Hosting the big day? This is the quickest way to delicious Thanksgiving turkey!Jump to Recipe
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Okay y’all, let’s be real: for most of us, cooking the turkey is the most intimidating part of the Thanksgiving meal. We’ve all heard the horror stories.
Since we’re military, we’ve done enough hosting or solo Thanksgivings that I’ve gotten really confident with roasting turkey! If you think about it, it’s just a really big chicken, so the same rules as roast chicken apply.
The trick to cooking a Thanksgiving turkey is the brine. It infuses flavor and the perfect amount of salt while helping it defrost!
Defrosting and cooking times are going to depend on your size of turkey. The numbers I share here are based on a 13-lb bird, but I’ll try to include general rules of thumb to make it perfect.
For defrosting, plan on roughly 1 day in the fridge for every 5lbs of turkey. If you have a 20 lb turkey, it needs to go in the fridge by Sunday morning!
Thanksgiving Turkey Brine
Once it’s defrosting, you can essentially ignore it until Tuesday night. I find that a 36-hour brine is ideal – you want to make sure the flavor infuses, but too long of a soak will make it salty. Don’t go more than 48 hours.
Living in an apartment or have a small fridge? Us too! I find that buying turkey roasting bags are a game-changer for brining. Along with a bucket or container that’s big enough to fit the turkey and small enough (ideally) to fit in the fridge. You can get creative here: I used the bowl of my crockpot. Because we have the bag, the container doesn’t have to completely enclose, just fit the bag.
If there’s no way it’ll fit in the fridge, no worries! Use a cooler and buy some ice. For 36 hours it’s an easy stopgap measure.
One warning: I find that these roasting bags almost always spring a tiny leak. Not enough to spill everywhere, but enough that you definitely don’t want raw turkey juice loose in the fridge. So plan to clean whatever container you choose afterward.
While your brine comes together on the stove, take the turkey out of its bag and pat it down to remove some of the extra liquid. Then place it in the turkey roasting bag. Pour the brine over it once it’s cooled a bit, and tuck it away until the big day!
The Day Of: Roasting
My dirty little secret about turkey: I never bother to serve it hot.
For one thing, turkey needs at least 30 minutes to rest before cutting, and an hour is better. That means it’s never going to be piping hot anyway.
And with oven space being at a premium, I find that it’s better to serve topped with hot gravy, and you’re good to go.
Meaning: turkey is usually the first thing I make on Thursday.
When you wake up, take it out of the fridge and dump the brine. Let it sit to get to room temperature, at least 30 minutes. Over an hour is better, but I rarely have time for that when there’s so much to prepare!
Just like roast chicken, I start with the oven temp a little higher to encourage browning. After 20-30 minutes I’ll turn it down and cook until finished.
Y’all, I cannot emphasize this enough: you need a meat thermometer. Otherwise figuring out when it’s done is just a guess, and you don’t want to play with raw meat when you’ve got a house full of guests.
In general, plan for 15 minutes per pound cooking at 350°F. I tend to roast it a bit higher (more like 400°F) and my 13 lb Thanksgiving turkey is done in just over 2 hours.
The turkey’s done when the meat thermometer reads 165°F. Make sure to check in multiple places, especially in the dark meat.
The Perfect Turkey Brine
- 1 gallon water
- 1 lemon
- 2 bay leaves
- 12 Tbsp salt kosher
- 4 Tbsp sugar
- 1 tsp peppercorns
- Add 4 cups water to a pot, then add everything else.
- Bring to a boil, then remove from heat.
- Add the rest of the water, then pour over turkey in an enclosed bag.
- Soak for 24-36 hours for the best turkey!
Roasted Thanksgiving Turkey
- 1 turkey weight matters
- ½ cup butter
- Remove the turkey from the brine and pat it dry. Let it sit for at least 30 minutes but up to two hours. Preheat the oven to 450°F.
- Put the oven in a large roasting pan. Cut the butter into slices and stick it under the skin of the bird.
- Cook at 450°F for 25 minutes, and then lower temperature to 350° for 1 ½-3 hours. Use a thermometer to check for doneness: when it reads 165°F internally in 3 spots, it's done.
- Let it rest for at least 30 minutes and preferably 1 hour before serving.
That’s it! You made Thanksgiving turkey. Well done. Now go eat some pie.
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