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How to Roast a Turkey: The Best Ways to Roast Turkey

Before determining how to roast a turkey properly you have to determine what kind of turkey you want! You can get a whole bird, a turkey breast, turkey legs, a frozen bird, or a fresh turkey. Each of these choices has different benefits and drawbacks including:

1. Availability. Fresh birds may be hard to find, but they do taste different than frozen. They're generally better.
2. Timing. Frozen birds require days to safely defrost in the refrigerator (one day per five pounds) but are readily available at the market even on Thanksgiving day!
3. The Kind of Meat. Turkey legs and most of the thighs are solely dark meat, meaning they're moist. For those watching calories, however, this meat is fattier. White meat is leaner, but tends to be less moist and need more babying.
4. Size and Cut. Turkey breast is a great choice for white meat lovers but may not offer enough food for a large family. Learning how to roast a whole turkey perfectly, though, can take some practice.
5. How Much. A whole bird has a lot of bone --meaning you have to buy a bigger one than you might think to get enough meat-- but it provides both white and dark meat rather than just white.
For the purpose of this page, I'm going to go on assuming that you're looking for how to roast a turkey the traditional way: a whole turkey roasted in the oven. That said, what is the best way to roast a turkey depends on you. You can also:

Preparation for Roasting a Whole Turkey

Preparing to Roast a Turkey for DinnerRemove the giblets. When you're learning how to roast a turkey remember that most turkeys you buy at the store include the giblets in the middle cavity, wrapped in paper. Some people use these parts for stuffing, others use them to make giblet gravy, while others cook them and give them to the pets as a special treat. In either case, they need to be removed so you can clean the bird. Rinse the bird. Using cool water rinse the turkey inside and out. Then dry thoroughly, or let air-dry in the refrigerator. If you're seasoning your turkey, the next step is sprinkling your herbs all around the skin and the interior (or potentially placing butter and herbs gently under the skin of the turkey for both moisture and flavor).
You can also at this point choose to brine your turkey, use a marinade injection, or to dry brine it using a method like this one. You'll find lots of specific recipes for how to cook a turkey here.
Stuff the bird. If you plan to stuff the bird wait until just before you put it in the oven. This decreases the chances of any contamination. Make sure to put the stuffing inside rather loosely as it expands from the turkey's juices. Also to keep the stuffing firmly in place, truss the turkey legs in front of the cavity of the bird.
Check here for some great recipes for turkey stuffing.

Roasting a Turkey

A turkey roasting in the oven for Thanksgiving dinnerPrepared to learn how to roast a turkey? Then let's get started! Start off by preheating your oven to 350 degrees F. Use the Right Pan. Move the turkey into a shallow roasting pan (deep roasting pans tend to steam the turkey instead of roasting it). Make sure that the turkey has plenty of room on all sides as the air flow facilitates evenness of cooking. A rack at the bottom of the roasting pan helps with that, too.
Cover with Foil. Cover the top of the bird with an aluminum foil tent. If you don't have or don't want to use aluminum foil, roast your turkey with the breast side down for most of the required time. Turn it over for the last 40 minutes to get golden brown skin.
You'll want to leave the aluminum foil in place until about 40 minutes before the bird is completely cooked. Remove it so that you get a golden color, crispy skin. This is the perfect time to baste and gather up some of the turkey drippings for your gravy.

How Long does it Take to Roast a Turkey?

Depending on how steady the heat in your oven runs, and how much airflow you get around the bird, a 15 pound turkey will require about four hours to cook to an interior temperature of 165 degrees, which is considered safe for consumption. Add about 40 minutes more if you've stuffed the bird. Check here for a chart of cooking times for turkey.

Serving the Turkey

Carving a Roasted TurkeyThe mystery of how to roast a turkey doesn't stop when the bird comes out of the oven. Now you need to let the bird rest so that the turkey's juices move away from the center of the turkey. You'll find the meat is much moister after resting, and easier to carve up perfectly. The 20-30 minutes of resting won't make the turkey cold, and if you're serving your turkey gravy hot, that will also give the meat a little extra heat. Avoid microwaving or re-heating your turkey as it dries the meat out.
Last but not least don't forget those side dishes that round out your roast turkey dinner perfectly. Be it stuffing and mashed potatoes or green bean casserole, turkey goes well with just about anything!

Getting the Turkey Right

If you're learning how to roast a turkey, there are a lot of tips and helpful hints here at Divine Dinner Party. Check out some of the following pages for help on how to roast a turkey to perfection every time-- with or without a recipe:

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Anika Devi received her Bachelor’s degree in Media, Culture and Communication from New York University in 2012. She began freelancing for Business Solutions BD in 2010 and joined the team as a staff writer three years later. She currently serves as the assistant editor.
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