The Ultimate Guide to Cooking a Turkey

If you’re planning to cook a turkey for a special occasion, you might be feeling a little intimidated. However, fear not! Cooking a turkey is easier than you might think, especially if you follow our ultimate guide. We’ve compiled a comprehensive, step-by-step guide to help you prepare, cook, and serve the perfect turkey, every time. With our tips and tricks, you’ll be ready to impress your guests and create a delicious holiday meal that’s sure to be a hit. So, roll up your sleeves and get ready to cook the ultimate turkey!

The Ultimate Guide to Cooking a Turkey | Eat Urban Garden
The Ultimate Guide to Cooking a Turkey

How to Choose the Perfect Turkey

Cooking a turkey for Thanksgiving is a time-honoured tradition, but choosing the right turkey can be overwhelming. Follow these tips to ensure that your Thanksgiving bird is the star of the show:

Types of Turkeys

There are three types of turkeys to choose from: heritage, organic, and conventional.

  • Heritage: Heritage turkeys are from breeds that are over 100 years old. They are raised on small farms and have more flavour and texture than other turkeys. They are also more expensive and harder to find.
  • Organic: Organic turkeys are raised on feed that is free of chemicals and preservatives. They are also free-range and have access to the outdoors. Organic turkeys are more expensive than conventional turkeys, but they are healthier and better for the environment.
  • Conventional: Conventional turkeys are the most common type of turkey sold in the United States. They are fed with commercial feed and are raised in confined spaces. They are the cheapest type of turkey, but they are also the least healthy and flavorful.

Sizes of Turkeys

Turkeys come in various sizes ranging from 8 pounds to 30 pounds or more. When choosing the size of your turkey, take into account the number of people you will be serving and how many leftovers you want to have. As a general rule, plan for 1 pound of turkey per person.

What to Look for When Selecting a Turkey

When selecting a turkey, look for the following:

  • Size: Choose a turkey that will fit in your oven and match the size of your party.
  • Appearance: Choose a turkey with smooth skin and no signs of bruising or discoloration.
  • Weight: A turkey that has a good weight for its size will be more flavorful and juicy.
  • Freshness: Make sure the turkey is fresh by checking the sell-by date or the “packaged on” date. A fresh turkey should be cooked within 1-2 days of purchasing. Alternatively, you can purchase a frozen turkey and allow it to thaw in the refrigerator for a few days before cooking.

With these tips in mind, you can confidently choose the perfect turkey for your Thanksgiving feast that will be juicy, flavorful, and sure to please everyone at the table.

Preparing Your Turkey

Cooking a turkey can be a daunting task, but with the right preparation, it can be a breeze. In this section, we’ll cover the best way to thaw your turkey, how to brine it, and how to season it for maximum flavor.

Thawing Your Turkey

Thawing your turkey is an important first step to ensure even cooking and food safety. The best way to thaw a frozen turkey is in the refrigerator. Allow one day of thawing time for every four pounds of turkey. For example, a 16-pound turkey will take four days to thaw completely in the refrigerator.

  • Place the turkey on a tray or in a pan to catch any drips.
  • Keep the turkey in its original wrapper.
  • Place the turkey in the refrigerator on the lowest shelf.
  • Allow enough time for the turkey to thaw completely before cooking.

Brining Your Turkey

Brining your turkey is a great way to infuse it with flavor and keep it moist during cooking. To brine your turkey, you’ll need a large container or plastic bag to hold the turkey and brine solution. Here’s a basic brine recipe:

  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 gallon water

Dissolve the salt and sugar in the water. Place the turkey in the brine solution and refrigerate for at least 8 hours or overnight. Rinse the turkey thoroughly before cooking to remove any excess salt.

Seasoning Your Turkey

Seasoning your turkey is the final step to ensure a flavorful bird. Here’s a simple seasoning recipe:

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs (such as rosemary, thyme, or sage)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Mix the butter, garlic, and herbs together in a small bowl. Loosen the skin over the turkey breast and rub the butter mixture under the skin. Season the entire turkey with salt and pepper.

Tools and Equipment

Before you start preparing your turkey for the oven, it’s important to make sure you have all the necessary tools and equipment to make the process much easier. Below are some of the essential items you’ll want to have on hand:

Roasting Pan

The roasting pan is the most essential piece of equipment you’ll need in cooking a turkey. A sturdy roasting pan will be able to hold your turkey and all the juices that it will produce while cooking.

Meat Thermometer

A meat thermometer is an essential tool to use in ensuring that your turkey is fully cooked. It’s important to ensure that the thermometer is inserted into the thickest part of the turkey (the thigh) and that it reads a minimum temperature of 165°F.

Basting Brush

A basting brush will help you coat your turkey with juices while it cooks, ensuring that it’s moist and delicious. You can use any type of basting brush, whether it’s a silicone brush or a traditional bristle brush.

Carving Set

A good carving set will be necessary to get the most out of your turkey once it’s cooked. You’ll need a sharp knife to separate the turkey from the bones and a pair of good tongs to transfer it to the platter.

Poultry Lifter

A poultry lifter can make it easier to transfer your turkey from the roasting pan to the carving board. This tool is usually a two-pronged fork with an ergonomic handle that allows you to easily lift your turkey.

Aluminum Foil

Aluminum foil will be used to cover your turkey as it rests after coming out of the oven. This will help keep the turkey moist and ensure that it’s still warm by the time you’re ready to carve it.

Butcher’s Twine

Butcher’s twine can be used to truss your turkey before cooking it. Trussing is the process of tying the legs and wings of the turkey to the body, which will help it cook more evenly.

Stuffing Bag

A stuffing bag can be used to cook your stuffing in a separate bag, rather than stuffing the turkey itself. This will ensure that your stuffing is cooked perfectly and that it’s not overly moist or dry.

Cooking Methods

When it comes to cooking a turkey, there are several methods you can use. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages, so it’s important to consider them all before deciding on the best approach for your meal. Below are some of the most common cooking methods for turkey, along with their pros and cons.


The most traditional way to cook a turkey is by roasting it in the oven. This method involves seasoning the turkey and placing it in a roasting pan, then cooking it in the oven at a high temperature. Here are some of the pros and cons of roasting:

  • Pros: Roasting is a very reliable way to cook a turkey, and it’s easy to control the cooking time and temperature. It also allows the skin to get nice and crispy, and the meat to be tender and juicy.
  • Cons: Roasting can take a long time, and it requires you to keep an eye on the turkey throughout the cooking process to make sure it doesn’t dry out. It can also heat up your kitchen, which can be uncomfortable on warm days.


If you’re looking for a way to infuse your turkey with some smoky flavor, grilling might be the way to go. This method involves cooking the turkey on a grill over an open flame. Here are the pros and cons of grilling:

  • Pros: Grilling can give your turkey a unique smoky flavor that you can’t get from any other cooking method. It’s also a great way to cook a turkey if you’re already using your oven for other dishes.
  • Cons: Grilling a turkey requires more attention than other methods, since you’ll need to keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t get too dry or charred. It can also be challenging to ensure that the turkey cooks evenly on all sides.


Frying a turkey is a popular method in the southern United States. This method involves submerging the turkey in hot oil until it’s cooked to perfection. Here are the pros and cons of frying:

  • Pros: Frying a turkey allows you to cook it quickly and evenly, while also ensuring that the skin gets nice and crispy. It’s also a great option if you’re short on oven space or need to cook multiple dishes at once.
  • Cons: Frying a turkey can be dangerous if you don’t take the proper precautions, since hot oil can cause serious burns or fires. It’s also a very messy process, and it requires a lot of oil.

Sous Vide

The newest cooking method to gain popularity is sous vide cooking, which involves cooking the turkey in a vacuum-sealed bag in a water bath. Here are the pros and cons of sous vide:

Cooking sous vide allows for precise temperature control, resulting in evenly cooked and tender turkey.
Requires expensive equipment.
The turkey can be prepared ahead of time and finished quickly by searing it in a pan or on the grill.
Does not result in crispy skin, so it is recommended to finish by searing it.
Can free oven space and reduce stress on the host since less attention is required while cooking turkey using this method.
Time consuming as it requires cooking turkey for several hours to ensure it is cooked to a safe temperature.

No matter which method you choose, make sure to follow all the relevant food safety guidelines to ensure your turkey is cooked to a safe temperature.


Thanksgiving Day is around the corner, and cooking a turkey can be a daunting task regardless of how many times you’ve done it. However, problems can arise when we least expect them. Fortunately, troubleshooting turkey cooking issues can be easy when you know what to do. Here’s an ultimate guide to common turkey cooking problems and how to tackle them:


Overcooking a turkey is a common problem that can happen when the turkey is cooked at too high a temperature for too long. If you notice the turkey is overcooking, there’s still a chance to save it. Here’s what to do:

  • Remove the turkey from the oven immediately
  • Check the temperature with a meat thermometer – 165°F is the safe internal temperature for poultry
  • If the temperature is above 165°F, remove the turkey from the oven and let it rest for 15-20 minutes before carving
  • If the temperature is below 165°F, return it to the oven, lowering the temperature by 25°F, and check the turkey’s internal temperature every 10-15 minutes until it reaches 165°F


The opposite of overcooking is undercooking. It usually happens when the turkey is cooked at a low temperature for too little time. Here’s what you can do to save your undercooked turkey:

  • Return the turkey to the oven, raising the temperature by 25°F and set a timer to check its temperature every 10-15 minutes until it reaches 165°F
  • Temporarily remove the turkey legs and wings. Return the turkey to the oven, while you simmer the removed parts on medium heat for a chicken broth. Once your turkey temperature reaches 165°F, reattach the wings and legs and let the turkey rest before carving.


Dryness is a common turkey problem that can cause your turkey to taste unappetizing. To avoid this problem:

  • Consider brining the turkey for at least 12 hours before roasting
  • Baste the turkey with melted butter or olive oil every 30 minutes while cooking
  • Cover the turkey with aluminum foil for the first 1-2 hours of cooking and then remove the foil. This will help the turkey cook more evenly and keep the moisture inside

Uneven cooking

Uneven cooking can be due to a variety of factors, such as an oven that doesn’t heat evenly or a turkey that’s not completely thawed. If you spot an unevenly cooked turkey:

  • Rotate the turkey in the oven every 30 minutes using oven mitts to ensure consistent heat on all sides
  • If you’ve got a completely thawed turkey, try gently loosening the skin from the breast and legs with your hands. Place small slices of butter or herbs inside the loosened skin to help distribute heat more evenly and add a rich flavor to the meat.

Broken skin

A broken skin turkey can result from an oven’s temperature being too high, sudden temperature changes, or using a meat thermometer improperly. However, here’s how to fix a turkey with a broken skin:

Cover the broken skin using parchment paper or aluminum foil. This will stop the turkey from drying out, and keep the meat tender and moist.

Serving and Leftovers

When it comes to a holiday gathering, serving a turkey is the star of the show. However, carving and serving a turkey can be a daunting task. Here are some tips on how to carve and serve your turkey like a pro.

Carve the Turkey

Before carving the turkey, let it rest for 20 to 30 minutes to ensure the juices are evenly distributed. While waiting, use this time to prepare the side dishes or the gravy.

  • 1.  Begin by removing the leg and thigh. Hold the turkey with a carving fork and use a sharp knife to cut through the skin between the breast and leg. Cut through the joint to separate the leg from the breast.
  • 2.  Remove the drumstick by cutting through the joint which connects it to the thigh. Repeat the process on the other side of the turkey.
  • 3.  Locate the breastbone and use a knife to separate each breast from the bone. Make sure to cut as close to the bone as possible.
  • 4.  Once the breasts have been removed, slice them into thin pieces against the grain. Arrange the sliced meat onto a serving platter and repeat the same process on the other breast.

Leftover Turkey

No Thanksgiving or Christmas would be complete without leftovers. Turkey is one of the most versatile ingredients that can be used in many creative meals throughout the holiday season. Here are some ideas on what to do with your leftover turkey.

  1. 1.  Turkey Sandwich: The classic sandwich is a quick and easy way to use up leftover turkey. Sliced turkey, cranberry sauce, lettuce, and mayo between two slices of bread.  
  2. 2.  Turkey Soup: If you have a leftover turkey carcass, consider making a homemade turkey soup. Combine the frozen vegetables, turkey bones, and broth in a large pot and let simmer for a few hours.  
  3. 3.  Turkey Casserole: Mix leftover turkey, mixed vegetables, and cream of chicken soup in a baking dish. Top with breadcrumbs and bake until golden brown.  
  4. 4.  Turkey Salad: Chop up the leftover turkey and add some cranberries, walnuts, and a dressing of your choice to make a simple yet delicious salad.  
  5. 5.  Turkey Tacos: Spice up the leftover turkey by adding it to taco shells with some salsa, lettuce, and cheese.  
  6. 6.  Turkey Pot Pie: Make a homemade potpie with the leftover turkey, mixed vegetables, and gravy. Place the filling in a pie crust, top with another layer of crust, and bake at 375 degrees for 35 minutes.  

Leftover turkey does not have to be boring! Get creative and experiment with different recipes to make the most out of your holiday leftovers.

Happy Holidays from Our Kitchen to Yours!

We hope you found this ultimate guide to cooking a turkey helpful and informative! Remember, cooking a turkey is not as daunting as it may seem, especially if you follow our simple step-by-step instructions. With a little preparation and patience, you’ll be able to create a delicious and succulent turkey that your family and friends will never forget.

Thank you for joining us in the kitchen, and we look forward to seeing you again soon! Happy holidays and bon appétit!

The Ultimate Guide to Cooking a Turkey | Eat Urban Garden

The Ultimate Guide to Cooking a Turkey

Learn how to cook the perfect turkey for Thanksgiving and Christmas with our ultimate guide. Follow our step-by-step instructions for a delicious and succulent turkey that will impress your guests.
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 3 hours
Total Time 3 hours 30 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Servings 12 servings
Calories 320 kcal


  • 1 12-15 lb turkey
  • ½ cup unsalted butter softened
  • 1 tbsp fresh thyme finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp fresh rosemary finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp fresh sage finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 onion quartered
  • 1 lemon halved
  • 4 cloves garlic crushed


  • Remove the turkey from the freezer and place it in the refrigerator for 2-3 days to defrost.
  • Preheat your oven to 325°F (160°C).
  • Remove the giblets and neck from the turkey. Rinse the turkey inside and out with cold water and pat dry. Mix the softened butter, thyme, rosemary, sage, salt, and pepper together in a bowl. Rub the butter mixture all over the turkey, including under the skin. Stuff the turkey with the onion, lemon, and garlic.
  • Place the turkey breast-side up on a rack in a large roasting pan. Roast the turkey in the preheated oven for 3-3 1/2 hours, or until the internal temperature of the turkey reaches 165°F (75°C).
  • Remove the turkey from the oven and let it rest for at least 15-20 minutes before carving.
  • Carve the turkey and serve with your favorite sides!
Keyword turkey recipe, Thanksgiving recipe, Christmas recipe, poultry, roasting, cooking tips

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