After 14 years of roasting turkeys for Thanksgiving and Christmas meals, I’ve tried pretty much everything. I’ve bought turkeys that were fresh, frozen, kosher, pre-brined, self-basting, young, organic, big, small. You name it–I’ve tried it. I’ve brined, basted, not basted, cooked the whole bird in a bag, stuffed, unstuffed, dry rubbed–always in pursuit of the perfect roast turkey.
I’ve tried methods recommended by Alton Brown, Ina Garten, Martha Stewart and more. In end, I’ve learned from them all, but none more than my mom. Those celebrity chefs have nothing on her. I should have just left well enough alone and cooked my turkeys the way my mom did. She understood how to roast a turkey that remains moist while being completely cooked throughout. I now roast my turkey Mom’s way with a few tweaks I’ve learned along the way.
Admittedly, there is more than one way to successfully roast a turkey. If you’re a turkey cooking pro with a method for roasting consistently great turkeys, well, kudos to you–keep doin’ what you’re doin’! This post is for beginners who’ve never cooked a turkey and for those who have roasted turkeys in the past with unsatisfactory results and don’t know why. I’m sharing in this post the simple method I’ve used numerous times that results in awesome, juicy turkeys every time.
I’ll begin with a summary of my tips, followed by a detailed step-by-step tutorial. Truth is, it’s not hard or time consuming to roast a turkey. But, it can be intimidating if you don’t know your way around one of these big birds. So, I hope I can eliminate the guesswork for you if you’ve never cooked a turkey or have struggled with inconsistent results (as I did for many years).
Here are my simple, no-fuss tips. They’re a combination of lessons learned from mom, various chefs, and lots of trial-and-error in my own kitchen through the years.
Remove turkey from refrigerator and allow to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Place oven rack in lowest position. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Coat roasting pan and rack with cooking spray and set aside.
TO PREP THE TURKEY:
Remove neck and giblets from turkey main and neck cavities. (These can be discarded or used to make broth for gravy or soup.)
If turkey has a metal or plastic clamp holding the legs together, remove and discard it.
Add salt and pepper to the turkey cavity and rub with hand to distribute inside cavity. Stuff the cavity with lemon, onion (reserving one onion quarter), and herbs.
Overlap skin at cavity opening to cover as much of gap as possible; use toothpicks or small turkey skewers, if needed, to hold skin in place. Tie legs together with twine.
Insert remaining onion quarter under skin covering neck cavity. Tuck wing tips under turkey body, using them to hold skin over neck cavity in place.
Pat turkey dry with a paper towel and brush breast side all over with olive oil. Flip turkey over, breast side down, onto rack in roasting pan. Brush with olive oil so entire turkey is coated.
TO COOK THE TURKEY:
Place in 400 degree oven uncovered. After 1 hour, lower heat to 350 degrees and cook for an additional hour for turkeys 14 pounds or larger (45 minutes for smaller turkeys).
Remove from oven and flip turkey over so it is breast side up. Insert a remote probe thermometer into thickest part of thigh. Return turkey to oven and set thermometer monitor alarm to sound at 165 degrees.
(TIP: To avoid over-browning on top, keep an eye on the turkey in the last hour and loosely tent it with aluminum foil if it's browned enough before the desired internal temperature is reached. This may or may not be necessary, depending on individual ovens--some cook more evenly than others.)
When thigh temperature reaches 165 to 170 degrees, remove from oven. Use an instant read thermometer to check temperature of other thigh. Also check thickest part of breast--it should be 160 degrees. If not, return to oven.
Cooking times can vary. 13 minutes cooking time per pound is a good estimate. It should take a 14-16 pound turkey a total of 2-1/2 to 3-1/2 hours to cook. An 18 pound turkey takes closer to 4 hours. These times are ballpark and can vary; that's why using a thermometer is important for determining exactly when the turkey is done.
When fully cooked, remove turkey from oven, cover with aluminum foil, and allow to rest undisturbed for a minimum of 30 minutes and up to 60 minutes. Carve and serve.