Thanksgiving is a special time of year. It brings back so many wonderful memories from my childhood. From cleaning the house to making apple, cherry, pecan, and pumpkin pies days ahead to making side dishes with my mom in the kitchen and even waking up at 5 AM to help her put the turkey in the oven for an early Thanksgiving Day dinner. The holiday has always been about welcoming anyone into our home with open arms. As a tradition, every year we go around the table and share what we are most thankful for. This time allows us to reflect on what’s truly important.
This year, I’m planning to put my slow cooker and Instant Pot pressure cooker to work in the kitchen. While the turkey is roasting in the oven, I’ll get my side dishes together like this buttery Instant Pot Mashed Potato recipe and I’ll use my slow cooker to make Creamed Corn. I’ll make a spread of side dishes ahead of time and roast any last-minute vegetables to serve fresh out of the oven while the turkey rests before slicing and bringing to the table.
A traditional Thanksgiving turkey is pretty simple to prepare. While it can seem overwhelming, especially if it’s your first time making the roast for the November holiday, it’s important to remember just a few things.
Buying a turkey: Don’t get confused by the labels. The turkey we eat is from a young turkey. A standard label might say “13-pound young turkey”. Turkeys are usually processed between the ages of 5-6 months. Any older and the meat is too tough.
Thawing: First, you’ll want to purchase the turkey at least a week ahead of schedule. Part of preparing a whole turkey means that you’ll need to plan for it to thaw before cooking unless it is not frozen. More on thawing time in post below. You could even purchase it earlier and keep it in the freezer or turn the refrigerator temperature to a cooler setting so defrosting takes longer. Once the bird is thawed, reach into both bird cavities and remove any plastic bags or other parts that you don’t want to use.
Brining: Decide if you’ll be brining the turkey in a salt water solution. Nowadays, a lot of turkeys, like Butterball, Honeysuckle, and Honest Turkey can come pre-brined. Simply put, if an ingredient label states a “solution” that means it’s likely brined. Now, brining solutions can vary greatly. Traditionally, I like to brine mine in a weaker solution but if it’s not brined at all, then I’ll brine it fully. NOTE: Brining is NOT a requirement, BUT allowing it to rest in saltwater plumps it up and changes the protein structure resulting in the juiciest, moist, tender, and flavorful bird ever.
Flavoring: The turkey should be prepared with spices or herbs. You can make your own dry rub at home or buy a container from the store that’s used for poultry. Since the top is covered in skin, you’ll want to use a knife to gently get the herb rub under the skin where all the meat is. More on dry rubs below.
Roasting: Plan to use a large roaster, or buy an oval rack roaster (aluminum foil roaster) from the grocery store with a sheet pan fitted underneath it to prevent dropping. Ideally, the turkey should be semi-elevated off the bottom of the pan to help circulate warm air to aid in cooking. This can be achieved with a small rack or a simple homemade rack using crumpled aluminum foil. This foil rack hack guide to roasts has a few useful homemade hacks with everyday house supplies.
Quick 5-Minute Turkey Gravy
Head over to this post to read about making turkey gravy. Replace turkey drippings with chicken or turkey broth. Use any giblets in the recipe as well.
Turkey Brines, Dry Rubs, Flavor Rubs, Seasonings
Most turkeys are brined or injected with a salt solution. The brine solutions can vary widely among brands. Even so, you may still want to brine if the solution listed on the package is not a lot or if it doesn’t suggest any brine at all. Brining turkey has many benefits. For one, the salt and water solution plumps up the turkey while it works to change the protein structure. In the end, this results in moist, juicy meat that has a soft texture. I’m covering everything you need to know about brining with this Turkey Brine Recipe including a variety of quick or long brine times based on your needs.
How to Season Turkey
Seasoning poultry is a must, even if you’re brining it. Don’t miss out on all the delicious flavors by skipping this step. Classic turkey seasonings are made from herbs and spices. These are the same common flavors that make chicken taste flavorful, too. Some brands sell bottles of dried herb seasoning blends but you can make your own at home. I like rosemary, black pepper, salt, basil, and sage. Other regular flavors include thyme, oregano, paprika, and tarragon.
Since the meat of the turkey is protected with a layer of skin, you’ll want to prepare a spot in the kitchen to fully work the rub in under the skin. Simply put, take a knife a make a few gentle cuts near the edges then reach your hand in between the layers to spread the rub.
Roast Turkey Questions and Tips
Can I just cook a turkey breast? Yes. Cooking a turkey breast is a great choice for smaller crowds. I’m covering this topic and more on this page slow cooker turkey breast and gravy recipe.
How long do I need to thaw a whole turkey? This is largely influenced by the weight of the turkey. REFRIGERATOR THAW: Allow (4.8 hours) x (per pound). Thaw directions; Place frozen turkey in a garbage bag or container to catch any liquid seepage from the wrapped package.QUICK COLD WATER THAW: Allow (30 minutes) x (per pound) of turkey. Thaw directions; fill a large pot or a clean sink with cold water and replace the water every 30 minutes.
How should I brine a turkey? I’m covering the entire brining process with a recipe guide on this post here Easy Turkey Brine Recipe.
Should I salt a brined turkey? Yes, you can. Brining turkey changes the protein structure and texture making it plumper, juicier, moister and more flavorful. While a turkey injectable will oversalt a brined turkey, seasoning it with salt, spices, and herbs is encouraged. Rinse the turkey under cold water and pat it dry.
How much turkey per person?
What size turkey do I need? As a general rule, 1 lb. turkey per person. When planning for leftovers, aim for 1.5 – 2 lbs. per person. Additionally, plan 1/2 lb. per child.
THANKSGIVING DAY MENU PLANNING CALCULATORS
|TURKEY||1 LB. PER PERSON (1/2 LB PER CHILD)|
|GRAVY||2 OZ. PER PERSON (1 OZ. PER CHILD)|
|STUFFING||.75 LB PER PERSON|
|APPETIZER||1 FOR EVERY 5 PEOPLE|
|SALAD||1 FOR EVERY 10 PEOPLE|
|STARCHY DISH||1 FOR EVERY 5 PEOPLE|
|VEGETABLE||1 FOR EVERY 5 PEOPLE|
|DESSERT||1 FOR EVERY 5 PEOPLE|
|WINE||3 BOTTLES FOR EVERY 5 ADULTS|
What recipes can I make ahead? Recipes like cranberry sauce, creamy cranberry fluff salad, side salads, cornbread, mashed potatoes, classic dessert pies, cookies, dessert bars, sweet potato casserole, bread rolls, cranberry relish, glazed carrots, turkey brine, jambalaya, cranberry meatballs, crockpot holiday ham
What recipes should I make on the day? Plan to make recipes that won’t change flavor or texture when reheated. I prefer to make my juicy herb butter turkey the day of hosting the holiday. If making a whole turkey is just not in the books this year, aim for this crock pot herb turkey breast. I like to make oven-roasted broccoli, turkey gravy, creamed corn, hashbrown casserole, glazed green bean bacon bundles, and green bean casserole.
Juicy Roast Turkey with Herb Butter
- turkey brine recipe optional
- 12 lb whole turkey, fresh or frozen *see notes for larger sizes
- 1 cup very soft unsalted butter melt for 15-30 seconds if it doesn't spread well on turkey
- 2 tsp onion powder
- 2 ½ tsp garlic powder or 4 minced garlic cloves
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
- 1/2 tsp salt (1 tsp more if turkey is not brined)
- 2½-3 tsp Poultry, Italian or Greek seasoning
- Thaw the turkey ahead of time if frozen. Do not cook it frozen. See notes below on thawing techniques and times based on size of turkey.
- Allow the thawed turkey to come to room temperature 1 hour before roasting. Meanwhile, prepare turkey and get everything ready below.
- Reach into center cavity and neck cavity to remove any plastic bags and the turkey neck with giblets, if not using.
- Use a sharp knife to gently tear the skin near the corners, working to gently lift it from the meat to be able to reach in the herb butter.
- Pat entire turkey dry with paper towels.
- Make the herb butter rub. Use softened butter. TIP: cube butter then place in microwave for 30 seconds or until very mostly soft (not completely melted)
- Fold in onion powder, garlic powder, salt, pepper, and poultry seasoning and mix completely with butter.
- Smear 2/3 of herb butter seasoning on the underside of the skin and legs. This will flavor the meat. Rub the remaining 1/3 on the skin.
- Tuck the wings of the turkey underneath the turkey.
- Prepare a large roasting pan with a rack. See notes for a few quick homemade rack hacks using stuff already in your home.
- Preheat the oven to 325°F. Position oven grate to the lowest level.
- Set the turkey on a roasting rack inside a roasting pan breast side up. If using a foil pan, place a baking sheet under the pan to easily add or remove roast turkey from oven.
- Roast uncovered at 325°F for about 13-15 minutes per pound, or until internal temperature (inserted on middle of thigh and breast) reaches about 165-175°F. Place foil over turkey about 2/3 way into cooking once skin is golden brown.
- Remove from oven. Tent with foil and allow to rest; 15-25 minutes.
TURKEY THAW TIMES
TURKEY BRINEHead over to this post for details on brining a turkey.
Roasting Rack HacksUse this guide to make a homemade roasting rack for the turkey.
Nutritional information is only an estimate and it’s accuracy is not guaranteed to be exact.
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