Cooking a Turkey for the Holidays

Learn the secrets to achieving a perfectly cooked turkey.

  • A perfectly cooked turkey for the holidays is what most folks are hoping for.
    Illustration by Brad Anderson
  • Cooking a turkey perfectly is easier than you might think.
    Photo by Rygh
  • Turkey, buttered and spiced, ready for the oven.
    Photo by
  • Wrapping the legs and wing tips when cooking will help keep them from burning.
    Photo by Fotolia/pr2is
  • Use thick gloves or oven mitts when working with a turkey fryer.
    Photo by Perales
  • A stuffed turkey comes out of the oven.
    Photo by
  • Basting while cooking a turkey can give crisp skin but lets steam out making for a longer cooking time.
    Photo by Jacobson
  • Beer-can roasting is a method gaining in popularity as the beer imparts good flavor and tender meat.
    Photo by

The pressure is on to make the perfect holiday meal, and turkey is often the main feature. Many home cooks don’t prepare turkey on a regular basis, and when the time comes, they aren’t sure how to cook it. Luckily, there are several options for cooking turkey, and you can serve a wonderful bird every time if you remember a few key rules.

Commercially produced turkeys are bred for rapid weight gain, not flavor, so if you go this route, it’s up to you to develop flavor via your cooking method. Farm-raised heritage breeds offer fantastic flavor if you’re willing to spend a little extra money or raise your own.


The focus is usually on cooking the bird without rendering it dry. If overcooked, the white breast meat will dry out first, as it has less fat than dark meat. As long as the breast meat has enough moisture so that it isn’t dry or chewy, it will be fine. And a good rule of thumb for defrosting a frozen turkey is to let it thaw in the refrigerator one day per 5 pounds of bird.

The normal range for roasting a turkey is between 300 and 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Typically, birds are placed in a roasting pan, breast side up, and roasted at a constant temperature. If you have a small trivet you can place in the roasting pan beneath the turkey, use it.

As soon as the internal temperature of the bird reaches 165 degrees, it is safe to eat, but the best flavor develops when you let the internal temperature reach between 175 and 180 degrees. When doing so, you will sacrifice a small amount of moisture for more color, crisper skin, and deeper flavor.

When checking the internal temperature, probe at least two of the thickest parts of the turkey. The thigh and breast are ideal places. Don’t let the thermometer probe touch bone when you do this.

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