Try our best Thanksgiving turkey recipe perfected by Test Kitchen pros. They've cooked countless roast turkeys (even intentionally drying some out for the sake of research!) to find exactly how to prepare a turkey for a delicious Thanksgiving dinner. Plus, we've included a step-by-step tutorial for how to cook your bird, including plenty of tips and tricks along the way.
The best part about this Thanksgiving turkey is that it's easy, fuss-free and endlessly customizable. Once you've got the basic recipe down, you can experiment with spices, herbs and citrus to really make it your own.
Let's start with the basics: Learn how to thaw a frozen turkey if you're not sure. There are several methods, but the safest way is to defrost it 1 day in the fridge for every 4 pounds of turkey.
Next, dry brine your turkey for the best flavor and crispy skin. We prefer a dry brine over a wet brine because it's easier and creates less mess (trust!). A dry brine can be as simple as rubbing down the bird with salt and letting it sit at least overnight in the fridge — don't overthink it!
Finally, follow the step-by-step photos below to prep the turkey for the oven. Here's a tip to get you started: Stop stuffing that bird. The Test Kitchen prefers stuffing recipes baked outside of the bird, in a deep casserole dish, as the safest (and tastiest!) option. Not only does this ensure that the stuffing avoids contact with raw turkey, but the final product is a deliciously moist, crisp-topped creation that your guests won't be able to get enough of.
turkey (12–14 pounds), thawed if frozen
small onions, quartered
bunch fresh thyme
softened butter or olive oil
large carrots, cut into 2-inch pieces
stalks celery, cut into 2-inch pieces
low-sodium chicken broth
- Heat oven to 375°F. Working on baking sheet, remove giblets and neck of turkey from cavities. Reserve neck and discard giblets. Pat turkey dry.
- Stuff half of onions and thyme into main cavity. Tie turkey legs together with kitchen twine. Tuck wing tips underneath body (this will prevent them from burning). Rub turkey with butter (or oil) and season with 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper.
- Place turkey neck, carrots, celery, and remaining onions and thyme in large roasting pan. Place roasting rack in pan and place turkey on top.
- Roast turkey until a thermometer inserted into thickest part of thigh registers 165°F, 2 1/2 to 3 hours. (Cover turkey loosely with foil if it browns too quickly, and add broth to pan if vegetables begin to scorch.)
- Carefully tilt turkey to empty juices from cavity into pan. Transfer turkey to a carving board or cutting board set in a rimmed baking sheet (to catch juices while carving). Cover loosely with foil and let rest at least 30 minutes. Reserve pan and contents to make gravy. Carve and garnish turkey as desired.
How To Prepare and Roast a Turkey
1. REMOVE EXTRA BITS FROM TURKEY'S CAVITIES.
Yes, there are two: The main cavity where you will typically find the giblets, liver and gizzard, and a smaller cavity where the head used to be. Just lift up the flap of the skin to check the cavities. The neck bone is sometimes hiding in there, or you may find a package of giblets. We discard the giblets, liver, and gizzard, but save the neck and put it in the bottom of the roasting pan along with any vegetables — it's perfect for making a flavorful gravy.
2. DON'T RINSE!
Whatever you do, do not wash your uncooked turkey. Doing so can splash bacteria, such as salmonella, onto all of your kitchen surfaces, according to the USDA. Instead, just pat the turkey dry with paper towels. Getting rid of the excess moisture helps to ensure a crispy skin.
3. FILL TURKEY WITH AROMATICS.
The options are endless. Any herbs that you already have on hand (think: sage, thyme, or rosemary) are great. Parsley stems work perfectly, too. We also like to add onions and garlic. Cut an entire head of garlic (skin and all) in half through the equator and pop it inside. Have an extra lemon or small orange? Cut either in half and add that, too.
4. TUCK WING TIPS.
Bend the wing tips and tuck them just behind the back to help prevent them from burning.
5. TIE LEGS TOGETHER WITH KITCHEN TWINE.
Tucking the wing tips and tying the legs together ensures that your turkey cooks evenly. Use a small piece of twine to tie the legs together right at the ends, but be sure that the bow will be easy to untie or cut once the bird's done cooking.
6. ADD VEGETABLES AND ROASTING RACK TO PAN.
This is the start of your gravy. You already added the turkey neck you saved to the bottom of the roasting pan (step one). Now, add a couple of carrots and stalks of celery, each cut into 2-inch pieces. Quarter two small onions to add in, along with a few sprigs of fresh herbs (thyme, rosemary, sage, or some combination). Some folks add the giblets here, but definitely don't add the liver — it'll make the pan juices taste bitter. Place a roasting rack in the pan on top of the vegetables.
7. SEASON TURKEY.
Place the turkey on top of the roasting rack. Rub all over with olive oil and butter and season with salt.
8. COOK TURKEY UNTIL IT'S COMPLETELY DONE.
Turkey is done when you insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of its thigh and the temperature reads 165°F. Its juices should also run clear when this part of its thigh is pierced with the tip of a knife.
9. LET TURKEY REST BEFORE CARVING.
Carefully tilt the turkey to empty the juices from the cavity into the pan. Transfer the turkey to a carving board set within a rimmed baking sheet (this will catch the bird's juices while it rests and as you carve, which you can add to your gravy). Cover loosely with foil and let the turkey rest at least 30 minutes before carving.