Cooking Turkey for Beginners: A Step-by-Step Recipe Guide

  • 01 of 10

    What You Need to Roast a Perfect Turkey

    roast turkey
    Leah Maroney

    12 to 24 lb. fresh or thawed turkey
    2 tablespoons kosher salt
    1 tablespoon fresh ground black pepper
    1 tablespoon poultry seasoning (fresh, not from 1997)
    2 medium onions, cut in large pieces
    3 ribs celery, cut in large pieces
    2 medium carrots, cut in large pieces
    3 fresh rosemary sprigs
    1/2 bunch fresh sage
    1 stick of butter, or this seasoned butter recipe

    Continue to 2 of 10 below.
  • 02 of 10

    Prep the Aromatic Vegetables, Spices, and Flavored Butter

    Leah Maroney

    1. Cut the 2 onions, 3 ribs of celery, and 2 carrots into  large chunks.

    2. Make a seasoning salt by blending blend 2 tablespoons kosher salt, 1 tablespoon black pepper, 1 tablespoons poultry seasoning. This is plenty for the largest turkey, and you'll have some leftover to use in the dressing, gravy, etc.

    3. Let one stick of butter soften to room temperature, or make a flavored compound butter recipe, which is butter mixed with herbs and spices.

    Continue to 3 of 10 below.
  • 03 of 10

    Season the Inside of the Turkey

    Leah Maroney

    1. Remove the bag that contains the neck, heart, gizzard, etc., and rinse the turkey inside and out with cold water. Dry with paper towels thoroughly.

    2. Pull the wing tips forward and tuck them under the breasts so they don't burn. This also keeps the turkey sitting nice and straight.

    3. Hold the turkey by the back legs, and season the entire cavity generously with the seasoned salt.

    4. Add the rosemary, sage, and a large handful of the aromatic vegetables to the cavity.

    Continue to 4 of 10 below.
  • 04 of 10

    Tie the Turkey's Legs

    Leah Maroney

    1. Tie the turkey's leg together with some kitchen twine, or plain dental floss.

    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    Loosen the Turkey's Skin for the Butter

    Leah Maroney

    1. Start with your fingers, and then switch to a thin silicon spatula to push under the skin to separate it from the breast meat. Be careful not to tear the skin, but it's fairly tough, so if you push slowly and firmly you should be able to separate the skin about 2/3 of the way down on either side of the breastbone.

    Continue to 6 of 10 below.
  • 06 of 10

    Push Butter Under the Turkey Skin

    Leah Maroney

    1. Push about 2 tablespoons of butter under the skin of each breast. Use your fingers on top of the skin to push down and spread it evenly toward the front of the turkey.

    Continue to 7 of 10 below.
  • 07 of 10

    Season the Outside of the Turkey

    Leah Maroney

    1. Rub the rest of the butter all over the outside of the turkey, being sure to get the sides also. This is why you need to dry the skin with paper towels in step 3; otherwise, the butter won't stick as well.

    2. Add the rest of the aromatic vegetables to your roasting pan and set the turkey on top. The vegetables will act as a sort of delicious rack.

    3. Add about a half-inch of liquid (water or stock) to the roasting pan. This will keep the oven moist. Also, the pan drippings will be even more...MORE flavorful if you're planning to make gravy.

    Continue to 8 of 10 below.
  • 08 of 10

    Cover the Turkey Breast with Foil

    Leah Maroney

    1. Fold a piece of foil large enough to just cover the turkey breast. The foil should cover loosely - there is no need to press the foil down onto the butter.

    2. About an hour before the cooking time is done (see next step for times), remove the foil to brown the skin on the breasts.

    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10

    Roast the Turkey

    Leah Maroney

    1. Roast at 325 degrees F., for approximately 15 to 20 minutes per pound. This is just an estimate - be sure to use a meat thermometer to get a perfect doneness.

    2. Remove the turkey when it reads 165°F. in the thickest part of the thigh meat.

    Here is an approximate turkey cooking time guide for roasting at 325°F. from the USDA:
    8 to 12 pounds: 2 3/4 to 3 hrs
    12 to 14 pounds: 3 to 3 3/4 hrs
    14 to 18 pounds: 3 3/4 to 4 1/4 hrs
    18 to 20 pounds: 4 1/4 to 4 1/2 hrs
    20 to 24 pounds: 4 1/2 to 5 hrs

    3. While...MORE roasting, the liquid can be used to baste the turkey (there is a debate whether basting does anything, but it's part of the tradition).

    Continue to 10 of 10 below.
  • 10 of 10

    Let the Turkey Rest Before Serving

    roast turkey
    Leah Maroney

    1. When you remove the turkey from the oven, cover it very loosely with foil, and let it rest for at least 20 minutes! Don't worry, it won't get cold; a covered 20-lb turkey will stay hot for over 40 minutes, so don't rush it.

    2. Letting it rest not only gives you time to finish the gravy, and the rest of the meal, but also allows the juices in the turkey to redistribute, which is the secret to moist, tender meat.

    Congratulations! It's time to give thanks, and enjoy!