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How to Roast a Turkey

9 Steps to Your Best Turkey Ever

Roasting sounds fancy, but really there’s nothing to it. Whether you’re brushing up on your skills or preparing your first holiday meal on your own, just follow the steps to learn how to roast a turkey to golden brown, juicy perfection.

Is your turkey still frozen? Read: 2 Ways to Thaw a Turkey

What You'll Need

  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Herbs
  • Turkey
  • Roasting Rack
  • Roasting Pan
  • Meat Thermometer
Step 1

Wash your hands, equipment, countertops and sink with hot, soapy water before you handle the turkey in order to remove any dangerous bacteria, like you would with any raw poultry.

Roasting Chart

Turkey WeightUnstuffedStuffed
8 to 12 lb.2¾ to 3 hours3 to 3½ hours
12 to 14 lb.3 to 3¾ hours3½ to 4 hours
14 to 18 lb.3¾ to 4¼ hours4 to 4¼ hours
18 to 20 lb.4¼ to 4½ hours4¼ to 4¾ hours
20 to 24 lb.4½ to 5 hours4¾ to 5¼ hours

Times above assume a 325°F. oven temperature and are approximate based on recommendations of the USDA. Always use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of your turkey and stuffing.

Step 2

Remove the bag of giblets – which includes the liver, heart and gizzard – from the small neck cavity of the thawed turkey, and remove the neck from the body cavity. Then put all aside to make gravy, stuffing or soup.

Step 3

Pat the inside and outside of the bird dry with several layers of paper towels. Season the inside of both the large cavity and the neck cavity with salt and pepper, if the turkey is unbrined. Skip the salt and season only with pepper, if the turkey is brined.

Stuff the large cavity with halved lemons, oranges and herbs, if you’re not cooking the stuffing in the bird.

Step 4

Preheat the oven to 325ºF. with a rack in the lower third, then stuff your turkey, if desired. Or prepare the stuffing to bake separately – this will make it easier to cook the turkey completely and thoroughly kill any bacteria.

Make sure bird and stuffing hit a minimum internal temperature of 165ºF, for safety.

Step 5

Place a roasting rack in the pan. To prevent the turkey skin from fusing with the rack during the long roasting time, coat the rack with a nonstick spray – even if the rack is nonstick. Then cradle the turkey on the rack, breast side up.

No rack? Make a large ring out of crunched aluminum foil or scatter large chunks of aromatic vegetables like onions and celery on the bottom of the pan. Both will keep the bird elevated so heat circulates evenly.

Step 6

Brush the outside of the turkey with vegetable oil, then season liberally with pepper if the turkey is brined, or salt and pepper if it’s unbrined.

Step 7

Slide the roasting pan into the preheated oven. In order to brown the turkey evenly, rotate the pan every 2 hours.

Step 8

After 2 hours of roasting, check the turkey for color. When the skin starts to brown – approximately 2 to 2½ hours of roasting – loosely tent the bird with aluminum foil to keep the bird from getting too dark.

Step 9

Roasting for a specific amount of time is a good guideline to determine doneness. But for the best accuracy, use a meat thermometer to check that the internal temperature has reached at least 165º F. If the turkey is stuffed, make sure to check the temperature of the stuffing too.

Wondering how long you cook a turkey for? Read: Knowing Your Turkey is Done + Stuffing Safety