Mom’s Roast Turkey

My mother's tried and true roast turkey recipe. How to cook a turkey for Thanksgiving. Best way? Roast it Breast-side Down!

Take care handling raw turkey, treat it as if you were working with a raw chicken. To avoid contaminating other foods, use a separate cutting board and utensils when handling the raw turkey. Wash your hands with soap after touching raw turkey before you touch anything else in the kitchen. Use paper towels to clean up.

  • Prep time: 15 minutes
  • Cook time: 4 hours

Ingredients

  • 1 turkey, approx. 15 lbs.*
  • Juice of a lemon
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil or melted butter
  • 1/2 yellow onion, peeled and quartered
  • Tops and bottoms of a bunch of celery
  • 1 to 2 carrots
  • 1 bunch of parsley
  • Several sprigs of fresh rosemary, thyme

* Need help figuring out how big a turkey to get? Butterball has a turkey calculator that helps you figure out just how many pounds you need. In general, plan for:

12-15 lb turkey for 10-12 people
15-18 lb turkey for 14-16 people
18-22 lb turkey for 20-22 people

Method

1 Defrost and De-Chill

If you are starting with a frozen turkey, you will need to defrost it first, a process that can take several days depending on the size of the turkey. Place the wrapped frozen turkey in a pan to catch any leaks, and then in the refrigerator to defrost. You will need about 5 hours of defrosting for every pound of turkey. Which means that if you have a 15 pound turkey, it should take 75 hours, or a little over 3 days, to defrost.

Remove the turkey from the refrigerator 2 to 3 hours (depending on the size of the bird) before cooking to allow it to come closer to room temperature. The turkey will cook more quickly and more evenly that way.

 

2 Remove Giblets and Rinse Turkey

When you are ready to cook the turkey, remove it from its package. Reach into the turkey's main cavity and pull out the neck and giblets (gizzard, heart, liver). The giblets may be wrapped in a small paper package. (If they're not in the main cavity, check the neck opening, sometimes they're hiding there!) If you want, you can chop up the heart and gizzard to make stock for the stuffing or dressing (put the chopped heart and gizzard into a small saucepan, cover with water, add salt, bring to simmer for an hour or so.) You can either cook the neck alongside the turkey, or save it for turkey soup. You can also use all of the giblets for making giblet gravy.

Turkey Giblets Turkey Plastic Tie

Rinse the turkey inside and out with water. If you see any remnants of turkey feathers, pull them out. Use paper towels to pat dry the turkey.

Many turkeys come with a plastic tie holding the drumsticks together. Check the instructions on the turkey package; it is likely that you will not need to remove the tie unless you are cooking the turkey at a very high temperature. If you do remove the plastic tie, and you may want to truss the turkey with kitchen twine to help hold the legs together.

 

3 Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

 

4 Insert Aromatics and Truss Turkey

Slather the inside of the cavity with the juice of half a lemon. Take a tablespoon of salt and rub all over the inside of the turkey.

turkey-aromatics-open turkey-aromatics-foil

Put half an onion cut into wedges, several sprigs of parsley, a couple of carrots, and some celery tops and bottoms into the main cavity of the turkey. These are aromatics that will flavor the turkey from the inside as it cooks. Cover the entrance to the main cavity with aluminum foil, or close it with metal skewers or kitchen string (not nylon string!), so that the aromatics don't fall out.

By the way, we don't cook stuffing in the turkey anymore. Stuffing the turkey adds to the overall cooking time, and not packing the turkey with stuffing will allow the turkey to cook more evenly. We do make our stuffing with stock made from the turkey giblets so the stuffing has plenty of turkey flavor.

To truss or not to truss? We truss our turkey, though some people choose not too. The point of trussing is to keep the legs and wings close to the body so they don't spread out while cooking. To truss, make sure that the turkey's legs are tied together, held close to the body, and tie a string around the turkey body to hold the wings in close. (Here's a good video on trussing: how to truss a turkey.)

turkey-stuff-neck turkey-close-neck

Put a few sprigs of parsley into the neck opening, cover the opening with the surrounding turkey skin, and close the opening with skewers or string.

 

5 Rub with Olive Oil or Butter, Salt and Pepper

Rub either softened butter or olive oil all over the outside of the turkey. Sprinkle salt generously on all sides of the outside of the turkey (skip added salt if you are using a brined turkey). Sprinkle pepper over the turkey as well.

 

6 Place Turkey Breast Down on Rack

Place the turkey BREAST DOWN on a rack over a sturdy roasting pan big enough to catch all the drippings.

turkey-on-rack-1 turkey-on-rack-2

This is main difference between how my mother makes her turkey and everyone else. By cooking the turkey breast side down, the juices from the cooking turkey fall into the breast while the turkey cooks, resulting in them most succulent breast imaginable. The thighs are a bit more exposed to the heat in this method as well, which is good since dark meat takes longer to cook than white meat.

If you cook the bird breast down, the turkey skin over the breast will not brown well. If you want browning on the breast, you'll need to turn the turkey over in the pan and to brown it in the last few minutes of cooking. We rarely bother with turning the turkey over, since we carve up the turkey in the kitchen before bringing it out, and there is plenty of crispy turkey skin on the rest of the turkey.

Note that you can also place the turkey directly on an oven rack with a large roasting pan to catch the drippings on the rack below. That method helps create a convection-like environment, helping the heat circulate more evenly around the turkey.

Add several sprigs of fresh (if possible) thyme and rosemary to the outside of the turkey or tucked under the wings.

 

7 Roast the Turkey

Before you put the turkey in the oven, do a rough calculation of how much overall time it should take to cook the turkey. Usually they say to assume 15 minutes for every pound of meat, but I have found in practice that it's usually less than that, more like 13-14 minutes per pound. Cooking time will vary depending on the size of the turkey, if it has been allowed to come to room temperature before cooking, and the shape and particulars of your specific oven. So come up with a rough estimate for the overall cooking time, and then make sure to check how the turkey is doing well before it is supposed to be done!

Put the turkey in the oven at 400°F, uncovered. For the 15 lb turkey, start the cooking at 400°F for the first 20 minutes to brown it. Then reduce the heat to 325°F for the next 2 hours. Then reduce the heat further to 225°F until done, anywhere from a half hour to an hour or more.

turkey-roast-back-up turkey-roast-breast-up

If you want the breast to be browned, when the turkey is close to being done, you'll need to turn the turkey over so that the breast is on top, and put it in a 500°F oven or under the broiler for 4 to 5 minutes, just enough time to brown the breast. Note that by browning the breast you may end up over-cooking the turkey breast a bit. We usually don't turn the turkey over. Also, turning it over can be a hot, messy job, so if you do it, take care and use oven mitts or clean kitchen towels.

Start taking temperature readings with a meat thermometer, inserted deep into the thickest part of the turkey breast and thigh, an hour and a half before the turkey should be done. You want a resulting temperature of 170°F for the dark meat (thighs and legs) and 165°F for the white meat (breast). The temperature of the bird will continue to rise once you take it out of the oven, so take it out when the temperature reading for the thigh is 165°F, and for the breast 160°F. If you don't have a meat thermometer, spear the breast with a knife. The turkey juices should be clear, not pink.

The USDA recently lowered its recommended cooking temperatures for poultry to 165°F. I've found that at that temperature often the thigh meat near the bone still isn't cooked, so I aim for 170°F for the thighs.

 

8 Let Turkey Rest, Then Carve

Once you remove the turkey from the oven, transfer it to a cutting board, tent it with aluminum foil to keep it warm, and let it rest for 15-30 minutes, depending on the size of the turkey. Turn the turkey breast side up to carve it. (See Alton Brown video on how to carve a turkey.)

 

Making Turkey Gravy

Make the gravy while the turkey is resting covered on the carving board. If you have used a thick metal roasting pan, you can often put it directly on the stovetop burner, if not, scrape off the drippings and put them into a skillet. Use a metal spoon to ladle off some of the excess fat from the pan and reserve for another use.

In a separate small bowl place a quarter cup of corn starch and just enough water to dissolve the cornstarch and make a thin slurry. Beat the cornstarch and water with a fork to remove any lumps. Heat the roasting pan or skillet on medium heat on the stovetop. Slowly add the cornstarch mixture to the drippings, stirring constantly. Only use as much of the cornstarch mixture as you need to get the desired gravy thickness you want. As you stir, the gravy will slowly thicken. Add salt and pepper, ground sage, thyme or other seasonings to taste. (See gravy recipe for step-by-step photos.)

Save Bones for Stock

When you are finished with your turkey, save the bones from the carcass to make a delicious turkey soup.

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Comments

  1. mary

    Hi Elise! This way of cooking turkey is interesting and I’m gonna give it a try this year! I just wanted to ask how I would improvise on the cooking times and temperatures if using a 10-12 lb turkey. I look forward to hearing from you! Thank you!

  2. Elise

    Hi Mary,

    You might try deducting 15 minutes of cooking time for every pound of turkey less than 15 lbs. So for a 12 lb turkey, deduct 45 minutes cooking time. I would take half of the time from the middle and half from the end of the cooking. Make sure you use a meat thermometer to test when the turkey is actually done.

    Good luck!

  3. Marky

    I was skeptical at first…My brain told me I had the turkey in the pan wrong-side up!!! But I went ahead anyway. That was the most tender turkey breast we have ever had! It was like cutting into a juicy steak that melts in your mouth. I am definitely sharing this recipe with my friends.They’ll just have to reprogram their brain!!! Thanks and hope you had a great Thanksgiving.

    Marky from Avon NY

  4. The McCrea Family

    Hi Elise,

    We had cooked our turkey upside down several years ago at the suggestion of a restaurant chef and it came out very moist and tender.

    Unfortunately, we lost the recipe this year and came across your website – it’s Thanksgiving evening now and I just had to tell you that I think it came out better this year using your recipe! Some of the best turkey ever. Thank you!

    The McCrea Family

  5. elise

    Hi Marky and the McCrea’s,

    I’m so glad the breast-side down turkey turned out well for you! We just finished ours and again, it was so wonderfully moist.

  6. Kimberly

    I tried this turkey yesterday. It was so moist and juicy!!! It was certainly not as pretty as others I have done, but the taste was great.

    I cooked it breast down on a wire rack in a roasting pan. The breast had deep grooves from the rack. The last 15 minutes I turned it over to brown a bit more on the breast. I carved the turkey on a platter before guests arrived. It has been a whle since I have made a turkey. My husband and daughters do not care for it like I do. I was a bit nervous using a new recipe for a large family gathering. But the method really seemed logical.

    Everyone loved it!!! Every bite of breast meat was tender and juicy. I will never cook a turkey right-side-up again. Thanks for sharing your recipe!!

    Kimberly

  7. Colleen

    This is the first turkey I have ever made and WOW, it is the best I’ve ever tasted!! Pretty good for a first time turkey chef!

    Thanks for the great turkey reciepe (and stuffing too!)…you sure make an amateur look good.

    Calgary, AB Canada

  8. Elise

    Hi Kimberly and Colleen, you are very welcome! I’m so glad your turkeys turned out so well. Yes, this method doesn’t make as pretty of a turkey, this is true. But we always carve it up in the kitchen anyway. And once you taste how moist and delicious turkey can be, you never want a dry turkey again. :-)

  9. Irene

    In the past, I’ve always used a tent foil over my
    turkey. Because there’s no mention of a cover,
    I assume that it’s not necessary. Right?
    We’re all looking forward to Christmas and trying
    this recipe.
    Irene

  10. Elise

    Hi Irene,

    That’s right, no cover. Typically an aluminum tent is needed to keep the breast from overcooking when it is breast-side up. This recipe calls for cooking the turkey breast-side down, where there is much less chance of overcooking the breast.

    Cheers,

    Elise

  11. Jaspreet

    hello……I am trying this turkey for the first time…..for a big family….sounds good, I have also read all the views, so Im gonna give it a try…… would a cotton thread do, to tie it up???

  12. Jeff Larsen

    This is indeed the best way to cook a turkey. Everyone at Thanksgiving just raved. I have never eaten a better turkey in my life.

    Simply place it breast side down…cook it at 400 for an hour, than at 325 for 4 more hours (a 20 pounder). It is the best turkey anyone will ever have. YUM!

  13. Coryne

    hey there.

    I’ve never made a turkey before and I’m simply dying to try your recipe, but I’m a little concerned about the time. If i wanted to make a 6-8 lbs turkey, how long should i cook it for? This turkey sounds absolutely delicious and i’m totally looking forward to making it!

    • Elise

      Hi Coryne, I would cook it about the same time as a large chicken. Start it at 400°F for 20 minutes to brown, then lower the heat to 325°F. Cook for 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hours more, checking after 1 hour. Note that the cooking time will depend on your individual oven and how cold the turkey is when you put it in the oven.

  14. Emma Peel

    This recipe along with the gravy and the stuffing was a hit – from now on – upside down birds in this house! And the stuffing – I also added two cups cooked wild rice – it was amazing. Compliments from all of my guests and recipes on the email exchange. Thanks!

  15. Stan Shore

    Hi,
    I am new at this. The first question is how large of a turkey do I need? I am still not sure of the number of guests. Probably between 12 and 18.

    Stan
    Palo Alto, CA

    • Elise

      Hi Stan, I would get a 18 lb turkey for that many guests, or 20 lbs if you want lots of leftovers.

  16. Carrie

    Hi Elise,
    I bake chickens in the oven, breast down for about 30 minutes and then flip them over for the last 30 minutes. But, I use a glass pyrex with no rack. Could I do something like this for a turkey (15 lbs.), or do I need a rack?
    Thank you, from this amateur whose in-laws are coming for Thanksgiving.
    Carrie

  17. Lester

    Hi Elise,
    I am going to try this recipe tomorrow for Thanksgiving. I have a 22lb turkey and will cook for approx 5.5 hours ( 15 minutes per pound). How would you regulate the temperature for this amount of time.

    Thanks and have a great Thanksgiving,
    Lester

  18. Alice

    I have been cooking my turkey breast side down for the last 25 years. My family used to leave the white meat and eat only the dark but now we always have dark left, no white.

  19. Brian

    Hey Elise,

    Do you have to use a rack in the pan? All I have is one of those giant handi-foil oval pans in which to cook the turkey. Would it be okay to just lay the turkey breast-side down in the pan? Also, I just want to confirm the approximate cooking time for a 22.5 lb turkey. Any help much appreciated! Thanks!

  20. Elise

    Hi Brian –

    One thing you can do is roast the turkey directly on the oven rack in your oven (clean it up first). Place a large rimmed pan on the rack underneath the rack that holds the turkey to catch the drippings. The rack is for air flow; it will help your turkey cook more evenly.

    Regarding a 22.5 lb turkey – 22.5 lbs x 15 minutes per lb = 337.5 minutes. Divide 337.5 by 60 minutes to the hour and you get 5.625 hours, or approximately 5 hours 37 minutes.

  21. Lander

    I cooked my turkey last night in other to ease the pressure of preparing so much food today. This is the softest turkey I have ever eatten. When I started to cut it, the meat just pulled away from the bones. Yummy, Yummy. This is the only way I will bake my turkey. Thank you so much.

  22. Jeremy Henderson

    A few years ago I had Thanksgiving dinner at the home of some friends, and we had a first time turkey cook who also accidentally discovered the upside-down bird method. It was by far the best tasting turkey I’ve ever eaten.

    Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

  23. sharon

    I’m trying your turkey recipe! and it’s my first time cooking this for my friends :) I just arrived here in the US 4 months ago and surf the web about the this recipe for thanks giving! now the turkey is cooking and it smells greattttt~

  24. Cathy

    Elise,
    Thank you for your AWESOME recipe. I had a crowd of 22 here today and roasted a 22-pound fresh turkey. Unbelievable. I made the turkey exactly as you specified and it was truly the very best I have ever eaten. Moist, flavorful . . . all of it! BTW, I used a roaster oven because my real oven is tiny and old. I swear by it now.
    Thank you again for making me so thankful on Thanksgiving : )

  25. Steve

    We had a party of 24 last night, and I choose to bake both birds upside down… WOW… absolutely wonderful turkey! As many have said, I’ll never bake another one breast side up… just be sure you rest the breast on veggies while baking.. the later you can flip it and brown… it’s wonderful.. and no basting!

  26. juni

    Fantastic bird ! My family loved it, I heard how juicy the white meat was about a hundred times. Thank you for the recipe.

  27. denise

    I was a Thanksgiving Virgin (first time to have Thanksgiving at our home, first time to make a turkey etc…) and all I have to say is “THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!”

    The turkey was so juicy and flavorful – my guests (20 in all) just gobbled it up and all thought that it was the best bird that they had ever had!

    My mom made a “back-up” turkey, in case my bird flopped, and we all agreed that my bird won hands down – Thanks for making our Thanksgiving such a success!

  28. BD

    Hi,

    I never roast a turkey. But I am going to make one for this year.

    I bought a frozen turkey and the turket came with a indicator that will indicate if the breast is cooked. But if i put the breast down, the indicator might not work. Do I need to depend on the indicator.

    How long need to marinate the turkey in advance? one day?

  29. Roger Wills

    The photo at the top of the page looks a little like you have wrapped the turkey in foil but I don’t see that anywhere in the recipe. Or is it just my screeen playing tricks with my eyes?

    Thanks,

    Roger

  30. Monica Hart

    Hi Elise,

    I will be using your recipe this year and I just have a couple of questions. If I bake the turkey upside down directly on my oven rack, do I still need to put some type of Vegetable underneath the breast? It won’t look to horrible if I don’t will it? Also, do you think putting some uncooked bacon in the cavity of the turkey or under the skin of the breast, will enhance the flavor.

  31. Elise

    Hi BD – Our turkeys never have that indicator. I would suggest that you use a meat thermometer instead, and remove the popup indicator. I don’t know what you mean by “marinate” as our instructions do not call for marinating. You do need to defrost your turkey, starting probably several days in advance.

    Hi Monica – Our recipe does not call for vegetables or bacon. That said, I’m all in favor of experimentation, especially when someone else is doing the experimenting. Let us know how it turns out.

  32. Ann

    Elise, thank you. Our employer gave us a turkey this year, so when I started to cook it,(maybe I’ve cooked one or two others in my life – dry, dry, dry)it seemed as though I remembered seeing on t.v. this restaurant (that is all about turkey – they sell bazillions of turkey sandwiches and etc.) giving their secret to success as cooking the turkeys breast side down. So I Google’d that phrase and it took me to your recipe. Turkey is in the oven now. Thanks again.

  33. Nutan

    Hi Elise, I am finally cooking my turkey on old years eve i didn’t do it for Christmas as is the norm in Trinidad because it always comes out dry, dry. I going to try your breast down recipe tonight.I ‘ll let you know how our family turkey dinner turned out next week.

    Best Regards,
    Nutan

  34. VERNE

    I can’t wait to try this recipe. BTW, I just won a big vintage Guardian Service turkey roaster on eBay. It’s all hammered aluminum, was made in the 40’s & has a lid that doubles as a serving tray. I’ve heard that there’s no need to baste with these roasters & that they roast food beautifully. Have you or your mom ever used one of these roasters to do a turkey? Should I use the lid? I’m trying to find recipes for this roaster.

  35. Robert

    This is by far the best roast turkey recipe I’ve ever found. Only one complaint though: The turkey comes out so moist you can’t even carve it! It just falls apart! I tried pulling off the drumsticks…nothin’ doin’. The bone slid right out! Awesome!

  36. Krystine May

    I am really interested in cooking this for my friends on Monday, but I’m held back by the notion of not having the turkey skin browned. Has anyone turned it over for the last 30 minutes or so to brown the skin? If so did it effect the turkey that much? I’m cooking for a group of men and I think they will want their skin!

    Please advise. I’m not a huge cook but if I cook the turkey upside down for hours then turn it over the last bit to brown I can’t see it ruining the juiciness but if I’m wrong I definately would like to know.

    Thank you!

  37. Krystine May

    I also only have an oval foil pan (doubled up) no rack. I’m cooking at a friends house so I can’t put it directly on the rack with pan below. Has anyone cooked it without the rack upside down in a roasting pan like I’m going to have too? Is it fine or not as good?

  38. Elise

    Hi Krystine,

    You can turn the turkey over for the last 20 minutes to brown if you want. We never bother as we carve the turkey in the kitchen.

    I don’t quite get the connection of why if you are cooking the turkey at someone else’s house you can’t cook it directly on the rack. You can easily remove the rack and clean it, after you are done cooking, as you would clean any rack on which you cooked a turkey. You should cook the turkey on a rack of some sort, as the bird needs the hot airflow underneat it to help it cook. If you do end up cooking the turkey directly on the middle rack, with the pan on the rack below, reduce the cooking time. Cooking it this way is akin to using a convection oven, as the increased airflow cooks the turkey faster. How much time to reduce? Depends on the size of the turkey. The last 15 pound turkey I cooked was done 45 minutes earlier than it would have been cooking it in a rack in a pan.

  39. Auzzie

    Hi Elise, it’s my first time cooking turkey by myself. should I add any water to the turkey before put it in the oven?

  40. Krystine May

    Thanks for the prompt reply :) I bought rack to go in the pan and a meat thermometer. Figured it was time to bite the bullet. Thanks for the advice and can’t wait to see how it turns out. Happy Thanksgiving!

  41. Theresa

    Hey Elise! Thanks a lot for the recipe! I cooked my very first turkey last night for an “early” Thanksgiving dinner with my family (i live in Canada), and it turned out great! My father couldn’t believe how incredibly moist the turkey was when he carved it. He said I should cook Thanksgiving dinner every year!

    Also, since I’m asian, I couldn’t resist but to pat the skin after I washed it with some paper towels before I generously applied the salt and pepper. As a result, the turkey skin had a slight crispy texture to it. My brothers couldn’t get enough of it! I highly recommend it to anyone to give it a try!

  42. John

    We have cooked turkey upside down for as long as I can remember with a couple twists from your recipe. We cook at 325 degrees for four hours and we flip the turkey breast side up the last half hour to brown the the skin and give the bird the traditional look and our kids love the skin when its been browned to a slight crisp. The meat is always moist.

  43. Robert

    This is the very first recipe I’ve ever used for a roast turkey. (And the only one I’ll ever use) Not knowing the parts of the turkey, I ended up cooking it breast side up. It was still the most moist, succulent turkey I’ve ever tasted and my entire family agreed.

  44. victorg

    Awsome turk… I did this last xmas with a balducci’s turkey… 17 pounder…

    Gonna do it again this year too… thanks for the recipe!!!

  45. Mary Selle

    I am having a large group of people for Thanksgiving. Have you ever cooked and sliced the turkey(s) the day before. And possibly just put the sliced turkey with some broth in the oven to reheat? I need two turkeys and a couple of turkey breasts.

  46. Elsa

    Wow upside down! Sound pretty intresting =)
    This will be my first time cooking the Thanksgiving dinner and I’m very excited! I will definetely be using your recipe! I pray you have a wonderful Thanksgiving day =)
    Take care
    Elsa

  47. Cathy

    Hi Elise -

    I’m cooking for a group of 24 this year and I’m excited to try your recipe. Can you suggest what size turkey I should get for this large crowd? Also, should I add stock to the bottom of the roasting pan before putting the turkey in the oven? I noticed in the recipe you mention making stock for the stuffing so I wasn’t sure.

    Thank you so much!

    Cathy

  48. Gene

    OK, T-day is coming up, and I am ready to (maybe!) deep fry a turkey this year…everyone I talk to that has had a deep fried turkey says it’s the best EVER. Now, my oven roasted turkey is dang good anyway, and I was wondering if anyone here had any suggestions/comments regarding a deep fried turkey vs a brined turkey?

    Thanks to all, I love this site!

  49. Jeremy Henderson

    A few years ago I went over to the house of a friend who was cooking her first Thanksgiving turkey. It wasn’t until the turkey was done before someone pointed out to her that she had accidentally put it upside down in the pan.

    At first everyone made fun of her, until we started eating and all agreed that it was just about the best turkey any of us had ever had. Ever since then I’ve been extolling the virtues of flipping the turkey over, but most traditionalists sneer. Glad to see the movement is gaining momentum!

  50. Tom

    Hello,
    I will be making my first turkey for Thanksgiving. The question I have is this: I will be making the turkey at my house and bring it to another house about 1/2 hour away from mine. Should I cover the turkey with tinfoil right away when I take it out of the oven also I do not remember reading anything about basting the turkey. Do you recomend basting?
    Thanks for your help and have a great holiday.

  51. angel

    Hi, another first timer here. This sounds like a very good idea, but I ‘m not so sure what you mean by cooking it on a wire rack. Do I place it directly on my oven rack and put the disposable turkey pan on the rack below to catch the juices? If so how do I take the turkey out? Sorry for all of the obvious questions, but I would really appreciate some help.

    The White Family

  52. Pam

    Hi,

    I am getting nervous, the only free range turkey left was 23 lbs!! Everything I read references a 15 – 16 lb bird. Yikes, how will I handle this monster and ensure it’s great, my mother-in-law is coming for the first time in my 35 years of marriage!!
    Thanks, Pam

  53. Connie

    Hi Elise—I’ve done a few turkeys the traditional way, but thought I would try your recipe this year for the holidays. For a 20 lb bird, your recipe would be 400 the first 1/2 hr, 350 for 2 hrs, then 225 for 2 1/2 hrs, right? Jeff Larsen said 400 the first hr and 325 for 4 hrs works for him. What’s the difference? Too much browning? Dries out? I’m not a great cook and don’t want to spoil it. Thanks for sharing your skills wih us! Connie

  54. Sharon Rediske

    Can you tell me the temperature information for an 18 to 20 lb turkey?

  55. Liz

    Hi Elise,

    I’m a first timer as well. Seems to be a few of us looking for turkey recipes. :) Have a quick question…everyone I have asked says that the turkey should be covered while cooking, but i didn’t see it mentioned in the instructions. Should the turkey be covered in the oven? Looking forward to trying your recipe. Thanks!

  56. Patti Anderson

    Yum, Your recipe looks mighty interesting. I am having having about 25 people over for Thanksgiving. I bought a 22 lb bird , how long and at what temp would I cook a 22 lb bird… ? Please help!!! I want this bird to be the best! do you recomend turning it over at the end?
    Thanks

  57. Elise

    Hi Auzzie – some people inject a brine into a turkey before cooking. You can do that or not. We don’t, and it doesn’t seem to matter.

    Hi Mary Selle – We eat turkey leftovers – sliced turkey with gravy – for days after Thanksgiving, so you can make it ahead if you want. But it will be most moist if you cook it and eat it the same day.

    Hi Cathy – 24 people? I have no idea. I’ve never cooked a turkey for that many people. Does anyone else reading this have a suggestion of how big a turkey to get? I would not put stock in the roasting pan while cooking the turkey, no need for that. Your turkey should produce enough of its own drippings.

    Hi Terry – convection ovens more evenly distribute the hot air of the oven around the turkey, so it will end up cooking faster than using a conventional oven. How much faster? Hard to say. Usually for us something that should take one hour takes 45 minutes instead. If I were using convection, I would reduce the overall cooking time by 25%.

    Hello Tom – I would let the turkey sit for 10 minutes before putting foil on it, otherwise it will be too hot too touch. Basting is not necessary for this recipe, in fact, opening the oven to baste will increase the cooking time.

    Hi White Family – You can cook the turkey on a rack in a roasting pan or you can cook the turkey on an oven rack with a roasting pan on the rack beneath it to catch the drippings. To get the turkey out, you’ll need to pull both racks out at once, so that the bird’s drippings still drop on the pan. It is somewhat of a two person job. With both racks extended out of the oven, one person can lift the turkey, the other person pushes the turkey rack back in the oven, and then the person holding the turkey places it in the roasting pan beneath. Then you can pick up the roasting pan with the turkey in it. Or you can just remove the turkey directly from the oven to a carving board.

  58. Elise

    Hi Pam, Connie, Sharon, and Patti – There is no perfect answer to “how long to cook”. The guideline is 14-15 minutes per pound. Not every turkey is the same, by the way. Some are more tender and don’t take as long. The main points of this recipe are 1) cook the bird breast-side down, 2) stuff it only with a few vegetables for seasoning, not for stuffing, 3) salt and oil the bird before cooking, 4) start it off at a high heat for browning, then progressively lower the heat. By cooking the bird upside down, you’ll have a better chance at not overcooking it. For example, a 20 pound bird adds 5 pounds to the 15 pound bird recipe given here, which would then require about an hour and ten minutes more cooking time. I would add that time on to the middle and end of the cooking. Or you could add 10 minutes to the front and then half hour to the middle and the end. The initial high heat is just to brown the bird.

    Hi Liz – if you are cooking a turkey breast-side up (not this recipe), then after the initial browning, you would want to tent it in aluminum foil so that the breast doesn’t over cook. By cooking the bird breast-side down, you don’t need to cover it.

    Hi Patti – Personally I would find it physically difficult to turn over a very hot 22 pound bird. A 12 pounder, no problem, but 22 pounds? That’s heavy, at least for me. If you want the breast to be browned, you do need to turn the bird. If you don’t care, then there is no need.

  59. Elise

    One more point. The best way to ensure that you have perfectly cooked bird is to use an accurate meat thermometer. This is really the best way to tell how done the turkey is, and well worth the investment.

  60. Sheri

    Hi, I bought a Roaster Oven, and this will be my first Thanksgiving for my family. I am making a 14 lb turkey, and my mom has her heart set on having stuffing in the bird. I am gonna try your upside down method, but was wondering how big of adjustments I would need to make to have stuffing in the bird? I mean, how long should I cook the turkey? I am very nervous and just want my dinner to be a hit! Thanks in advance.

  61. Elise

    Hi Sheri – if you are using a roaster oven, and not a regular oven, I would follow the directions that came with your roaster oven. The method I lay out above works with a conventional oven, with plenty of air flow around the turkey. Regarding stuffing, we never cook a turkey with the stuffing in, so I don’t know what to tell you. I would imagine that you would have to increase the cooking time, to take into account the stuffing, but I don’t know how long. If you do some research online, you will probably be able to find the answer. Or perhaps someone reading this knows and will pipe up.

  62. Sacci

    Hello, Elise. I’m thinking of roasting Tureky this year with your recipe, and just wondering what you would do with the seasoning vegetables that you stuff inside. Do you take them out and put them aside before carving/serving? I suppose these vegetables are only for seasoning and not for eating, so do you throw them away in the end? I’d appreciate your advice! Thanks!

  63. Amy

    Hi everyone,
    My whole family is a big fan of the dark meat, though partially because it’s usually moister. I just want to know how cooking breast-down affects the dark meat. Does it get drier like the breast meat does when it’s on top? I don’t want my family disappointed with their favorite part of the bird!

  64. Laura

    Hi Elise!
    I just made this turkey a couple of weeks ago to practice for the real day. It came out awesome, and everybody loved it. It was probably the juciest turkey I have ever had.

    You may want to add parsley to the ingredient list though!

    Thanks for all the great recipes!
    Keep up the great work!

  65. Brittanie

    Hi Elise! I’m so excited to try this recipe and the stuffing recipe- they sound fabulous! I was planning to just cook the turkey directly on the rack with a pan undernieth to catch the juices – like you suggested – but my friend offered to loan me her roaster oven. I noticed that you left a comment for Sheri saying that there wouldn’t be as much airflow as with a conventional oven. Does that mean that your recipe won’t work with a roaster oven? Thanks so much! It’s so great of you to help all of us!

  66. Chez

    Hi! I’ve tried this recipe myself. And it’s Superb! Loved it! Very good! I like the moist, tender meat! thank you so much… I was so glad that I share this w/ everybody at work the week of Thanksgiving, just in time for cooking turkey!

  67. Farah

    Hi!
    I guess you are the Thanksgiving guru! I found your website today – I am too also a Thanksgiving and turkey virgin. I am so excited to do this right. We have a new convection oven and are very excited to use it. We know these times vary. Can you give me any helpful hints? Degree/ Timewise? I was planning on about 3 1/4 hours for a 13 pounds turkey and yes, I do have a thermometer. Don’t have a rack – but planning to pick one up. Thanks!

  68. Angy

    Hi,
    I, too, am wondering if the dark meat will end up being drier, or if it will still be moist. Sounds like the white meat is very good and moist. Will I still love the dark meat, too???

  69. Moe

    Hi
    In Australia we usually have seafood for Xmas lunch. This year, i have friends from England & Ireland visiting for Xmas and I have been assigned with the task of cooking Turkey this year. I’m so excited, as i’ve never cooked turkey before and I can’t wait to try your recipe, sounds delicious. Would you also include roast vegetables with the turkey in the last 45mins of cooking?

  70. Samantha

    Hi! I can’t wait to try your recipe! After reading all the comments I have a question.
    I do not have a roasting rack. I bought one of those aluminum oval pans (no rack in it).
    I have a 16 pound turkey. IF I were to place my turkey directly on the middle oven rack with the oval pan below it, how do I know what time it’ll be done? I read that I’d have to reduce the cooking time if I cook it directly on the rack but can you provide me some insight on how long I should cook my 16pd turkey if it’s directly on the oven rack?
    thank you so much!!

  71. Samantha

    For the roasting pan, does it matter if you use a flat wire rack or a V-wire rack?

  72. J

    Hi Elise – I’m not sure if you’ll be back on to respond before Thanksgiving but I thought I’d take a chance. I can’t wait to try this recipe! Thank you for sharing and being so nice to respond to all of these questions. My turkey will be between 24 and 26 pounds so I know it needs to cook for 6 to 6-1/2 hours. My question is how I should adjust the time for the different temperatures. According to your recipe I’m thinking 400 for the first hour; reduce to 350 for the next 3-1/2 hours then reduce to 225 for the last hour to hour and a half. I am going to attempt to flip it over for 20 minutes at 300. Does that sound about right to you? Thanks for any feedback… gobble, gobble!

  73. Jennifer

    Hello Elise

    I made my first upside down turkey last year. Huge success but the turkey had rack marks on it. I placed the turkey inside the V rack. Should I use a flat rack instead? Please advise

    Thank you

  74. Alexandria

    Elise,

    Thank you for sharing your Mum’s marvelous turkey recipe. This Thanksgiving (we’re Canadian), we made our first and easily the best turkey, gravy, and stuffing combination that we’ve ever tasted.

    Blessings,
    Alex

  75. Amy

    Hello Elise,

    Thank you so much for this wonderful Roasted Turkey Recipe. I made this for our Canadian Thanksgiving Dinner for my family and it turned out so good. We all love the juicy breast. I would recommend your recipe to all my friends.

    I love your website and the links to all the turnkey related topics. It really helps me a lot.

    Thanks again.

    Amy

  76. Mei

    Hi Elise:

    My goodness! You and your mom’s names should be in the dictionary or history books for rewriting the history of how to roast a turkey! I followed your recipe and every single one of our guests said it was the best turkey they had ever tasted in their life. It was unbelievable! I also followed your suggestion about getting a free-range turkey and it was so worth it.

    There is absolutely no other way to roast a turkey. Thank you so much for sharing this VERY IMPORTANT recipe! I definitely will try your stuffing recipe next time.

    Mei

  77. Jennifer

    One year, my parents were horrified when they took the Thanksgiving turkey out of the oven, and exclaimed (as my father tried to slice it), “There’s no meat on this bird!!!!” Turns out that my mother had *accidentally* put the turkey breast-side down in the pan. It was the juiciest turkey we ever had, and provided many laughs around the table. (For a minute there, my mother started rummaging around the freezer looking to see if we had any hot dogs to serve to the guests!)

  78. Elise

    Hi Jaspreet, thin cotton thread may break, but cotton kitchen string, which is comprised of many threads, should work fine.

  79. Elise

    Hi Carrie – I’ve never roasted a turkey in a pyrex dish, so I don’t know. I would think that the rack would facilitate even air flow around the turkey, so it would be preferable.

    Hi Lester – Just add on time to the middle and the end.

    Hi Alice – Does the fact that your family eats more white than dark meat have something to do with the cooking method that produces better white meat? Or to do with changing tastes and changing turkeys? Dark meat is so flavorful, but it seems to me that people would rather smother their turkey breasts in gravy than enjoy the naturally rich flavor of the dark meat. Also, given the way they breed turkeys these days, the legs are smaller and smaller, yielding even less of the dark meat.

  80. Elise

    Regarding the questions about the dark meat – the dark meat will be perfectly moist, as long as you don’t let the bird overcook.

    Hi Samantha – roasting the turkey directly on a middle oven rack, with the roasting pan on the rack below to catch the drippings mimics a convection oven, in which things cook in about a quarter less time. A v-wire rack will better support the bird, but other than that it makes no difference.

    Hi Jennifer – cooking the bird breast side down on a rack will leave rack marks, either way.

    To all – many people are writing in asking similar questions to those that have already been asked and answered in the comments. If you have a question, please read through all of the comments that have already been made. Most likely your question has already been addressed.

    I’m going to be focused on my family and cooking for the next couple days. Since I will not have the time to address many new comments, I am closing comments on this recipe for now.

    If you have a question about cooking time, please read through all of the comments. Given the weight of your turkey, you will have to do your own calculations. Don’t stress out too much about when to shift from one temp to another. You could cook the turkey at 325°F to 350°F the whole time, and it would still turn out, as long as you took the turkey out of the oven when the meat thermometer indicated that the turkey was ready. The turkey would just cook faster. Also, most turkeys come in packages with time guides on them. You might want to check those.

    FYI, Butterball has an 800# turkey hotline at 1-800-BUTTERBALL.

    Happy Thanksgiving to all!

  81. Dude Metropolis

    Just want you to know that I love these directions and even in 2014 I come back here to make sure I’m making the turkey as good as I can. Thanks!

  82. Miss

    I just have to say, I have been coming back to this page for the last 5 years and my turkey comes out PERFECTLY. It’s 2014, thank-you! (and, I am now going to print the directions lol)

  83. Priscilla Smith

    I always put my turkey breast side down, but I think the best way ever is to put it in a 225 degree oven at 10 pm the night before and let it bake all night. It is tender and juicy every time. Just falls off the bone and melts in your mouth! I’ve tried other methods, but this is by far our favorite!

  84. Kathleen Bly

    My husband and I are senior citizens. We don’t know for sure what our thanksgiving plans are this year.We don’t live close to either of our families anymore But even if it is just the two of us we enjoy a traditional meal. Turkeys were on sale for 59 cents a pound at Kroger this week so i bought one of the smallest ones (15 pounds) I followed your instructions, Except that two hours after I put the turkey in the oven I put the lid on the roaster. The turkey was cooked before I even dropped the temp to 225 degrees. In 45 years of marriage this is absolutely the best turkey we have roasted . I am making the soup right now and it smells wonderful. The legs nearly fell off the turkey when I started to carve them, they were tender and not dry at all. We will put the breast meat away in the freezer for thanksgiving and use the rest of the meat as we go along. I had dreaded cooking such a large turkey. But this was so easy.Thanks so much for your moms recipe.

  85. Rose

    My immediate family was Mom, Dad, and me. My extended family was massively huge. The Christmas I was in grade 12 everyone came home from far and wide. Grandma hosted, she cooked the bird and everyone else brought the rest.
    She got the biggest turkey a farmer friend raised almost 28 pounds.
    She must have gotten up early, to put it in the oven as our custom was Christmas dinner at noon, after the farmers did morning chores, eat, visit and go home to do evening chores.

  86. Matt

    Hi Elise, this sounds great, but have you ever tried a butterflied/spatchcocked turkey? I’m attracted to the idea that a spatchcocked bird would cook quicker and more evenly while taking up less room in the oven. I’d like to try that technique sometime, but I’m a little worried to pull it out for Thanksgiving. Do you think a large bird (18 lbs or so) would suffer from that kind of cooking?

    • Elise

      Hi Matt, while I have spatchcocked a chicken, I have not yet prepared a turkey that way. It is a perfectly good way to cook a chicken though so I don’t see why it wouldn’t also be a great way to cook a turkey! It would certainly cook faster that way. I think the main problem that most cooks would have is having an oven wide enough to actually hold the whole spatchcocked turkey.

  87. Kim

    Hello, you’re the reason I’ve been making the best turkey’s ever! I could never wrap my head around breast up/dry meat when the solution was so easy… breast down! Season greetings and thanks for the site I double check myself with your site all the time!

  88. barb

    Your photos are stunning Elise.
    Funny about Mom’s and how we learn the simplest but such important things. Another small but good tip she told me was to put your aromatics in a tea bag. I always have plenty of them because I use a lot of loose tea.

  89. Cathy

    I used this method today and the turkey came out moist & delicious! Thank you!

  90. Sarah

    This just proves that Mom Knows Best! :) Thanks for posting!!

  91. Natalie Carlisle

    We used your recipe today and the turkey is excellent! Thanks for sharing:-)

  92. Kate @¡Hola! Jalapeño

    This is such a nice straight-forward recipe! I love the step-by-step photos, I’ll be turning to this one time and time again.

  93. Maria

    This recipe sounds great! I will be making this for Thanksgiving…just one question,
    no water is required in the pan?

    • Elise

      No, we don’t use water in the pan. Though a little can help if you have concerns about too much smoke coming from the oven. We have the oven temp at a high heat not for very long, and it is the high heat burning the fat that usually creates the smoke when you make a roast.

  94. Sandra Sizer

    Elise, I just got a convection range, but I’m brand-new to convection roasting so I’m a bit nervous about it, especially for Thanksgiving. Although I do have a shallow roasting pan I plan to cook my turkey [unstuffed, untrussed, right-side up] on a regular roasting rack, but to put that rack directly on the oven rack, with a pan below to catch the drippings. I’ve also invested in a oven-safe thermometer and plan to take the turkey out to rest when it reaches 165 degrees. How’s this sound to you? Any suggestions? Many thanks!

    • Elise

      Hi Sandra, usually when I use the convection setting of the oven, I lower the oven temp by 25 degrees from what the recipe calls for. Otherwise I expect whatever I’m cooking to cook faster. With a turkey, as long as you are using an accurate meat thermometer (is it a remote one? they’re great!) you should be fine. I would pull it out when the breast reaches 160 and thigh 165. Convection will result in a faster cook time, so be prepared. Your turkey could easily be done an hour before you expect!

  95. Ellie

    Thank you! I am in charge of the turkey this year, and gave this a try tonight in advance. 16.8# for 30 min at 400, 2 hrs at 325, 1 hr at 225, flipped at 400 for 30, then low broil for 10. Wow. :)

  96. Debbie Clark

    Want to try it this year – but my husband is in the charge the turkey – and old ways are hard for him to change. He also uses the grill to cook the bird – can we still do it your way? Excited to try – since our bird is usually dry with white meat and sometimes not so done dark meat…

    • Elise

      Hi Debbie, you mean breast side down on the grill? I don’t think it will work because in that case the heat is coming up from below. So if you cook it breast side down on the grill, the breast will get more of the heat! Not what you want.

  97. Moe

    Thank you for sharing all your wonderful recipes! I’ve been using them since high school and Mom’s Roast Turkey has to be my favorite hands down!

  98. Kathleen

    My mom always cooked her turkey breast side down, also. It was always quite the experiment when it was time to turn the turkey over to brown the breast. My father always assisted my mother in this process. It made Thanksgiving very memorable.

  99. Crystal

    Hello Elise, is it okay to use this recipe using a regular Eco-Foil Giant Rack Roaster Pan?

    • Elise

      Hi Crystal, you might have difficulty keeping the turkey properly propped up breast-side down without a rack. If it’s an issue, use the turkey neck on one side and maybe a couple onion halves on the other to help keep the turkey from tilting.

  100. Debbie

    Hi Elise I have an thermo pen instant read thermometer, how do I get the reading on the breast if I cook it breast side down ? I read all of the other comments and did not see this addressed there.. Thank you..

    • Elise

      Hmmm, carefully? By the time the thigh gets to 170°F, the breast should be at 165°F. Also, if you turn the bird over for browning at the end, the breast will be on top and easy to get to.

  101. Alicia

    I used this recipe last year for my first time cooking the Thanksgiving day turkey. I was so nervous! This turkey produced more juice than I have ever seen. It was spilling over the sides of the roasting pan! I went to carve the turkey, inserted a fork, and touched the knife blade to the meat. Barely broke the surface of the turkey when it literally fell apart. The entire turkey just fell apart. It was the most tender, moist, flavorful delightfully decadent turkey I have ever had. My guests raved about it. They think it’s a fluke that my turkey turned out so well but I’m using this recipe again this year! The rosemary and lemon, parsley etc. You could taste it all. My son, the pickiest eater ever ate so much of it! Absolutely amazing turkey! And the gravy I made from the juices oh my god! I will forever use this recipe every single time I cook a turkey for the rest of my life.

  102. Christina

    Turkey rack has a tiny bit of rust on it, should I not use to put turkey on? Please help. Cant afford a new one.

    • Elise

      Hi Christina, you’ll be fine using it. If you want you can try to scrub some of the rust off, and then coat it with a little olive oil. But a little rust residue in the food won’t hurt you (just Google it!)

    • Donna

      Curious how that would work I was thinking of trying to do that also.

  103. Charlie

    The first 20 minutes for browning…what if this time were used to brown the breast and then turn the breast down for the remainder of cooking time? Just curious if you’ve ever tried that.

  104. Amine

    thank you very much. I cooked it . it was really delicious. All my guests liked it.

  105. Alex

    im trying it this year, wish me luck!

  106. Cathy

    Hi Elise. I’m gonna give this a try this year. I usually do about a 20lb pound stuffed turkey. They guys have to have the stuffing inside. Wish me luck.

  107. Willie

    Nice but spatchcocking is the way to go, IMHO. Not all Norman Rockwell traditional but much better than whole birding. Still nice and moist and all the skin can be crispy.

  108. Debbie

    I am truly nervous. I haven’t made a turkey for many years & I forget how. My husband doesn’t want the clean-up mess. Will your recipe work in one of those disposable pans? Thanks so much!

  109. Cathy

    Hi Debbie. I got a turkey at least once a month and I have used a disposable one. Make sure you get the heavy duty one and careful when taking it out of the oven. the pan can bend and your bird may end up on the floor. good luck with your turkey.

  110. Debbie

    Elise & Cathy: Thank you for your help!

  111. Cathy

    Hey Debbie, will be online Thanksgiving morning if you get stuck. Just make a post and it’ll show up in email and I will respond asap.

  112. Claire

    IT WORKED!!! I’ve never before cooked an entire turkey, and was more than a little intimidated when I saw the 10kg (22 pound) bird that my butcher had for me (he told me it was small– Hungarians are intense about their food!). But I followed these directions and it worked out beautifully. Thanks bunches. I haven’t told my mom yet, but I liked it better than hers.

  113. anyssa

    I used your recipe a few years ago and it came out amazing!! However I can’t remember if I need to baste it while it’s cooking…

    • Elise

      No, don’t baste it. No need and every time you open the oven door you add about 10 minutes of cooking time to the bird.

  114. Sharon Chavez

    Elise,
    I am so grateful to you for posting this awesome recipe. I have never had much guidance in the kitchen with cooking. I was having a crowd over last year and fund this amazing turkey recipe. I followed it step by step and it was amazing! I have now used and reused this and have had awesome results each time.
    Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!

    Sharon
    New Lenox, IL