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How to Make the Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey

homemade Thanksgiving turkey on table

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and for many of us, there's one thing that best represents the holiday celebration: turkey! Enjoyed by 88% of American households every year, turkey is the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving feast and the subject of today's comprehensive guide. Whether you're a seasoned pro or a first-time Thanksgiving chef, we've got you covered with everything you need to know about the Thanksgiving turkey, including why it's the symbol of our annual gatherings and how to perfectly prep your favorite Thanksgiving turkey recipe

Why Is the Turkey a Symbol of Thanksgiving?

While there isn't one definitive answer, it's commonly believed that turkey made its way onto Thanksgiving tables consistently in the 19th century because it was abundant, large enough to feed a group, and had become a popular fowl in American culture. Now, turkey is a Thanksgiving tradition that has stood the test of time. 

Turkey isn't Thanksgiving's only tradition. Check all the other ways to celebrate now! 

How to Cook a Thanksgiving Turkey

Now, let's dive into the nitty-gritty of preparing and cooking your Thanksgiving turkey. Every turkey recipe will be a bit different, but following these steps will guarantee your fowl comes out just right, no matter what details you add in. So, get all your tools and seasonings ready—it's time to make a beautiful bird! 

Step 1: Thaw the Turkey 

Before you do anything, make sure your turkey is properly thawed so it cooks evenly in the right timeframe. A good rule of thumb is to allow 24 hours of thawing in the refrigerator for every four to five pounds of turkey. So, for a 10-pound turkey, you'll need around 48 hours. 

Step 2: Prep and Season the Turkey 

Once your turkey is thawed, remove the giblets and the neck, and pat your turkey dry with paper towels. Then, you'll want to season and stuff your turkey. This is key to getting that crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside texture that helps make the bird the main character of your Thanksgiving meal. 

What can I stuff my turkey with to keep it moist?

To keep your turkey moist and flavorful, consider stuffing it with a combination of aromatics like:

  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Herbs
  • Citrus

You can also use traditional bread stuffing, but you should prepare it separately to avoid food safety concerns. Having any aromatics inside the turkey will infuse the meat with wonderful flavors, while a simple herb or citrus rub with butter on the outside also adds a delightful taste. Any leftovers from that rub could also be used to create a delicious gravy. After seasoning is complete, let your turkey rest at room temperature for about one hour to allow the added flavors to really get into the meat.

There's a lot you can do with leftover ingredients. Find out some ways to repurpose now! 

man putting roasted Thanksgiving turkey in oven

Step 3: Roast the Turkey 

Preheat your oven to the temperature recommended on the packaging, typically around 325-350 degrees Fahrenheit. Place your turkey on a rack in a roasting pan, breast-side up. Cover the turkey with foil and roast for a portion of the cooking time, per the packaging instructions. Then, remove the foil to let the skin brown and crisp to perfection.

How long should you cook a 10 lb. turkey at 400 degrees?

Getting your turkey cooking time right can be a daunting task, but if you have a 10 lb. turkey and want to roast it at 400 degrees Fahrenheit, it'll take about two-and-a-half to three hours. During this cooking time, it's essential to use a meat thermometer to make sure the dish isn't under or overcooked. 

Step 4: Check the Temperature 

Most meat thermometers are oven-safe, so leave a meat thermometer in your turkey to check the internal temperature of the meat throughout cooking. The turkey is done when it reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit in the thickest part of the thigh. Once it hits that internal temp, it should be safe to eat. Remember, cooking times can vary, so keep a close eye on your turkey and use your thermometer throughout for precision. Be sure to also check the stuffing's temperature as well if you decide to stuff the bird. The stuffing should hit the same internal threshold as your turkey temperature before it's safe to eat. 

Step 5: Rest and Carve the Turkey 

Once your turkey is cooked, let it rest for 20-30 minutes. This allows the juices to be redistributed, ensuring a moist and flavorful feast. Then, carve and serve it to your eager guests! 

Thanksgiving Turkey and Other Traditions

Now, you're well-equipped to create a delicious and memorable Thanksgiving turkey, but what about the holiday's other traditions? Chances are, if you're not cooking or eating during the day, you'll be watching football. If you've always struggled to keep up with what's going on in the game, check out our article, "Football Guide: What Do All Those Calls Mean?". In it, you'll learn all the essential aspects of the Thanksgiving staple.