It’s turkey time! In addition to being one of the staples of the holidays, turkey is a supremely versatile protein. It’s super lean, inexpensive, and rich in nutrients.
To help you get a turkey leg up on the season, here are some essential ways to tackle the whole bird painlessly — along with some of our favorite superstar turkey recipes.
There are a few things you need to do before you start cooking:
- Remove the guts. Inside your turkey is a bag, and that bag is full of, well, organs. You can trash ’em or use ’em to make a super-flavorful turkey gravy.
- Thaw that baby! A fully thawed turkey will cook evenly, while trying to cook from frozen can result in undercooked (or overcooked) spots. General rule: Thaw 24 hours for every 4 pounds of weight. That means your 12-pounder needs 3 FULL days in the fridge before cooking!
- Do the pluck and rinse. See any feathers? Yeah, take them out. You can go ahead and give your thawed turkey a rinse too (inside and out) and pat it dry.
- Prep the stuffing (optional). If you’re making a stuffed turkey, you’ll want to have your stuffing (or dressing, ’cause we know they’re DEF not the same thing) ready to go.
- Know when it’s done! Turkey should be cooked to 165°F (74°C) to minimize your risk of being remembered for that one time you gave everyone food poisoning. Check the temp by sticking your meat thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh, which usually cooks slowest. Big ALSO here: If you stuff your turkey, the stuffing needs to reach the same temp (because it’s been contaminated with turkey germs)!
- Get your supplies in order. The basics you’ll need are a big roasting pan (preferably with a rack), a basting brush, a meat thermometer, and possibly some aluminum foil.
Feeding a crowd? Wow ’em with this no-fuss oven-baked turkey simply seasoned with oil, salt, and pepper. Best of all, this recipe is suitable for an air fryer or a grill too (and we’ve got the deets on all of them)!
To cook a turkey in 2 hours, you’ll need a spicy-hot oven and smallish bird. Many turkey-in-a-hurry recipes online (including this one) are loosely based on a recipe by the OG (Original Gourmet) herself, Julia Child.
Quick-fast roast turkey
- 1 (12-pound) turkey
- At least 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- Prepared stuffing or chopped veggies like onion and carrots (optional)
- Preheat oven to 450°F (230°C).
- Place thawed, rinsed, and dried turkey on a roasting pan and brush the outside with oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper. You can salt and pepper the inside cavity too (and while you’re in there, double-check that you removed the gut-bag).
- If adding veggies or stuffing, put them in inner cavity of turkey now. Keep in mind that these additions can increase the cooking time by 30 minutes to 1 hour (or more, if you’re a particularly enthusiastic and thorough turkey stuffer).
- Pour about 1 cup water into the roasting pan.
- Roast turkey, uncovered, for 1 hour, then baste it with more oil and return it to oven. If the outside is getting too brown, cover it with aluminum foil. Add more water to the pan if needed.
- Roast in 30-minute increments from this point forward, until a meat thermometer registers 165°F (74°C) in the thigh and any veggies or stuffing are fully cooked.
- Let turkey rest for 10–15 minutes before carving.
For a more traditional and perhaps less frantic turkey-roasting experience, you can take the classic route of a lower temp (about 350°F/177°C) and a longer cooking time, easily 3 hours or longer for a 12-pounder (and even longer if it’s stuffed).
You’ll want to baste regularly with oil, and you can tent the turkey with aluminum foil if the outside is cooking too quickly. The same temperature guidelines apply here. See our tips below for keeping your gobbler from getting dry.
Luckily, the air fryer’s got you! Not only does an air-fried turkey have that same tender, fall-apart meat and crispy skin, it’s also way healthier and, um, less dangerous.
Now, your standard countertop air fryer won’t be able to handle this job. You’ll need one that’s made for big birds.
Most small turkeys can cook in a larger air fryer as quickly as 10 minutes per pound, with the same prep work detailed above for a roasted turkey. The downside? This isn’t the route you wanna go if you plan to stuff your turkey.
Are you a budding grill master? With the right tools and a large enough grill, you can actually grill a whole turkey to smoky perfection. Now that’s something to be thankful for.
You’ll need a large gas-powered grill (charcoal is too difficult to keep evenly hot for long periods of time). And, as with our quick-roasted turkey, you’ll want high heat (about 450°F/230°C) and you’ll definitely want to keep some water in the roasting pan to prevent scorching.
It’s hard to guesstimate cooking time because outdoor grilling will be profoundly affected by the temp. If it’s frigid out, your bird is gonna take a bit longer. Opening the grill lid to check on it regularly will also slow it down, so try to keep that to a minimum.
Plan on at least 2 1/2 hours, and make sure it reaches the correct internal temp of 165°F (74°C). Although grilling a stuffed turkey isn’t really advised, you can’t go wrong filling that turkey butt with aromatics like garlic, onion, and rosemary.
Dreading a dry turkey? We feel ya. Here are some tips to keep a cool head and a moist bird:
- Brine your turkey. You can dry-brine or wet-brine, but the salt helps keep the turkey moist and adds tons of flavor.
- Use an oven bag. These oven-safe bags allow you to partially steam-cook your turkey, locking in moisture while it’s in the oven.
- Don’t overcook it. Fully cooked, not overcooked, is the name of the game. This is why a meat thermometer is essential. BUT…
- Use a leave-in thermometer. Every time you poke your turkey with a thermometer, you’ll see juices running out. The solution is a leave-in thermometer, which is pretty standard for most store-bought turkeys now.
- Let it rest. Your turkey needs at least 10 minutes of “me” time before it’s “gobble me” time. Don’t carve too soon or all that juicy goodness is gonna be on the bottom of the pan and not on your plate.
If you’re looking for something a little different from the basic options above, here are five of our favorite highly rated turkey recipes that will have your Thanksgiving/Friendsgiving guests raving (or make your weekly meal prep a total cinch)!