Divine Dinner Party

How to Bake a Turkey:
Roast a REALLY Good Turkey!

When you're learning how to bake a turkey you're likely to get more advice than you can use. Seriously! Ask ten cooks about how to make the perfect turkey, and you'll probably get about twenty suggestions.

And while some of those suggestions will work for you, some of them probably will not. For example, some cooks swear that cooking the turkey breast side down makes for a moister turkey. But unfortunately, this cooking method also makes for mushy skin (turkey without crispy skin-- that's just not right!).

So if you want to know how to bake a turkey --how to bake a good turkey with plenty of flavor-- so you get that golden crunchy skin without drying up the meat, read on.

More Information. This page is all about learning how to bake a turkey. Looking for specific recipes on moist and delicious baked turkey, or tips on cooking methods or supplies? Check out my Ultimate Turkey Guide. And don't miss my recipe for perfect-every-time salt-brined turkey. It's to die for.

Tips on Baking a Turkey

How to bake a turkey in the ovenSimple baking is perhaps the most traditional and popular way to prepare a turkey. That's because it's also the easiest. All you need to learn is how to season the bird and how to time the cooking of a turkey correctly. Also, even if you never learned how to bake a turkey, baking doesn't require any fancy or unusual pieces of equipment to achieve a good outcome. You just need an oven, roasting pan, spices and of course the star of the show: the turkey.

Also check out this page for tips on others supplies you can use to cook a turkey.

How to Bake a Turkey: The Preparation

Step 1: Prep the Turkey. Start off with a thawed turkey (need tips on thawing a turkey?). Begin by rinsing off your turkey with cool water. Check the cavity of the bird to see if a packet of giblets (heart, neck, and other "discards") has been placed inside. If so, pull it out (you can use this to make turkey giblet gravy, if you like, or discard it) and then wash the inside of the bird. Pat it dry using paper towels.

Step 2: Season the Turkey. Once the turkey dries off you can now decide how you want to season it. Some people marinate their turkey in the refrigerator with an aromatic, flavorful liquid marinade called a brine (you can use a big bowl or a food storage bag for this purpose). You can find some recipes for traditionally brined turkeys here.

Some prefer to use dry herbs rubbed into the inside and outside of the bird with a bit of olive oil or butter, or mixing some butter with herbs and sliding that blend under the turkey's skin, like with this roast turkey. Or, you can combine methods in a variety of ways to personalize the flavors perfectly for your family. Some people even cover the turkey in bacon before roasting it!

Step 3: Stuff the Turkey? Whether or not you should stuff your turkey is really a judgement call. See below for more information about how to stuff a turkey (or not stuff one).

Stuffed or Unstuffed?

Turkey Stuffing with Sage Baked in the OvenWhen learning how to bake a turkey, one of the important questions is whether or not to stuff it. Food safety experts have begun to advise against stuffing a turkey until just prior to baking, if at all. The reason for this is concern over the potential for bacteria to grow while the stuffing sits in the warming turkey.

Fortunately, it's easy to make wonderful stuffing without cooking it in your turkey. And as an extra bonus, the turkey will take less time to cook.

Stuffing the Turkey. If you do decide to stuff your turkey, keep the stuffing in the refrigerator until just before the bird goes in the oven, and stuff the interior cavity only lightly (don't pack it in). Remember that your stuffing expands during cooking! After stuffing your bird, tie the turkey legs together to keep the dressing neatly tucked inside where it belongs. The additional benefit to trussing/tying the legs is even cooking.

Check here for wonderful turkey stuffing recipes, and here for tips how to bake a turkey with stuffing.

Crisp the Skin Now or Later?

If you look around sites that talk about how to bake a turkey, you'll see that the jury is out on whether it's best to crisp your turkey skin at the beginning of the baking process or at the end.

Crisping the Skin at the Beginning. If you want to crisp the turkey skin at the beginning of the cook time, preheat the oven to 400 degrees and put the turkey inside, uncovered, for 15 to 20 minutes. Then cover the top of the turkey with a tent of aluminum foil for the rest of the cook time.

Not sure how long to bake a turkey after you've crisped the skin? Check out this handy turkey cooking time chart.

Crisping the Skin at the End. If you want to wait until the end of the roasting process, you need to tent your turkey with aluminum foil first, and remove that during the last 40 minutes of baking. This is also the time to begin basting your turkey (use broth, butter, apple cider, a white wine mixture, or anything you like to baste your turkey). You'll use all the yummy drippings that result for your gravy.

Most turkey recipes come with ideas for basting liquids.

Finishing Baking Your Turkey

Another important part of learning how to bake a turkey is knowing when it's done! To get an idea of your turkey's doneness, stick a skewer into the turkey thigh. The juices that come out should be clear. Even with that, however, it's safest to check meat using a thermometer in the deepest part of the breast (don't let the thermometer touch the bone). That temperature should read at least 165 degrees for safety.

Carving the Turkey

Remove the turkey from the oven, place on a platter, tent it with foil, and let the turkey rest for about a half hour before carving. Resting the turkey helps the juices redistribute back into the meat so they don't all flow out when you carve into it. Carve the turkey just before serving.

There are a ton more turkey cooking resources here at Divine Dinner Party, including recipe, tips on turkey cooking times, other cooking methods, brines, rubs, basting, gravies, and more right here.

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