of turkey per person. This will allow enough turkey for the meal plus give you extra for leftovers. I don't know about you, but after cooking all day I rarely eat when it comes time to sit down. I love having leftovers to puck on after my guests go home.

(Photo: Shutterstock)

How do I thaw my turkey?

Once you have purchased your frozen turkey, there are two safe ways to thaw it: refrigerator or cold water. 

Refrigerator ThawingPlace your turkey on a tray breast side down in the refrigerator in an unopened wrapper. Allow 1 day for every 4 lbs. Example: 20 lb turkey = 5 days to thaw

Cold Water Thawing: Place your turkey 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. Allow to thaw 30 minutes per lb. Example: 20 lbs. = 10 hours to thaw

(Photo: Shutterstock) 

How do I prepare my turkey?

There are many ways to prepare a turkey including brining, deep frying, smoking, grilling and my favorite, roasting. Since I only have experience in brining and roasting a turkey, I'll be sharing this recipe for Butter & Herb Roasted Turkey with you as I feel roasting is the easiest way to prepare a turkey for a beginning home cook. 

(Photo: Carrie's Experimental Kitchen)

How long should I cook my turkey?

Prepare to cook your turkey approximately 20 minutes per pound; however, use the chart below for more accurate cooking times. Baste your turkey periodically throughout cooking time and cover the turkey loosely with aluminum foil if the skin is turning to brown. Your turkey is done when temperature is 180F in thigh and 165F in breast or stuffing. Allow to rest for 15 minutes after removing your turkey from the oven to allow for the juices to settle before carving. 

(Photo: Carrie's Experimental Kitchen)

How do I carve my turkey?

Whether you're making a roasted chicken or a 25 lb. turkey, carving can be a little daunting for the first time cook. Here are some steps to get you started:

1. Cut the legs from the body where the thigh meats the breast.

2. Cut through the leg joint to separate the drumstick from the thigh.

3. If you prefer your dark meat sliced, hold the drumstick by the leg and slice the meat downward off of the bone. For the thigh, cut the meat off of the bone angling the knife as you go.

4. Carve both breasts from the breastbone and ribcage; then slice the breast crosswise into 1/2" slices.

(Photo: Carrie's Experimental Kitchen)

How do I make gravy?

You can't have a beautifully roasted turkey without gravy! You can thicken your gravy with either corn starch or flour. For both, you mix with cold water to form a thin paste-like liquid before adding it to your drippings. Corn starch makes for a silky smooth gravy; however, if you can't tolerate corn or corn products you have to use other methods. Using flour will also work well; however, it takes a little more elbow grease as you have to make sure you smooth all of the lumps the flour creates.

1.Place the pan drippings in a saucepan, removing as much excess oil as you can.

2.Heat the pan drippings over medium high heat; then add your thickening agent (cornstarch or flour and cold water).

3. Whisk until the gravy is smooth and has thickened to your liking, season with salt and pepper; then strain the gravy through a fine sieve. 

(Photo: Carrie's Experimental Kitchen)

Here are some helpful tips that I've found invaluable over the years to reduce stress when planning such a big event:

1. Plan your menu at least 2 weeks in advance (if not sooner) and start purchasing non-perishable items so that your pantry is stocked.

2. If you plan on getting a frozen turkey (like I usually do), purchase at least one week before thanksgiving so the Turkey has time to defrost. 

3. The night before the big event, set your dining table and gather all of your serving bowls and utensils and place in the kitchen. Place a post-it note in each serving dish with what will be served. This not only helps when it comes time to fill the dishes to set on the table, it also saves time if you get some extra hands from family and friends wanting to help ou.

4. Last, but not least, sit back, relax and enjoy your handy work and your company!

(Photo: Getty)

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(Photo: Carrie's Experimental Kitchen


Butter & Herb Roasted Turkey

  • 1 Whole Turkey
  • 1 Stick Butter, melted
  • 2 tbsp. Fresh Parsley, chopped
  • 1 tbsp. Fresh Rosemary, chopped
  • 1 tbsp. Fresh Oregano, chopped
  • ½ tsp. Kosher Salt
  • ¼ tsp. Fresh Ground Black Pepper
  • 2 c. Liquid (water, chicken stock or white wine)
  • Kitchen String
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Place your turkey on the rack of a roasting pan breast side up. If not already done, tie the legs together with kitchen string. If you don't have a rack, lay some vegetables like carrots or celery underneath the turkey so that the turkey is elevated.
  3. Combine the butter, parsley, rosemary, oregano, salt and pepper in a bowl; then brush it all over the turkey.
  4. Pour your liquid into the bottom of your roasting pan and place in the oven.
  5. Cook your turkey according to the roasting chart below or approximately 20 minutes per pound. Basting periodically throughout.
  6. Remove turkey from the oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes before carving.
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More from Carrie's Experimental Kitchen:
Pumpkin & sage baked macaroni
Ravioli with pumpkin sage cream sauce
Farro salad with pomegranate, goat cheese and walnuts
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