Thanksgiving: How to Roast a Turkey

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Do you know how to roast a turkey? Have you begun to defrost your turkey yet? Do you want your Thanksgiving turkey to be perfect? If you take time to plan ahead, your turkey will be perfect…especially planning on enough time for defrosting a frozen turkey so it’s ready on Thanksgiving Day. Once your turkey is defrosted, the rest is easy.


  • Allow 1 to 1 1/2 pounds of turkey per person. That amount will leave enough for leftovers, too. Be sure to allow¬†plenty of time – and space – to thaw a frozen turkey in the refrigerator.
  • I usually thaw the turkey in the refrigerator, allowing 24 hours thawing time for every 4 pounds of turkey. For a 12-pound turkey, allow 3 days to thaw. I advise you to allow an extra day, just in case the inside takes longer.
  • If the turkey is still frozen, you won’t be able to remove the gizzards which will delay your preparation which will delay your cooking time.

There have been times that on Thanksgiving morning I’ve found our turkey still frozen on the inside. The turkey was unwrapped so I wrapped it tightly in a plastic bag and placed it in our clean sink filled with cold water which was changed every 30 minutes until the turkey was thawed. If I had allowed for the extra day, I would have had more time to spend on the rest of the preparations instead of getting the bird thawed. Needless to say, dinner was delayed on those occasions.


  • Remove the giblets (heart, liver, gizzard) from inside the neck or body cavity. The giblets are wrapped in paper.
  • Cook them if you want to use them to add to the stuffing or gravy. If not, throw them away.
  • Stuffing: plan about 3/4 cup per pound of turkey. Stuff just before you put the turkey in the oven, not before.
  • Stuff the neck and body cavities, loosely, allowing for it to expand. Pull the skin down over the stuffing and attach with a long skewer to hold it down.
  • Tuck the drumsticks down under band of skin near the tail and tie the legs together if it doesn’t have a leg clamp.
  • Twist wing tips up and under the bird’s back.


  • Use the roasting chart below to determine cooking times.
  • While oven is preheating at 325F, place turkey, breast side up, on a rack in a shallow roasting pan.
  • Pans with sides higher than 2 inches will act as a heat shield and prevent turkey thighs from cooking evenly. (I didn’t know this!)
  • Brush bird with cooking oil. Cover loosely with foil and roast.
  • After 2/3 of cooking time, cut string between drumsticks.
  • Remove foil during the last 30 to 45 minutes of cooking to create crisp, golden skin.
  • According to USDA, all turkey meat and stuffing is safe to eat when a meat thermometer reaches 165F.
  • For best flavor and ease in carving, thigh meat should be cooked to 180F. For an accurate reading, be sure thermometer does not touch bone when inserted in meat.

Roasting Times at 325F


Ready to cook
turkey weight
Unstuffed Stuffed
8 to 12 lb 2 3/4 to 3 hr 3 to 3 1/2 hr
12 to 14 lb 3 to 3 3/4 hr 3 1/2 to 4 hr
14 to 18 lb 3 3/4 to 4 1/4 hr 4 to 4 1/4 hr
18 to 20 4 1/4 to 4 1/2 hr 4 1/4 to 4 3/4 hr
20 to 24 lb 4 1/2 to 5 hr 4 3/4 to 5 1/4 hr

Source: National Turkey Federation


Can I roast the turkey in advance?

Yes. Roast and carve per directions. Then cover and refrigerate up to 2 days. for moist, make-ahead turkey, pour turkey or chicken broth over slices, then cover and refrigerate. Before serving, reheat, covered, in the microwave.

How long can I keep leftovers?

First step is to cover and refrigerate meat within 2 hours of cooking. Then eat it within 2 days. Otherwise freeze it for up to 6 months.

What if I have more questions?

For specific instructions for roasting a whole bird, or just a turkey breast or drumsticks, visit the interactive Roasting Guide at, the National Turkey Federation’s site, or Call the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line, 800/288-8372, or the USDA Meat and Poultry Hot Line, 888/674-6854.

Source: Better Homes and Gardens, Nov 2008

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