How to roast a turkey – step by step instructions and cooking times

by Kremy

How to roast a turkey step by step instructions

How to roast a turkey to perfection? Many people will tell you that this is like roasting a chicken and they will be right. It is just that the turkey is a pretty big chicken and if you want tender and juicy meat, you need to know some essential rules. It will be quite embarrassing if you serve an overcooked or undercooked bird to the friends and family gathered around the festive table for Thanksgiving or Christmas.

How to roast a turkey – basic steps to follow

How to roast a turkey basic steps to follow


It all starts with the turkey! You can buy a frozen turkey or a fresh one. Many people prefer to plan ahead the festive menu and buy frozen turkey.

Step 1 – Thaw the turkey

How to thaw a turkey simple rules

How to thaw a turkey? The best way to thaw a turkey is to leave it in the refrigerator. Do not thaw birds on the countertop, in the oven or in hot water! Depending on the size of your bird, it may take from one to five days. The general rule is that a frozen bird needs about 24 hours for every five pounds of meat. Thawing time based on bird weight is as follows:

  • 4-12 pounds: 1 to 3 days
  • 12-16 pounds: 3 to 4 days
  • 16-20 pounds: 4 to 5 days
  • 20-24 pounds: 5 to 6 days

The faster way to defrost such a large bird is to use a large bucket of cold water. Seal the bird in a leak-proof bag and submerge it in the water. Change the cold water every 30 minutes. The time needed will be 30 minutes for every pound of turkey. You can combine the refrigerator and the cold water methods to speed up the thawing.

How to roast a turkey – Step 2 – Brine

wet turkey brine with spices orange and rosemary

Brining has become very popular as it adds moisture and flavor to the meat. There are two methods to do it – dry or wet brine. Brine guarantees that you will have moist and perfectly seasoned white and dark meat. Dry brine is rubbed on the surface of the bird and it needs more time to penetrate into the meat. Wet brine method is based on submerging the turkey in a salt-water solution with herbs, spices and other ingredients. You can add black pepper, coriander, garlic, sage, cloves an orange, an apple, etc.

dry brine how to roast a turkey step by step

This method is quicker and the brining time is between 12 and 24 hours. Whichever method you choose, you will have a moist, tender meat in the end. There is a great variety of turkey brine recipes, so you just have to follow the one that you chose. Where and how to store the bird while it is brining? A large turkey needs quite a refrigerator space and even more if it is in a container with wet brine. You can safe fridge space by storing the bird in a suitable cooler. Do not rinse the turkey after brining it. If you want to remove excess moisture, just pat dry the bird with paper towels.

Step 3 – Prepare the turkey for roasting

Prepare the turkey for roasting Thanksgiving Christmas recipes

After your turkey has been brined, it is time to cook it. It is important to take out the bird from the refrigerator and leave it at room temperature for at least one hour. You can place the bird on the roasting rack as it allows air to circulate around the bird and in addition, this makes cooking more even. Once the bird reaches room temperature, add some vegetables like onions, carrots, celery to the bottom of the roasting pan as they will add flavor to the meat while it is cooking. Pour some chicken broth in the pan as well. You can use it for gravy later. Place the turkey in a roasting pan, breast side up. If the skin is getting too dark loosely tent the breasts with a buttered aluminum foil to protect them from the heat.

calculate the roasting time for your turkey

Preheat your oven to 450°F and when you place the bird in the oven, reduce the heat to 325°F. How to calculate the roasting time for your turkey? Obviously, time will depend on temperature and bird size. Keep in mind that stuffed and unstuffed birds need different cooking time. The general rule is 13-15 minutes per pound of turkey at 350°F for an unstuffed turkey. Here are some guidelines for you:

Size of Turkey Unstuffed Stuffed
10-12lbs 3 – 3 ¼ hours 3 ½–3 ¾ hours
12-16bs 3 ¼ – 3 ¾ hours 3 ¾ – 4 ¼ hours
16-20lbs 3 ¾ – 4 ¼ hours 4 ¼ – 4 ¾ hours
20-24lbs 4 ¼ – 4 ¾ hours 4 ¾ – 5 ¼ hours



when is your roasted turkey ready

Despite the recommended cooking time, you need to check the internal temperature of the meat to make sure it is cooked through. Cook your turkey until meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reads 165°F.

Step 4 – Baste the turkey while roasting

Baste the turkey while roasting

Basting the turkey every 30 or 45 minutes while it is in the oven will keep it moist and flavorful. You need to open the oven and spoon the juices from the bottom of the pan all over the meat. Remember that when you open the door the heat escapes from the oven. This results in lower temperature, so you need to adjust roasting time. If you have brined the bird in wet brine, then you may skip basting. Some people prefer to take out the roasting pan from the oven and shut the door so that the temperature does not change. Others roast the turkey breast side down and flip it halfway through cooking so it browns evenly. It is entirely up to you to choose the most convenient method for yourself.

Step 5 – Let the turkey rest before serving

Let the turkey rest before serving

Once the turkey reaches an internal temperature of 165°F, you can take it out of the oven. It is essential, however, to give it time to rest. The resting time allows the juices to settle and be re-absorbed. A roasted turkey will remain hot for a couple of hours, so you do not need to worry that you will serve it cold. If you want to be on the safe side, cover it with aluminum foil so it doesn’t cool down too much. Rest the turkey for a minimum of 30 minutes, preferably an hour.

Step 6 – Carve and serve

carve and serve your roasted turkey

Carving a turkey is the same as carving a chicken. It is best if you start by cutting off the breasts, thighs, drumsticks, etc. and portion them on a cutting board. Transfer the meat onto a platter, decorate and serve.

how to roast a frozen turkey

Hopefully, we have answered the question how to roast a turkey. As you see, it is not difficult. You need to be careful and calculate correctly the roasting time and leave the bird rest after that. Now, let’s see how to roast a frozen turkey? This may happen if your bird is not completely thawed, for example and you just haven’t got the time to wait. You can even roast a totally frozen turkey. However, the cooking time at 325°F should be increased with about 25 % for a partially frozen turkey and with 50% for a totally frozen bird. Your turkey will cook while thawing.

thanksgiving dinner table with roasted turkey and side dishes

What about seasoning? You can season the bird with salt, pepper and other spices halfway through cooking. Again, use a thermometer to check the internal temperature of the meat. The turkey is done when the thermometer shows 165°F in all areas.


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