You'll find plenty of top-rated turkey recipes here to complete your Thanksgiving menu, but to get a solid overview of how to cook a turkey in the oven, check out the tried-and-true turkey tips below. We have helpful Thanksgiving videos, as well. They provide useful how-to information and inspiration for the rest of the menu—including a few ideas for luscious pumpkin desserts!
The first step when cooking a turkey is to remove the neck and excess fat and giblets from the chest cavity. You can either save the giblets for gravy or a stuffing recipe or discard them.
Rinse the cavity and the outside of turkey with cold water, then blot it dry with paper towels. Season inside the cavity and the area under the skin with salt, pepper and herbs. Try poultry seasoning, thyme, sage or marjoram. If you are using a turkey brine or a kosher turkey, skip the salt.
If your family tradition calls for stuffing, check out our turkey stuffing recipes before you go any further. You may need to take those instructions into consideration. If you do opt for stuffing, don't forget to use a thermometer to be sure that the temperature of the stuffing inside the bird reaches 165°F.
If the bird is compact, it will cook more evenly. To make it as compact as possible, tuck the legs into the ring of skin that they were originally in before you rinsed it. Fold the tips of the wings underneath the turkey's back.
Assuming you're making gravy as well as cooking a turkey, make it as scrumptious as possible. You'll add loads of flavor to the pan juices you'll be using for your gravy if the turkey is cooked on a bed of carrots, celery and onions. Quarter the onions and peel and trim the carrots and celery, but do not chop. Lay the carrots and celery in a lattice pattern, with onions in between, on the bottom of a large roasting pan and place the turkey on the vegetables.
Brush the bird's skin with vegetable oil to prevent it from drying out during roasting.
If you're using a leave-in meat thermometer and not a quick-read thermometer, now is the time to insert it in the turkey's thigh. For the most accurate reading, place it deep into the thickest part of the thigh next to the body, making sure it does not touch bone. If you don't have a meat thermometer that can stay in the oven, you can check for doneness with an instant-read thermometer near the end of the estimated roasting time.
Roast at 325°F for the time indicated in our turkey cooking times article. Not only is basting unnecessary, it actually slows down the cooking and increases the time it takes to get the turkey roasted. Why? Every time you open the door to baste, you let heat out of the oven. Not a good idea. This is one of the main mistakes people making when they are first learning how to cook a turkey in the oven.
When the turkey skin turns brown, about two-thirds of the way through roasting, shield the breast loosely with a sheet of foil to prevent overbrowning.
Check for doneness before the appointed time: You don't want to overcook the centerpiece of your meal. When you have finished cooking the turkey, the internal temperature of the thighs should be 180°F on a meat thermometer. The thigh and drumstick meat should feel soft when pressed, and when the thigh is pierced with a fork the juices should run clear, not pink.
Remove the turkey from the oven. Place it on a cutting board that's resting in a large, cafeteria-style tray with a lip, a flat aluminum foil tray or baking sheet with sides. Tent the cooked turkey with foil and let it stand for 15-20 minutes. This resting time allows the juices to saturate the meat evenly for the moistest and most tender turkey.
Now that you have successfully learned how to cook a turkey in the oven, get your slicing knife and carving fork. Also, be sure to check out our article that gives you all the info you need to successfully carve a turkey.