How to prepare and roast a turkey
Table of Contents
1. Remove extra bits from turkey’s cavities
Yes, there are two: The main cavity where you will typically find the giblets, liver and gizzard, and a smaller cavity where the head used to be. Just lift up the flap of the skin to check the cavities. The neck bone is sometimes hiding in there, or you may find a package of giblets. Save the neck and put it in the bottom of the roasting pan along with any vegetables — it’s perfect for making a flavorful gravy. Reserve the giblets for gravy, stuffing or as a snack.
2. Don’t rinse!
Whatever you do, do not wash your uncooked turkey. Doing so can splash bacteria, such as salmonella, onto all of your kitchen surfaces, according to the USDA. Instead, just pat the turkey dry with paper towels. Getting rid of the excess moisture helps to ensure a crispy skin.
3. Fill turkey with aromatics
The options are endless. Any herbs that you already have on hand (think: sage, thyme, or rosemary) are great. Parsley stems work perfectly, too. We also like to add onions and garlic. Cut an entire head of garlic (skin and all) in half through the equator and pop it inside. Have an extra lemon or small orange? Cut either in half and add that, too.
4. Tuck wing tips
Bend the wing tips and tuck them just behind the back to help prevent them from burning.
5. Tie legs together with kitchen twine
Tucking the wing tips and tying the legs together ensures that your turkey cooks evenly. Use a small piece of twine to tie the legs together right at the ends, but be sure that the bow will be easy to untie or cut once the bird’s done cooking.
6. Add vegetables and roasting rack to pan
This is the start of your gravy. You already added the turkey neck you saved to the bottom of the roasting pan (step one). Now, add a couple of carrots and stalks of celery, each cut into 2-inch pieces. Quarter two small onions to add in, along with a few sprigs of fresh herbs (thyme, rosemary, sage, or some combination). Some folks add the giblets here, but skip the liver — it’ll make the pan juices taste bitter. Place a roasting rack in the pan on top of the vegetables.
7. Season turkey
Place the turkey on top of the roasting rack. Rub all over with olive oil and butter and season with salt.
8. Cook turkey until it’s completely done
Turkey is done when you insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of its thigh and the temperature reads 165°F. Its juices should also run clear when this part of its thigh is pierced with the tip of a knife.
9. Let turkey rest before carving
Carefully tilt the turkey to tip the juices from the cavity into the pan. Transfer the turkey to a carving board set within a rimmed baking sheet (this will catch the bird’s juices while it rests and as you carve, which you can add to your gravy). Cover loosely with foil and let the turkey rest at least 30 minutes before carving.
Kate Merker (she/her) is the Chief Food Director of the Hearst Lifestyle Group, overseeing the team that produces food content for several Hearst titles, including Good Housekeeping, Women’s Health, Prevention, Woman’s Day and Country Living. She has clocked nearly 20 years of experience in food media and before that, worked at some of New York City’s finest restaurants.
Susan (she/her) is the recipe editor at Good Housekeeping, where she pitches ideas, parses words, and produces food content. In the Test Kitchen, she cooks (and samples!) recipes, working with developers to deliver the best written versions possible. A graduate of Brown University and a collaborator on several cookbooks, her previous experience includes stints at Food & Wine, Food Network, three meal kit companies, a wine shop in Brooklyn, and Chez Panisse, the pioneering restaurant in Berkeley, California. She enjoys playing tennis, natural wines, and reality competition shows.
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