Fall (Halloween & Thanksgiving)

How to Cook a Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey (with photo directions)

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Happy Thanksgiving, y’all! If you’re here for my Thanksgiving Turkey post, and the pictures look a little different, do not be confused, for I have updated them from the pictures I took in the dark with a camera sitting on a book on my kitchen counter 4 years ago.

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Remember that scene in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation where Clark Griswold cuts open the very dry turkey?  I have detailed directions (with photos) for you to keep that scene from playing out in your own dining room.

How to Cook a Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey

I did the math in my head, and I’m betting I’ve made about 4 dozen turkeys in the last 15 years.  I’ve tried a ton of different recipes, and about 7 years ago, I finally perfected a turkey with white meat so moist, my husband and I always have to triple check it to make sure it’s actually done.  I now use a combination of The Barefoot Contessa’s, and Martha Stewart’s recipes, and this. turkey. is. perfection.

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I mean, seriously. Look at this breast meat.  Breast meat.

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The biggest trick (Ina Garten’s) is to loosen the skin on the breast meat and put a herb butter mixture underneath it.  Basted with white wine and butter (Thanks, Martha!) this is sooooo much better than any turkey cooked in a bag! Bonus points that it gives your whole house that magical Thanksgiving fragrance of turkey and sage.

Ingredients:

1 Turkey, thawed (I usually wind up with a 30 pounder.  Today, it’s just a 14lb)
Stuffing (of your choice *see note below)
2 Sticks of room temperature butter
1 bottle of dry white wine (like Chardonnay)
Salt
Pepper
Poultry Seasoning
Sage
Garlic powder

Directions:
If you’re stuffing your turkey, make your stuffing, and set aside.  * This recipe used to use a stuffed turkey, but because of articles I have read about bacteria and stuffed turkeys, I have started leaving my turkey unstuffed, and cooking the stuffing in a separate casserole dish.  I am still including directions for if you would like to stuff your turkey, but I don’t have a picture, because I didn’t do it when I updated the photos. 🙂   

How to make a perfect Thanksgiving Turkey with photo instructions by Rumbly in my Tumbly

Pour the bottle of wine, and one stick of your butter into the bottom of your roasting pan.  This is going to combine with the juices and the fats and seasonings of your turkey to make the basting liquid.  I used to use Martha Stewart’s more pretentious method of melting the butter and wine in a saucepan before using it to baste, but then I realized I get identical results if I just do this, and I dirty one less dish, which is awesome on Thanksgiving.

How to make a perfect Thanksgiving Turkey with photo instructions by Rumbly in my Tumbly

Clean your turkey.  This is best done over the sink, but I had to do it on the counter in a bowl to get the picture.  Rinse out the inside, pull out all the guts and gizards, do with them what you will (Some people put them in their stuffing.  I throw them away, they give me the willies)  Mine often comes with a bag of gravy.  Do people actually eat that gravy that they pulled out of the butt of their turkey?

How to make a perfect Thanksgiving Turkey with photo instructions by Rumbly in my Tumbly

Check all openings, including the butt, and make sure you get them all- I once forgot a bag in there, and it was NOT pretty.

How to make a perfect Thanksgiving Turkey with photo instructions by Rumbly in my Tumbly

Pat the turkey down dry with a paper towel.

How to make a perfect Thanksgiving Turkey with photo instructions by Rumbly in my Tumbly

Salt the inside cavity.  I use about a tablespoon of salt for a 30lb turkey.  For a 15 lb turkey, two teaspoons.  It doesn’t have to be exact.

How to make a perfect Thanksgiving Turkey with photo instructions by Rumbly in my Tumbly

In a measuring cup, put one stick of butter, a tablespoon of salt (It’s a lot, but you’re seasoning an entire turkey here) 1/2 tsp pepper, 1 tablespoon of poultry seasoning, 1/4 tsp sage, and 1 tsp garlic powder, and mix it all together.  Set aside.

How to make a perfect Thanksgiving Turkey with photo instructions by Rumbly in my Tumbly

With your hands, loosen the skin of the turkey.  Slowly work your hands underneath the skin until it is completely loosened.  This is Ina Garten’s trick, and it is magic.

How to make a perfect Thanksgiving Turkey with photo instructions by Rumbly in my Tumbly

 Spread about half of the butter mixture on the breast, underneath the skin. If your turkey is very cold, the butter is going to clump up a little when you put it on the turkey.  That’s okay.  It will melt and go all over.

How to make a perfect Thanksgiving Turkey with photo instructions by Rumbly in my Tumbly

Spread the rest of the butter mixture over the top of the turkey.

How to make a perfect Thanksgiving Turkey with photo instructions by Rumbly in my Tumbly

Top the turkey with a sprinkle of more salt, pepper, and poultry seasoning.

How to make a perfect Thanksgiving Turkey with photo instructions by Rumbly in my Tumbly

Stuff your turkey, if you’re doing that.
If your turkey’s legs aren’t already tied together, tie them together with cooking twine.  Most turkeys these days come with their legs pre-tied, which is nice.

How to make a perfect Thanksgiving Turkey with photo instructions by Rumbly in my Tumbly

Bake at 325°, for as long as needed (chart below) basting with the wine/butter liquid ever 15-30 minutes.  (I do it every 15 minutes, but ever 30 would be fine)  If you notice parts of the turkey getting too dark while you’re in there basting, (hello, wings!) cover them loosely with aluminum foil.
Let your turkey rest for at least a half an hour before eating. (Gives you time to make the gravy!)

Cooking time for a Turkey at 325° F

These times are approximate.  Always check with a meat thermometer.  Turkey should be a minimum of 165° when a thermometer is inserted into the thickest part of the thigh.
Unstuffed:
4 to 8 pounds (breast) 1½ to 3¼ hours
8 to 12 pounds 2¾ to 3 hours
12 to 14 pounds 3 to 3¾ hours
14 to 18 pounds 3¾ to 4¼ hours
18 to 20 pounds 4¼ to 4½ hours
20 to 24 pounds 4½ to 5 hours
24 to 30 pounds 5 to 5 1/2 hours
Stuffed:
to 12 pounds 3 to 3½ hours
12 to 14 pounds 3½ to 4 hours
14 to 18 pounds 4 to 4¼ hours
18 to 20 pounds 4¼ to 4¾ hours
20 to 24 pounds 4¾ to 5¼ hours
24 to 30 pounds 5 1/4 to 5 3/4 hours
How to make a perfect Thanksgiving Turkey with step-by-step photo directions
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72 thoughts on “How to Cook a Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey (with photo directions)

    1. Hi Hilary, just keep it on low until you have used it all baking the turkey. After a bit, you will run out of basting liquid on the stove top and it will all be in your rotating pan, at which point you should pull the basting liquid from there. Hope that helps. Happy Thanksgiving!

  1. Tried to do this tonight. But the butter mixture kept sticking on my hand and not rubbing on chicken(my hands and turkey was dry). Epic fail on my end. So season it as normal. Any idea what I did wrong? Thanks

  2. This was the juiciest turkey I have ever made. We ate so much of it while my husband was cutting that we were full before dinner. I basted every 30 minutes and did not stuff it. Thanks for the great recipe. I will prepare it this way every time!

  3. Ok, here it goes… Turkey in the oven and now it’s just a waiting game. Looking forward to tasting in a few hours… I’ll let you know what the family thought 😀

  4. This sounds like a great recipe, can’t wait to try it. I don’t plan on stuffing it but should I put anything in it, like an onion or a lemon? Also anything at the bottom of the pan? Thanks!

  5. Hello Looks delicious. I always cook my turkey in a cooking bag, I was wondering if I could do that and still cook my bird in the cooking bag?
    Thanks

  6. Hi, I’m so excited to try this, but instead of cooking it in the oven, I’m cooking it in a roasting oven. Will it turn out the same? And a whole bottle of wine?
    Thank you

  7. This was the best recipe I used last year! Def going to use it again! Oh, and it was my first turkey!🎉 I didn’t have a pan to raise the turkey on but I had stalks of celery in the fridge so I used those as a stand!! It was so weird, I’ve never seen that before, but it’s so nice to work with what you have! Your recipe tasted amazing, thank you!

  8. Last year I broke from my traditional roasting bag method and tried your recipe. It was intimidating trying something new on such a big day. It was THE best turkey I have ever tasted. It was so gorgeous, it could’ve been a turkey model. Everyone raved, and of course posted it’s picture all of the place!! I did brine mine the night before, as I have always had great luck with it. We can’t wait to eat this again!

  9. Is there a way to print this recipe… I have a feeling ill be too busy to find this again.. It is saved to my pins.. (first time hosting thanksgiving and feeling nervous!)
    Thank you.

  10. I know this is an older post, but was just wondering if there is enough juices to make gravy with?? Or does it all just evaporate while basting?? Looks yummy!!!

  11. If you’re making gravy from the drippings, would you just use the liquid in the bottom of the pan when the turkey is done? Just wondering if the wine would affect the taste of the gravy. I can’t wait to try this on Thanksgiving!! 🙂

    1. Hi Brittney-
      I was worried about this the first time I made it too! I use the drippings from the bottom of the pan for my gravy, and you can’t taste the wine a bit. It loses all of it’s wine taste in the cooking process. Hope you love this turkey! Yay, Thanksgiving is coming up!

  12. Hi Shannon! This will be my first year ever cooking a turkey. What is the benefit of using the white wine instead of chicken broth? I haven’t used alcohol for cooking before so just wondering why you opted for wine instead of broth.

    1. Oh I’ve used white wine for my turkeys since I saw it on Rachel ray years ago. It does something to add that extra flavor

  13. Hi Shannon!
    I know that this is an old post, but hoping you can still answer my question! I have purchased a “pre-brined” turkey and am wondering if you would recommend using less salt in the butter mixture? Just worried about the turkey being too salty. It will be my first time making a turkey and I am so excited to try your recipe! Thanks!

  14. I seriously use this as my go to recipe! I used this last year, and my goodness, that was the BEST turkey I’ve ever made! I did tweek it a little by adding rosemary to the butter mixture. Pure heaven! I’ll be using it again this year!

  15. If I use chicken broth instead of the wine, how much do I use? This is my first year cooking turkey and I’ve never done it before… would hate to mess it up! really looking forward to trying your recipe!

  16. If I use chicken broth instead of the wine, how much do I use? This is my first year cooking turkey and I’ve never done it before… would hate to mess it up! really looking forward to trying your recipe!

    1. Sorry, I also meant to ask if red wine would work as well or would it give the gravy an odd flavor? We already have some red wine on hand that we probably won’t drink. I’ll probably go with the chicken stock but I was curious about this too. Thanks!

    1. That is so strange!!! I’m sorry I didn’t see this sooner- I would’ve told you to add more basting liquid to the roasting pan- whatever you have on hand. A stick of butter, chicken broth, wine… hope it turned out ok. Happy thanksgiving

  17. Hi Shannon!! I LOVE this recipe! This is the second year I have done it and it always comes out perfect. I don’t have a fancy roasting pan or rack so I always buy a disposable turkey roasting pan and put the little rack from our toaster oven underneath the turkey, so it sits up off the pan just high enough. Then the whole thing goes on a baking sheet so that it has more support when I pull it out.

    I wanted to suggest to you that you make it easier to print your recipe — I love being able to consult the pictures online, but I don’t want to use all that ink when I print. I end up copy-pasting the words into a word document to print out the recipe every year. Just a thought! Thanks for sharing this excellent recipe with us 🙂

  18. Wow … this worked great ! Finally had a moist turkey without the whole brine hassle.
    Quick tip on “yucky” guts, gizzards and neck, courtesy of Emeril Lagasse to make a fantastic gravy (and you won’t have to eat any of those parts 🙂 )
    1. saute neck, heart, gizzards (I throw out mushy liver) in sauce pan for 1 min in 1tbsp veg oil
    2. add 1 carrot, 1 onion, 1 celery stalk, 1 bay leaf and saute 2 mins
    3. add 3 cups chicken broth and 3 cups water
    4. simmer until reduces to 3 cups and strain to get just the liquid
    5. pour pan drippings into measuring cup and skim out top layer of fatty oil
    6. in sauce pan, saute 4 tbsp butter & 1/4 cup flour on med-high for a few mins to make a roux … should turn light brown.
    7. add reduce broth and pan drippings and cook 10 mins.

    Now you can say that Emeril, Martha, and Ina helped make your turkey feast !

  19. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!! I have been meaning to post a comment for a couple weeks now, and I’m just getting around to it. I was tasked with the daunting job of cooking the turkey for our family Thanksgiving this year. I was absolutely terrified, as this was my first time ever cooking one. I followed your directions to a “T”. My 19 pound turkey came out absolutely amazing!!! I received SO many compliments as to how tasty and moist it was. And the skin?! OH MY GOD!!!! So crispy and delish!! Thank you!!! You are my hero!!!😊

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