There are an overwhelming amount of ways to cook a Thanksgiving turkey. From a range of techniques to a plethora of ways to season the turkey. But what if you want to keep it simple? If you’re looking for the easiest way to cook a Thanksgiving turkey, this is it. Whether it’s your first Thanksgiving you’ll be hosting and are feeling a little nervous, or it’s your 10th but want to take it easy this year and focus on sides and dessert, this fuss-free method guarantees a juicy, perfectly cooked turkey with crispy skin.
Once carved and served, there’s still the option to adorn the serving platter with bundles of fresh herbs like rosemary, thyme, sage, or fresh bay leaves, as well as mini-apples (aka crab apples) or blood orange wedges. The garnishes adorning the turkey will make it look like the stunning centerpiece it is, and no one will know it was actually the easiest thing you cooked all day.
How to Cook a Thanksgiving Turkey
First things first, let’s talk cookware and tools. Make sure you have a large roasting pan on hand, as well as an instant-read thermometer. For a neater-looking bird, you might want to tie the drumsticks together using kitchen twine. Bonus points if you keep an oven thermometer in the oven to make sure you’re roasting at the right temperature.
Now that you’ve got your roasting essentials lined up, you’ll need a defrosted turkey and a handful of aromatics, like onions, carrots, and lemons, a generous amount of softened butter, and of course, salt and pepper. The aromatics will be placed in the roasting pan and the softened butter will be rubbed all over the bird prior to roasting.
Caitlin-Marie Miner Ong
Shop for a turkey that weighs between 12 and 14 pounds. It’s a big enough bird to feed about eight guests with plenty of leftovers. Keep in mind that size matters, and so does the temperature of the turkey before it goes in the oven. It’s always best to let the turkey come up to room temperature for up to one hour, to ensure it doesn’t go in the oven still cold (which will take longer to cook). If you’re roasting a smaller bird, start checking the internal temperature of the turkey about an hour before the estimated cook time. If you’re planning on cooking a larger bird for a bigger gathering, don’t go above 15 pounds, in this case, it’s better to roast two smaller birds, which will guarantee evenly cooked and succulent perfection.
To check the temperature of the turkey, insert an instant-read thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh. The safe temperature you’re aiming for is 165 degrees, but because the temperature will climb as the turkey rests, you can pull it from the oven at 160 degrees – it’ll reach the safe temperature in the time you’ll be arranging the eye-catching platter, and maybe even making gravy with the flavorful pan juices.
Easy Thanksgiving Turkey Recipe
1. Remove and discard giblets from turkey. Reserve neck, if desired.
2. Rinse one 12- to 14-lb. (thawed) turkey inside and out, and pat dry with paper towels. Let stand on a work surface for at least 30 minutes or up to 1 hour. Preheat the oven to 475 degrees.
3. Cut 3 large carrots lengthwise into quarters, as well as 2 yellow onions, and 2 lemons into quarters, and place on the bottom of a large roasting pan; add turkey neck, if using. Season with ½ teaspoon salt and several grinds of pepper.
4. Rub 6 tablespoons of softened unsalted butter all over the turkey skin. Season turkey inside and out with ½ teaspoon salt and several grinds of pepper. If desired, cut 1 yellow onion and 1 lemon in half, and place in the cavity.
5. Place turkey, breast side up, on top of vegetables in the roasting pan. Tuck wing tips underneath the body, and if desired, tie legs together using kitchen twine.
6. Roast turkey until golden brown on top, about 40 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees. Pour 2 cups of water into the roasting pan, and continue to roast until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh registers 165 degrees, about 1 hour and 30 minutes for a 12-pound turkey. Transfer turkey to a carving board, and let rest for at least 30 minutes before carving.
Turkey Gravy Recipe
If you wish to make gravy to serve alongside, (which you totally should because it can be done while the turkey is resting), follow this easy gravy recipe that uses up the pan juices in the roasting pan:
1. Pour pan juices through a wire-mesh strainer over a bowl or fat separator, discarding solids. Let stand for 10 minutes. Skim and discard fat from surface; set aside strained pan juices (about 1½ cups).
2. Place the empty roasting pan over 2 burners on the stovetop over medium-high. Add ½ cup dry white wine, and cook, stirring and scraping up browned bits from the bottom of the pan, about 3 minutes.
3. Add ¼ cup (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, and whisk until melted. Gradually whisk in ½ cup all-purpose flour, and cook, whisking all around the pan, until lightly golden, about 3 minutes.
4. Slowly whisk in 4 cups chicken or turkey stock and whisk in strained pan juices. Bring to a boil, and cook, gently whisking occasionally, until gravy has thickened, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat, and whisk in salt and several grinds of pepper, to taste. Serve gravy with turkey.
How to Cook a Thanksgiving Turkey With Stuffing Inside
To stuff or not to stuff? This topic is a little bit controversial. Cooking a Thanksgiving turkey with stuffing (or as some people prefer to call it, dressing) inside the cavity used to be a classic way to serve up turkey on the big day. However, it’s rarely seen this way anymore as it increases the cooking time, while also unevenly cooking the turkey. But that’s not all, the stuffing also needs to reach 165 degrees to kill off any traces of salmonella because of all the turkey juices that drip and soak the stuffing. By the time that temperature is achieved, the turkey meat is overcooked– it’s a vicious cycle. Plus, the texture of the stuffing might be off-putting, and that’s a shame because it’s one of the best parts of Thanksgiving.
So instead of cooking stuffing inside the turkey, pack the cavity with fragrant aromatics like onion, herbs, lemon, or celery, and turn to this easy hack: come serving time, if you love the idea of stuffing-stuffed turkey and you must absolutely serve it this way, remove any aromatics from the cavity and transfer cooked stuffing that was prepared separately into the cavity. Now, this is a workaround we can get behind!