Wondering how to cook a turkey? This is the easiest, most basic, step-by-step guide for how to cook a turkey for a stress-free Thanksgiving dinner.
The centerpiece of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner is a turkey yet so many people have told me that they’ve never made a turkey and don’t know how. To beginners, cooking a turkey seems daunting but I think you’ll be shocked at how easy it is.
Today I’m sharing my easy roasted turkey recipe with no brining, no shoving stuff under the skin, or in the cavities, no injections, and no special equipment needed. There are TONS of step-by-step photos and instructions to make it simple.
How Much Turkey Per Person
Figuring out how much turkey to buy per person is an easy calculation. First add up how many people will be eating the turkey and decide if you are average eaters, large eaters, and if you want leftovers.
- For average eaters buy one pound of turkey per person.
- For big eaters buy one and a fourth pounds of turkey per person.
- For leftovers buy one and a half pounds of turkey per person.
Multiply the number of people by the pounds of turkey per person to figure out how much turkey to buy.
How To Thaw A Turkey
The most important thing is to remember to allow enough time to thaw your turkey. If you aren’t going to have enough time to thaw a large turkey, try to find a fresh turkey that is ready to roast. Or buy a couple of small turkeys or turkey breasts instead since they will take less time to thaw.
Thaw A Turkey In Refrigerator
To thaw the turkey in the refrigerator, you will need about 24 hours for every 4 pounds of turkey.
Put the frozen turkey with the wrapper still intact on a rimmed tray and thaw in the fridge.
Cook within 4 days of thawing.
Thaw A Turkey In Cold Water
Thawing a turkey in cold water is faster but it takes more hands-on time. To thaw a turkey in cold water, you will need about 30 minutes per pound.
Put the frozen turkey, with the wrapper intact, in the sink and cover it with cold water.
Rotate the turkey every 30 minutes and change the water every 30 minutes to keep the turkey cold.
Move the turkey to a rimmed tray in the fridge and cook within 4 days of thawing.
How Long To Cook A Turkey
Calculate out how long it will take to roast the turkey. Look at the turkey cooking times chart above. Figure out the roasting time by weight whether your turkey is stuffed or unstuffed.
Then, add about 15 minutes of resting time. Count backward from when you want to eat and that is when to put the turkey in the oven.
Bonus Tip: If you are worried about making sure the turkey is done on time, you can make the turkey ahead of time. See FAQs below.
Parts of a Turkey
When you are ready to cook the turkey, remove the netting and plastic wrapper from around the turkey and drain the juices.
If you’ve never made a turkey or haven’t made one in a long time it’s nice to know what you were looking at. This recipe for how to cook a turkey says to put it in the roasting pan breast side up so it is important to know which side is the breast!
In the picture above I’ve labeled the different parts of the turkey including the turkey breast, wings, legs, main cavity with the neck sticking out of it, and the neck cavity.
The giblets are usually found in either the neck cavity or the main cavity.
Remove the Neck
Remove the neck from the main cavity and discard. Or set aside if you want to cook the neck.
Also remove the plastic turkey leg fastener, if desired. The plastic is oven-safe but I prefer to remove it before cooking the turkey.
Next, you’ll need to remove the giblets from the turkey. The giblets are the liver, heart, and gizzard of the turkey and are in a small bag.
The giblets are located in either the main cavity (like the neck) or in the neck cavity like in the photo above. Lift the flap of skin over the cavity, remove the giblets and discard. Or set aside if you plan to cook them.
Also look for a gravy packet in the cavities and remove if present.
Roast the Turkey
Put the turkey in a large roasting pan, breast side up. Cover and roast the turkey until it reaches 165˚F in the breast.
For this easy roasted turkey recipe, the turkey is unstuffed and here are the cooking times by pounds.
- Cook a 7-10 pound unstuffed turkey at 325˚F for 2.5 – 3 hours.
- Cook a 10-18 pound unstuffed turkey at 325˚F for 3 – 3.5 hours.
- Cook an 18-22 pound unstuffed turkey at 325˚F for 3.5 – 4 hours.
- Cook a 22-24 pound unstuffed turkey at 325˚F for 4 – 4.5 hours.
- Cook an 24-30 pound unstuffed turkey at 325˚F for 4.5 – 5 hours.
Rest the Roasted Turkey
Remove the turkey from the oven and rest it for 15-20 minutes before carving.
How To Carve A Turkey
Cut off the legs at the joint and lay them on the platter.
Then cut off the breasts, one at a time on either side of the breastbone between the two breasts.
There is still a lot of meat attached to the bones. Clean as much of the meat off the turkey as you can. It doesn’t look platter perfect but it is so delicious. Put it on a separate platter or in a slow cooker. Discard the rest.
The turkey legs are ready to eat. Cut the turkey breasts into slices.
Roasted Turkey On Platter
Arrange the turkey slices and turkey legs on a platter. Drizzle with juices from the roasting pan and serve immediately.
Store leftover turkey in an airtight container in the fridge for up to three days and in the freezer for up to two months.
Roasted Turkey In Slow Cooker
Our preferred method of serving food at our very large Thanksgiving dinners is buffet style with slow cookers to keep the food hot.
Arrange all of the turkey that was cleaned off of the bones last on the bottom of the slow cooker.
Then, lay the turkey breast slices on top. Pour the juices from the roasting pan over the turkey. Cover and turn the slow cooker to the keep warm setting.
How To Cook A Turkey FAQs
1. Can you share tips for safely handling the raw turkey?
Wash your hands frequently with hot, soapy water. Wipe up juices with paper towels and discard. Clean dishes and utensils in hot, soapy water. Disinfect surfaces and sink.
2. How do I know when the turkey is done? Insert a meat thermometer into the turkey breast. The turkey is done when the thermometer reaches 165˚F.
3. Can I cook my turkey ahead of time? Yes! You can cook it ahead of time. Carve the turkey and store in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer with all of the juices. Thaw the turkey and then reheat it in a slow cooker on Thanksgiving Day.
4. Do I need to baste the turkey? No. The juices run off of the skin and don’t soak into the meat. Also, opening the oven and the roasting pan frequently will prolong the cooking time.
Want More Thanksgiving Recipes? Try These:
This classic, easy-to-make sweet Sweet Potato Casserole is as delicious as a dessert with a brown sugar and pecan crumb topping. A MUST MAKE for Thanksgiving!
Slow Cooker Green Bean Casserole is the EASIEST way to make this classic side dish. Plus, cooking green bean casserole in a crockpot frees up oven space!
This Easy Pecan Pie without corn syrup is hands-down our FAVORITE PIE EVER and a must at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Includes tips for pecan pie problems!
This Thanksgiving Pizza recipe is the BEST way to eat Thanksgiving leftovers. It has turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing and more all in a puff pastry crust!