You know the scene. It’s the nightmare of everyone responsible for preparing the turkey for that holiday meal.
It’s just a little dry, that’s all. 😂
Your turkey doesn’t have to turn out like this one. If you’re nervous about preparing the turkey for your friends and family, I’m here to help. It isn’t difficult. Just follow these simple steps and you, too, can prepare an amazing Thanksgiving turkey.
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How to Prepare a Thanksgiving Turkey
There are a lot of ways to prepare a turkey. In the south, deep fried whole turkey is common. Smoked turkey is amazing!! Some cooks like to buy a fresh rather than frozen turkey and brine it.
The most common way to prepare a turkey for a holiday meal, though, is roasting. That’s what I’m going to show you how to do today.
Preparing the Turkey for Roasting
For this article, I’m using a 12-pound frozen turkey. I set it on a large platter on the kitchen counter at around noon the day before to thaw overnight. For larger birds, refer to the USDA chart for thawing times. I wouldn’t thaw a larger turkey on the counter overnight.
Preparing the turkey for roasting started at around 10:00 a.m. the next morning. The turkey is in the oven by 10:30ish. Here is a handy chart to help you know how long to cook your turkey.
The First Steps
First, after removing the turkey from the wrapping, rinse it well under cool running water. Be sure to clean your sink after this. Preheat your oven to 325°.
There is still a little ice inside the cavity. That’s okay.
Next, lay the turkey onto a plastic cutting board. Don’t place raw meat on wooden cutting boards. Wood is absorbent and hard to decontaminate.
The Giblets Packet
Now, there is a cavity on the turkey where the neck used to be. The skin is pulled over it.
Underneath that skin is a small cavity containing the giblets pouch. Lift up the skin and remove the giblets pouch.
Remove this packet, open it, and take out the giblets. Usually, there is a gizzard and a liver. Sometimes there is a heart. Some cooks like to cook the giblets inside the turkey’s cavity. Then they chop up the giblets and put them in the gravy.
I’m not a giblets fan, so this is Bandit’s lucky day. I give them a quick fry in a little oil in a skillet. The dog is happy.
Sometimes a frozen turkey will include a packet of gravy in the next cavity. I’ve never used this gravy, so I can’t speak to its quality.
The Cavity of Your Turkey
The legs of some frozen turkeys are bound by a plastic device. This can be tough to remove. The ends are inserted into the sides of the cavity and you’ll just have to pull hard to get it to bend enough to take it out. It must come out, though, because a turkey can’t be cooked with the plastic leg-holder.
This bird’s legs, though, are held by skin with the tail tucked in. Just pull the legs out and un-tuck the tail.
Inside the large cavity of the turkey is the neck. If you’re going to be using the bones of the turkey after dinner to make homemade broth, save the neck. It adds flavor to homemade broth. If you’re not making broth, just toss the neck. Unless Cousin Eddie is coming over…
Next, clean out all the ice chunks you can. Salt the inside of the cavity well. Then, tuck the tail back in, pull the legs back together and hold them in place with the skin.
Turkey and Butter: A Match Made in Heaven
Next, place butter inside the cavity for flavor.
Turkey and butter are made to go together. You can’t use too much butter on a turkey. 🙂
Now, you see on the left of the photo where I put butter in the thigh area? This is where you can lift the skin and put butter up into the breast area. Do this. It makes the bird SO juicy and flavorful! If you want, you can even place whole, fresh sage leaves under the skin on the breast. This is great, too.
Now place the turkey in a large roasting pan.
I use a 16-inch graniteware roasting pan for this 12-pound turkey. It fits perfectly. A larger bird requires a larger pan. An aluminum disposable pan is fine, too. Just be sure to place it on a cookie sheet when baking so it won’t bend when you lift it.
Oh my! You’re going to love this! 🙂
Then pour some olive oil over the turkey. Use your hands to rub it all over the bird.
Tuck the wing tips underneath the bird. Like it’s reclining watching a football game on Thanksgiving Day.
This keeps the wing tips from burning and helps hold the turkey upright while cooking. Tucking the wings like this is called “akimbo” if you’re interested in knowing the term.
Salt the turkey well all over.
Baking and Basting Your Turkey
Place it in the oven uncovered and on the bottom rack. Placing the turkey on the bottom rack helps keep the top of the turkey from browning too quickly.
Let it cook for about 1½ hours. Next, using a turkey baster, baste the turkey all over with the juices forming in the bottom of the pan. This helps keep the turkey moist and impart flavor.
See how it’s browning nicely and getting juicy? It smells divine!!
Now, put it back in the oven and let it cook for about another hour. Then baste the turkey again.
If the turkey is browning faster than it is cooking on the inside (and this is normal), create a little tent from aluminum foil to cover the bird and slow the browning.
An aluminum foil “tent” loosely placed over the top of the bird allows it to continue cooking at a consistent temperature, yet brown slower.
The tent is created by taking a large piece of aluminum foil and creasing it down the middle long-wise.
Checking for Doneness
Some frozen turkeys come with a little plastic pop-up doneness indicator. I’m not a fan of cooking with plastic for health reasons. Remove the little pop-up doneness indicator and use a meat thermometer to check your turkey. It will be more accurate anyway.
Place the probe of the meat thermometer into the turkey between the thigh and the breast. Don’t let the thermometer touch bone. The turkey is done when the meat temperature in this area reaches 165°.
I’m basting this turkey one more time then removing it from the oven.
Let your turkey brown a little more in the oven even after it’s done if more browning is needed. Move it to the top rack of the oven to hasten browning.
Remove from the Oven and Display
Your turkey is beautiful! And a beautiful turkey deserves to be displayed beautifully. 🙂
Decorate a large serving platter with fresh sage or rosemary sprigs, sliced apples and oranges, frosted cranberries, hazelnuts and Brazil nuts in the shell – use your imagination! Red cabbage leaves spread along the bottom and edges is pretty and ads a pop of color. I picked a few colored leaves to add to this platter.
Can’t you just smell it?!! It’s juicy and full of flavor.
Your friends and family will LOVE your beautifully prepared turkey.
Shop Here for Items to Prepare an Amazing Thanksgiving Turkey
Check out how to make Feather Light Dinner Rolls, and check in next week for how to make incredible Green Bean Casserole! I’ll finish my series on preparing Thanksgiving dinner with how to make Pecan Pie! And if you haven’t seen it yet, I created the theme Food and Family for a Thanksgiving table setting that is getting rave reviews!
Let me know if you have any questions about preparing a turkey for your holiday meal. I’m here to help.