The Best Way to Roast a Turkey (the simple way)

Whether you’re planning on roasting a turkey for Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year’s Day, you can always use a few helpful tips to make it the best it can be. Since roasting a gargantuan bird is not on the usual M-F menu plan, it can cause even the most experienced cook to hesitate before proceeding. Fortunately, I think I can help you relax and boost your confidence in preparing your event’s main attraction.

My Crash-Course on Turkey

You may be wondering what a relatively young lady such as myself could have to add to everything that has already been said about turkey, and you would be right to wonder. After all, how many Thanksgivings have I been cooking? Not nearly as many as some experts out there…right?

But here’s the thing: I’ve been to Turkey Boot Camp.

When I was nineteen, I had the privilege (?) misfortune (?)  – honestly, it was a mix of both -  of working a summer at a remote fly-in fishing resort on the Pacific Ocean. Another fellow and I were the chefs for the camp, cranking out three square meals for over forty people, seven days a week, eleven weeks straight. Every three days, a couple of float planes would fly in carrying a new group of clients – and a frozen turkey. Along with the requisite pancake breakfast, shrimp bisque lunch, and other culinary highlights, we were obliged to prepare a well-rounded turkey dinner for each group of guests.

Two groups per week, eleven weeks of work. Yes, that’s right, in the span of one summer, we cooked twenty-two turkeys!

If that doesn’t make me qualified to talk turkey, then I don’t know what does!

How to Roast a Turkey

My roast turkey is one thing: simple.

It is un-stuffed and un-trussed; I don’t brine or baste. I keep my cooking time shorter than most, but lengthen the resting period. The result is a perfectly golden, moist turkey that is relatively hassle-free.

Directions are for a fresh, grain fed turkey.

One Day Ahead: Prep the Turkey

  1. Remove fresh turkey from any packaging and snip free of any string or trussing.
  2. Remove neck and giblets from the body cavity, reserving for stock, if desired.
  3. Rinse turkey well under cold water and pat dry with paper towel.
  4. With a sharp knife, remove the wing tips (up to the first joint) and add those to the stock pot, too.
  5. Place turkey on a tray or pan and lightly salt all over. Leave uncovered in the fridge overnight. This will allow the bird’s skin to dry out, making it crispier, plus the salt will add flavor to the meat without the hassle of a wet brine.

Optional: Turkey Stock for Turkey Gravy

Combine in a saucepan:

  • turkey neck, wing-tips & giblets
  • 1 quart water
  • 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorn
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 stick of celery, well washed
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and halved
  • 1 onion, halved and unpeeled
  1. Bring everything to a boil, then cover the pot and simmer on low for two to four hours.
  2. Strain through a sieve and reserve for making your gravy.

This can be done a day or two in advance.

Two hours before roasting

Bring to room temperature

  • Remove turkey from the fridge. Rub a softened stick of butter ALL over the bird. Coating the skin with butter will help to keep the meat moist, add flavor, and ensure the skin turns a perfect golden brown color.
  • Place the turkey on a wire rack in a large, shallow roasting pan. Elevating the turkey allows for the heat to get all around and also for the skin to crisp properly. Try to avoid cramming the bird into an overly small pan; you’ll only end up with over-browning on top and more braising than roasting, as the turkey stews in it’s own juices.
  • Leave the turkey on the counter and allow it to come to room temperature. Bringing the meat up to room temperature (about 70°F) will both cut down on the cooking time and ensure the fowl cooks evenly. Thanksgiving is a particularly busy time for the oven, with stuffing, pies and side dishes all jostling for space, so if you can shave half an hour or more off the turkey’s cooking time – bonus!

A word on stuffing
Next Monday I’ll be sharing my favorite stuffing recipe, plus explain why I choose not to stuff my turkey. Stay tuned.

Roasting the Perfect Turkey

Temperature
I find it is best to start the turkey at a fairly high temperature (400°F), roast for about twenty minutes and then lower the heat to 350°F for the remainder of the cooking time. Sometimes I forget to lower the oven, though, and the turkey still comes out fine, just perhaps a little darker than I would like!
Time
If you cook your turkey from room temperature, untrussed and unstuffed, it will cook significantly faster than a chilly bird stuffed full of bread and trussed tightly.  Air will circulate much better around the bird and roasting times will be shorter.

These are the approximate roasting times using this method:

  • 5 lbs – 1 – 1/2 hrs
  • 8 lbs –  1- 3/4 hrs
  • 10 lbs – 2 hrs
  • 12 lbs – 2 – 1/2 hrs
  • 15 1bs – 2 – 3/4 hours
  • 17 lbs – 3 hours
  • 20 lbs – 3 – 1/2 hours

Tip: Loosely cover the turkey with aluminum foil if it looks like the top is browning too quickly. I also have to rotate the pan 180° every hour or so for even browning in my old oven.

Remember, oven temperatures can vary drastically, so even if the turkey has been in the oven for appropriate time, it is still necessary to double-check for doneness. A meat thermometer should register 170°F  when inserted into the thickest part of the thigh (but not touching the bone). You can also follow the directions from this post on Roasting Chicken 101 on how to tell when your roast poultry is finished.

If you’re worried that the bird is slightly underdone, remember that it will keep cooking a tad during the resting period.

The All-Important Step: Resting

After pulling it from the oven, do not transfer the turkey to its place of honor at the center of the table… just yet. Instead, tent it with foil and let it rest for at least thirty minutes (and up to an hour). Place the turkey directly on a tray (not on a rack), as this will allow the cooking juices to be re-absorbed by the meat instead of losing the moisture as soon as the turkey is sliced into.

A well-rested roast turkey is a moist roast turkey, so this step is crucial.

Now that the turkey has relinquished its space in the oven, this is when I crank the heat back up and tuck the butternut squash gratin and the buttermilk rolls in to warm while I make the gravy and mash the potatoes.

The turkey is now ready to take its place at the festive table and the only thing left to decide is: Who’s carving?

Are you on turkey duty for US Thanksgiving? Is a Christmas turkey in the plans?

About Aimee

Cooking has always been Aimée's preferred recreational activity, creative outlet, and source of relaxation. After nearly ten years in the professional cooking industry, she went from restaurant to RSS by trading her tongs and clogs for cookie cutters and a laptop, serving as editor here at Simple Bites.

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Comments

  1. Phyllis Ramsay says:

    I’ll be trying this for my big Christmas dinner. I have a fresh 13 lb Butterball turkey and was wondering how long it would take to get “room temperature”?

  2. Prep is done, and stock is on the stove. Let’s hope I can pull this off! First time turkey roaster over here. ;) Only thing I am not sure about is whether or not I’m supposed to let it rest in the pan with the juices and tented with the foil or is it supposed to rest while on the rack and tented with foil? Thanks for this wonderful post and happy holidays!

  3. This sounds great, but I am going to be stuffing my turkey. Do you have cooking times for a stuffed turkey?

  4. I used your recipe to make a Christmas turkey and it turned out PERFECT!! It was a 14 pound turkey. I followed your directions exactly, leaving it sit out for a couple hours to get it to room temperature. Then I cooked it for 2 1/2 hours and then let it rest for an hour. It was the most juicy and delicious turkey I’ve ever had! I am not a good cook at all so I was so glad this recipe was so easy! Thank you soooo much!! : )

  5. I made my first turkey yesterday and went with your advice. It was so good! And easy. Thank you :)

  6. I have always been a good turkey cook, using more involved methods, but this was so simple and easy and made such sense I had to try it. It was the best turkey I have EVER cooked! I did not do the salt-and-stand-in-fridge step, as I didn’t have time, but salted it a little before I buttered it. It was SO moist and delici

  7. I know nothing about cooking and I had certainly never made a turkey before, so when I saw this post, I thought that it seemed to simple that even I couldn’t mess it up. And I was right! I made a 22-lb turkey using your steps and it turned out amazing. It was super-juicy and really delicious. I just wanted to thank you for posting this for those of us who maybe aren’t so culinarily gifted.

  8. If I’m buying a pre-brined turkey, should I use less salt? Or none at all? Thanks!

  9. I won’t be serving the turkey until Sunday but need to cook it on Saturday. Can I reheat it before serving it?

  10. Hi Aimee,

    I’m making a 22-pound bird on Thursday. We bought it frozen but will be thawing it til Wednesday, when I plan on unwrapping it to let the skin dry. I see many different cooking times on all different websites but plan to follow your directions – about how long should I cook the beast? Some sites say 15 mins/lb but others say 20, which means I’m somewhere between 5 and 7 hours!

  11. Hello Aimee,
    Last year we made our 16 lb turkey following your recipe and it was the BEST turkey we have ever had! We plan on following your directions again this year, but our turkey is much larger. How long should we roast a 26.6 lb bird for? Also, would it turn out the same if we used an electric roasting oven instead of the regular oven?
    Thank you!

  12. So glad I found this page again! I followed this method last year, and it was the easiest, best turkey I’ve ever made, hands down. This time, I bookmarked it! Thanks so much for the great tips, and happy Thanksgiving!

  13. Can you tell me a couple of different ways to finish the gravy ?

  14. Any suggestions if I do prefer to stuff my bird? I love the wet consistency of stuffing

    • Yes, I do too, but you could always add a little stock to your stuffing, then cover the dish tightly with foil. It will steam as it bakes, yielding a moist stuffing.

      I have very little experience with stuffing a turkey. From what I understand, it takes a lot longer too cook as the interior of the stuffing needs to reach a certain temperature to kill off any bacteria. And that is when the breast of the bird often gets overcooked.

  15. im hoping you can help me out at the last minute!! we have a 22 pounder for tomorrow and im nervous as heck about it being done on time. it will be stuffed, but only in the small little neck cavity, not the whole inside cavity. (our traditional “italian stuffing” yay!) im thinking it wont affect the cooking time so much since its only a small amount and not in the main cavity, am i right? its uncovered and salted in my fridge right now….we are supposed to eat at 2pm. what time should i take it out of the fridge? and what time should it go into the oven? i may need to set my alarm for this, lol!! thanks so much!!!

    • First of all, relax, okay? =) Is it thawed, at least?

      If you’re eating at 2, aim to have it out of the oven by 1, then if it goes 30 minutes over, you still have time to let it rest.

      Take it out of the fridge by 7AM, give it a few hours to come up to room temp. I’d put it in to roast around 9 – to give it a good 4 hours. The stuffing in the neck cavity won’t affect it much.

      Happy cooking and happy thanksgiving!

  16. Hi Aimee,

    I will try this recipe of yours tomorrow. How will I roast the turkey — breast up or down?

  17. thanks so much for your help, it turned out PERFECT!!! and perfectly timed as well, got done exactly 1/2 hour before mealtime, just as planned!! i may have to cook turkeys more often now :)

  18. This was the BEST roast turkey I have ever made! Your boot camp clearly worked as I followed your instructions precisely and I don’t feel the need to change things up at all, lol. Beautiful, bronzed, 12# bird that is every bit as good as my deep-fried turkey minus the mess :)

    This one is going into the permanent rotation; thank you!

  19. Laura Kemp says:

    I roasted my first turkey for thanksgiving a few months ago (Canadian thanksgiving) following your instructions and it turned out beautifully. After looking at a few web sites, I have to say that your turkey boot camp story (loved it!) clinched yours as the one I chose. Thanks Aimee!

  20. hi Aimee,
    First thing is, it’s easy to remember your name. My sister- in-law is called Aimee a homemaker and a baker. When I found your Turkey Recipe and Method I noticed that it is very easy to follow. I always look for easy way in cooking because I am a working Mum and a student. I love cooking but I always look for recipes with simple ingredients.

    This is my very first time to make Roast Turkey, and I want to impress my husband and our 14 year old son who always love whatever I cook. I hope it’s a Magical Yummy Turkey. Anyway l was very lucky I found your website. And there you go, by reading your story behind all this efficient cooking expertise, why wouldn’t I be fascinated!:=). Congratulations and thank you for sharing with us your knowledge, experience, and successes.

    May you and your family have a Happy and Peaceful New Year!
    All the Best in 2014 and for many years to come.

    Maria
    Email: mgb-2010@y7mail.com

  21. Do you add any stock (or water) in the bottom of the pan? Thanks! :)

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