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Turkey Roasting Guide

By clairelaine on Nov 20, 2009 12:00 PM in Recipes

The center of most Thanksgiving dinners is, of course, the roasted turkey, glistening with juices, aromatic, golden brown and delicious.  Roasting the turkey perfectly is a learned skill, but it doesn't have to be a complicated procedure.  Today we will explore several different ways to choose the right bird as well as different ways to cook turkeys and let you decide which one would work for you and your family. 

When choosing a turkey, allow one and one half to two pounds per person.  The smaller the turkey the more weight is taken up by bones, so you need larger portions. Once you determine the size, look for a nicely shaped bird whether fresh or frozen.  Fresh turkeys can usually be ordered in advance and frozen turkeys need time to thaw, so plan ahead to allow for these factors.

A fresh turkey can be safely kept in the refrigerator for two days.  To thaw a frozen turkey in the refrigerator, allow three to five days depending on the size of the turkey. Leave it in the sealed wrappings and set it in a pan.  When the turkey is nearly thawed the giblets and neck can be removed.  Once the turkey is completely thawed, rinse it with fresh water and pat it dry inside and out with paper towels.

To thaw in water, cover the turkey with cold water and allow 30 minutes per pound.  Make absolutely sure the turkey is in a sealed plastic bag to avoid bacterial contamination.  Rinse thawed turkey and pat dry.

Read the article, How to Thaw a Frozen Turkey for more detailed information.

Make some homemade turkey stock ahead of time with which to baste the turkey.  You can use the neck (not the liver, giblets or heart) to make about 2 cups.  For larger quantities buy an extra turkey leg or two, or wings if you can get them.  Roast the turkey parts until golden.  Pour some water or white wine into the roasting pan, heat and scrape up all the browned on bits in the bottom of the pan.  The is called the "fond."  Place the turkey pieces and liquid in a pot and add water to about 2" over the top of the meat.  Add a quartered onion, a stalk of celery cut in large chunks and a scrubbed carrot cut in large chunks.  Also add some stems of parsley saving the tops for other purposes, and 3 or 4 cloves of garlic, unpeeled, cut in half.  A few peppercorns can be added as well as some sage and thyme stems if desired.  Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat, cover and simmer for 2 hours.  Allow to cool, then strain and discard the solids.  Let your stock sit in the refrigerator until the fat comes to the top and solidifies.  Skim it off to make gravy that is not greasy.  This is much better than canned broth and only as salty as you want it to be.

The next decision that must be made is how long to cook the turkey.  I use the USDA guide to cooking turkey, Let's Talk Turkey, for cooking times and safe cooked temperature advice.  They provide a handy table with total cooking times for different size, unstuffed, turkeys, from 3 hours for a 12 pound bird, to 5 hours for a 24 pound bird.  The USDA advises not to stuff the turkey for food safety reasons.  Their guide is well worth reading as is the article on the subject, Turkey Handling Tips.

Rub the breast with either butter or oil and season inside and out with salt and pepper, and any other seasonings you like.  Put the turkey into a roasting pan large enough to accomodate the bird.  The turkey can either be placed directly in the bottom of the pan or on a rack.  A rack allows for hot air circulation and a crisper skin.  You may tuck the wings under the bird or let them stick up to get crispy.  You may also want to place quartered onions, sliced lemons or oranges and other aromatic vegetables or herbs inside the cavity to add flavor.  Don't stuff it too full to permit thorough cooking.

If you don't have a meat thermometer, get one because you'll need it.  Tie or truss the legs to help the bird keep its shape and place the thermometer in the thickest part of the inner thigh.  Don't rely on those pop ups, because by the time they pop the turkey is overcooked.  You'll want to see an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, or 74 degrees Celsius.  When you see this temperature, check the temperature of the breast and wing area to make sure the bird is cooked through. The leg should move when fully cooked and juices should run clear.

Now that you've determined the size, thawed the turkey and prepared it for roasting, it's time for a few recipes.  These are basic recipes that we hope will be useful to you.


Here are the topics featured in today's newletter

Forums: Thanksgiving turkey suggestions What are you having/making for Thanksgiving? Thanksgiving countdown!

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

We didn't talk much about the importance of basting as the turkey roasts.  I like to use just my homemade turkey stock for this.  It's low in salt so that when the juices bake in the drippings are not too salty.  I then use the stock to make gravy.

How do you like to baste your bird?

You made me laugh out loud, Claire.

What a lovely post to put up for those who are cooking. I am very impressed.

With all that is going on with you..You still took the time to do this and help the many Women who need this advise.

It's a very caring and amazing thing....

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving....and enjoy your Family and Friends!

The healing process is timely and difficult.....but it sure beats the Hospital!!

You are on the mend....with many prayers and healing thoughts surrounding You!!

Yes, thank you, Claire and I wish you well too!!

Also add the love while cooking and baking- cooking and baking for those you love and making them happy is a big part of this day! I have a roaster with a cover- which is very nice- I have been making birds at least 20 lbs and have started the bird uncovered at 400 degrees for the first half hour then down to 350- I check on the bird every hour- on the basting- sometimes I do - sometimes I do not- but I use a combo of butter and oil. I watch how the bird is browning and then cover it when I feel it is the right time.  I take out when the meat thermometer is 160 and leave sit covered for at least a half hour.  I make in the bird stuffing since my family loves that.I love making the gravy with the pan drippings.  My turkeys are never dry!  We always have at least 20 for dinner, so I make a turkey on Wed and another on Thursday!!!

Have a blessed Thanksgiving everyone!  Be grateful every day!



Here's my recipe for the juiciest turkey ever.  But it's not as pretty as a traditional bird because it's roasted breast down and the breast skin has to be removed because it never gets brown.   I do it when I need a lot of turkey for a buffet or party, not for Thanksgiving day. It's the 12th post down the thread

thank you for sharing.  i've been living here in the US for the past 10 years and i have not done any roasting or baking of a turkey yet, because I've always been afraid to try one.  After reading this article, it gives me the confidence to try.   I just started my food blog called impromptu diva do you mind if I post it there?

I am making the naughty side dishes Wink. I might stick low fat stuff in when no one is watching though.

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So, do you then not stuff your turkey with traditional stuffing?  You roast your turkey with the vegetables for stock flavor?  And, when you say you roast your bird breast side down, is it roasting on a rack?  Sorry for so many questionsl.  I LOVE improving on my years of turkey roasting.  I can't wait to do the butter/sherry injection and basting. 

The last time I cooked a turkey, instead of stuffing it with traditional stuffing I stuffed it with small red potatoes and carrots + 1/2 an onion.  It was awesome. try it!

Original Post by: lindamitsch


So, do you then not stuff your turkey with traditional stuffing?  You roast your turkey with the vegetables for stock flavor?  And, when you say you roast your bird breast side down, is it roasting on a rack?  Sorry for so many questionsl.  I LOVE improving on my years of turkey roasting.  I can't wait to do the butter/sherry injection and basting. 

I love questions!

Stuffing - I fix it and bake it in a pan on the side, not in the bird.  If it's in the bird by the time the stuffing is cooked to safe temperature the meat is overdone.

Breast down - It rests on the bed of chopped vegetables instead of a rack.  The small amount of stock I add to the vegetables is for additional moisture.

In a turkey (or large chicken) done this way the fat and juices from the back baste the tender breast.  The back gets golden brown but the breast is white and the skin needs to be removed for cosmetic reasons. 

This style of turkey is carved in the kitchen.  There have been years when I've needed extra turkey because of the number of people.  I've done the traditional roast turkey to bring to the table then bring out the carved meat from the breast down turkey. 

Original Post by: ritavelveeta

I have no idea where you get your information.  I am a chef and what you have said is just not necessarily so.  If you are choosing not to baste with any butter because of calories, you are only flavoring the skin.  So, don't eat the skin.  I baste with butter and sherry.  I also inject my bird with the same.  If you don't want the extra calories a bit of butter might add, just inject sherry.  You will find that your bird will have an amazing flavor and the gravy will be to die for.  The "fond" of which you spoke is not truly a fond.  It is the flavorful bits left on the pan during roasting.  Use the offal from the turkey to make your broth and then use that for making your gravy.  The flavor from the roasting liquid and the added benefit of your broth will only intensify your flavors.  I would suggest cutting your onion smaller and adding more of it.  I generally add two onions.  I also add about 3 to 4 ribs of celery.  A rib is one piece of the stalk which is the whole head of celery.  I am so used to getting those mixed up and I truly hate it.  Peel and slice a couple of carrots thinly.  I peel them because the skins are usually bitter unless you are harvesting them out of your own organic garden.  Add the parsley stems and thyme, a few peppercorns and one or two cloves.  You would be surprised about how wonderful the perfume from the cloves actually is.  I add one or two whole cloves to most of my chicken or turkey stews.  I roast breast down so the fat drips into the breast then I turn in and continue to cook it until the skin browns.  This usually takes about 20 minutes.  My turkeys are always, always moist.  Remember to let it rest before slicing into that bird or you lose the juices.

Good luck and have a wonderful Thanksgiving.  I truly appreciate your time and energy in writing and putting together such a good entry.  Thanks a lot and enjoy!!!

I'm not a trained chef, or a nutritionist or dietician, just an experienced home cook.  I have a lifetime of cooking experience in my home kitchen, without much equipment so I feel I have something to offer other home cooks. 

I absolutely agree with you about butter and rich flavor. I didn't include the usual instructions for basting because there are many ways to do it. 

I wouldn't know how to inject anything, so I won't be doing that.  It sounds like something it would be best to have someone trained, as you are, teach one how. 

I always called it the fond as a result of reading too many cookbooks and watching to many TV chefs.  I'll correct my terminology in the future. 

I don't like the taste of liver and giblets in my stock.  If someone likes it, then by all means use it.  I generally put the liver and giblets into the roasting pan late in the roasting and place them on the serving platter. 

Thank you for the suggestion to cut the onions smaller.  I leave it in large pieces to save work.  Also I do thank you for clearing up the terminology about celery. 

I don't like the flavor or smell of cloves.  It seems to overwhelm.  Reminds me of toothache medicine. 

We all have our individual ways of cooking what we like.  I'm not trying to be a fancy chef, just a cook who pleases those who eat at my table.  I'm happy to share my experience with others and welcome input and new ideas.  At the age of 67, I'm still learning a lot. 

Most of the material I use comes from Calorie Count and

Thank you so much for all your good information.  I am inspired!

Roasting the bird in a covered roasting pan or open?

Original Post by: lindamitsch

Roasting the bird in a covered roasting pan or open?

I use an open pan, but my grandmother used a huge enameled roaster with a domed lid to keep the enormous bird moist.  She removed the lid for the last hour and basted with the pan drippings.  So both ways work well.  I like the more roasted flavor you get when you don't use a lid.

By the way, the technique of tenting the breast with foil does work well to keep the skin from scorching. 

Something else I forgot - let the turkey rest for a half an hour at least before carving. This is so that the juices absorb into the meat instead of running out when they are too hot.

Just what I was looking for. And I even learned something from the other users, like the basting with the turkey stock. That is really something I've never done before.

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