If you want a juicy and delicious Thanksgiving turkey, this easy Thanksgiving turkey recipe is perfect for you! You will also find all you need to know about how to cook a turkey in this post!
I remember the first time I hosted Thanksgiving dinner I was so nervous! Not about having guests over or about the sheer amount of things to do, but definitely about cooking the Thanksgiving Turkey!
The turkey is just such a central part of the Thanksgiving meal, and when you have never cooked a turkey before it can seem so overwhelming! Well I have good news, this easy Thanksgiving turkey recipe is so simple anyone could do it regardless of skill level! Plus, it will be tender and full of flavor. It goes perfectly with this Whole Berry Cranberry Sauce, Slow Cooker Mashed Potatoes, and Rolls!
Also, if you are looking for other delicious Thanksgiving recipes click here, and make sure to check out our Complete Thanksgiving Menu and Tips for Hosting Thanksgiving too!
You ready to get down to business?
*This post contains affiliate links.
How to Prepare a Thanksgiving Turkey
- First things first, you need to follow all the directions on the packaging for safely thawing and storing your turkey until you are ready to prepare it.
- If you have never made a whole turkey before you may not realize that frozen turkeys can take quite a while to completely thaw (and your turkey must be thawed completely before cooking).
- Any turkey you buy should have directions on the packaging for how to thaw your turkey, but here is a good resource that will give you a few different ways you can thaw your turkey if you need more info or haven’t done it before!
- Make sure you have a Roasting Pan and a Meat Thermometer.
How long does it take to thaw a turkey?
Here is a chart to show you approximately how long it will take to thaw your turkey depending on your method!
|Weight of Bird||Thaw Time (Fridge)||Thaw Time (Cold Water)|
|10 to 18 pounds||2 to 3-1/2 days||5 to 9 hours|
|18 to 22 pounds||3-1/2 to 4-1/2 days||9 to 11 hours|
|22 to 24 pounds||4-1/2 to 5 days||11 to 12 hours|
|24 to 29 pounds||5 to 6 days||12 to 15 hours|
Of course, if you buy a fresh turkey you can disregard all the thawing instructions!
How long does it take to cook a turkey?
As you may have assumed, cooking an entire turkey takes awhile! A safe estimate for cooking a turkey is so plan on about 20 minutes per pound of meat. The chart below is an easy cheat sheet, assuming you are cooking your meat in a 350 degree oven.
|Weight of Bird||Roasting Time (Unstuffed)||Roasting Time (Stuffed)|
|10 to 18 pounds||3 to 3-1/2 hours||3-3/4 to 4-1/2 hours|
|18 to 22 pounds||3-1/2 to 4 hours||4-1/2 to 5 hours|
|22 to 24 pounds||4 to 4-1/2 hours||5 to 5-1/2 hours|
|24 to 29 pounds||4-1/2 to 5 hours||5-1/2 to 6-1/4 hours|
How much turkey per person?
If you aren’t sure what size of turkey to buy, a good rule of thumb is that you will want one pound per person at the original meal. If you are wanting leftovers for sandwiches (I always do on my Grandma’s homemade rolls!) then you will want to budget one and a half or even two pounds per person depending on how many leftovers you want.
I personally plan on one and a half pounds per person and it’s always worked out well.
Best Way to Cook a Turkey in the Oven
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- If you want the juiciest white meat you’ve ever had, cook the turkey breast side down…yes, it looks funny and it won’t be picture perfect, but the meat is amazing!!!
- If you are more concerned with presentation, cook it right side up.
Bake in the 350 degree Fahrenheit preheated oven until breast meat is 150-155 degrees Fahrenheit and dark meat is 175-180 degrees Fahrenheit. Let turkey rest 20 minutes prior to carving.
- Baste the turkey 2 times if it is a small – medium sized turkey and 3 times if a larger one. While you do want your turkey to be moist and juicy, every time you open the oven door you loose a lot of the baking heat.
- If you have an “in oven” thermometer this is the best option, but you can certainly check the temp with a regular meat thermometer. Make sure that the tip of the thermometer is in the MIDDLE of the breast and thigh, don’t let it hit the bone, for accurate temp reading. If you need a meat thermometer here is a really affordable option!
- The only way to know if your turkey is actually done is by checking the internal temperature, NOT by the color of the skin.
- If the skin of your turkey is a nice golden brown and the meat is not done cooking, you can cover it with a loose foil tent to prevent burning skin.
Easy Thanksgiving Turkey
- Roasting Pan
- 1 whole turkey *Cook times listed above are for a 10-18 lb. turkey. Please adjust your cook time according to the chart in post or your package directions if using a larger bird.
- 1 cup butter sliced
- 2 onions peeled and quartered
- 3 cloves garlic peeled
- 1/2 container fresh sage
- 1/2 container fresh rosemary
- 1/2 container fresh thyme
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp pepper
- 1 tsp onion powder
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- PLEASE be sure to follow all the directions on the packaging for thawing and storing your turkey. Seriously, we want to have good memories of this meal! ;)
- Be SURE the turkey is thawed completely before roasting! If unsure on how to thaw your turkey or how long it takes to thaw a turkey, please see package instructions or the chart located near the beginning of this post! For a fresh turkey, obviously don't worry about thawing instructions.
- Once thawed put turkey in a roaster pan with a rack in it to keep it off the bottom of the pan. Remove neck and giblets from cavity and anything that may be stuffed in the neck cavity as well and discard, unless you want to save for gravy.
- Pat the turkey dry with paper towels. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Loosen the skin starting at the neck and work the slices of butter in between the skin and the meat all over the turkey and legs. This is messy and you may prefer to wear plastic gloves that you can discard afterwords.
- Mix all the seasonings together and sprinkle all over the turkey and rub it in. Place the onions and garlic cloves in the turkeys cavity.
- Follow the packaging guide for how many hours per pound it will take to cook the turkey (or see the chart above in post) and plan accordingly. Think about what time you will want to serve your turkey and back off 30-40 minutes from when you will want to take it out of the oven. You need to wait 20 minutes before you carve the turkey in order to let juices distribute through the meat. Plus time for carving prior to serving. A general rule of thumb for cook time is about 20 minutes per pound in a 350 degree oven.
- Baste the turkey 2 times if it is a small or medium sized turkey and 3 times if it is a larger one. Every time you open the oven door you loose a lot of the baking heat, but basting the turkey will help it brown more evenly.
- Bake until breast meat reaches 150-155 degrees Fahrenheit and dark meat is 175-180 degrees Fahrenheit. Let rest 20 min prior to carving. Enjoy!!
- If you want the juiciest white meat you've ever had, cook the turkey breast side down...yes, it looks funny and it won't be picture perfect, but the meat is amazing!!!
- If you are more concerned with presentation, cook it right side up.
- If you have an "in oven" thermometer this is the best option, but you can certainly check the temp with a regular meat thermometer.
- Make sure that the tip of the thermometer is in the MIDDLE of the breast and thigh, don't let it hit the bone, for accurate temp reading. If you need a meat thermometer here is a really affordable option!
- Baste the turkey 2 times if it is a small - medium sized turkey and 3 times if a larger one. While you do want your turkey to be moist and juicy, every time you open the oven door you loose a lot of the baking heat.
Well there you have it friends! The perfect thanksgiving turkey has never been easier! If you need some other awesome thanksgiving recipes here are a few more of our families favorites.
Favorite Thanksgiving Recipes
Chocolate Chess Pie
Happy Thanksgiving friends!
The best way ever to cook your thanksgiving turkey.
Thank you so much! That means so much to us!
If you’ve never cooked a turkey before, this post is a MUST! The great thing is, it’s not hard! There are even pictures! Great job on these instructions Jessica, this really does make a GREAT turkey, and what is Thanksgiving without a GREAT turkey? Cooking it upside down works well! I did it on accident one year, and we decided we liked it better that way.
Thank you so much Lynnette! You totally made my day! Isn’t the upside down thing crazy? We love it so much.
Looks delicious. Great post that helps step by step.
Thanks so much!
Ok this looks absolutely amazing. Thanks for the easy to read, step by step process! It makes me think I could actually pull this off! Looks fantastic!
Thank you so much! I promise you can do it!
THE BEST!! So many memories with this recipe
Right?? My favorite is eating leftover sandwiches with Grammy’s rolls!
I had no idea about the upside down for better white meat idea OH MY GOSH. life changed.
It really is the BEST white meat you’ve ever had!
This Turkey recipe was so easy to follow and it turned out perfect! Can’t wait to remake this for Thanksgiving!
So easy. And the spices in here give this turkey some really great flavor!
They really do! Thanks Betsy!
This was seriously so EASY and moist and yummy! Cooking upside down is a game changer!
The best flavor!! Thank you!
Yay!! I’m so glad you loved it, thanks for coming back to tell us, it makes our day!
Turkey can be so intimidating to cook so thank you for showing us just how easy it is to make and how delicious it can be!
It really is so scary the first time, but once you’ve done it once it’s no big deal! So glad it worked out for you!
My mom always cooked chicken and turkey breast side down. It’s an excellent tip, thank you for reminding me!
My Mom did too, that’s where I learned it from! You are so welcome :).
Thanksgiving dinner is so intimidating but maybe I can try this! Thanks for giving me ALL the instructions!!
You are so welcome! YOU CAN DO IT!
This is the MOST helpful post I’ve ever read. My first year making a turkey I burned it horribly and I haven’t dared do it since. This is giving me the motivation and tips to try again and to nail it this time!
Oh my gosh you made my night! Thank you so much!