Thanksgiving Turkey Basics


Thanksgiving my  FAVORITE holiday of the whole year!

I love Thanksgiving because it is just like Christmas, without all the gifts. Don’t get me wrong, I love buying gifts for my family and friends, but gifts just put so much pressure on everyone for Christmas. Thanksgiving is all the yummy food, chilly weather and family, with out all the fuss of gifts.  Perfect holiday for me!

Each year I make a few turkeys, and each time I tell someone I made or will be making a turkey, they act like I am making a miracle happen.  Turkey making is something people see mom or grandma doing, not something they themselves could pull off.  Let me tell you. You can make a delicious Turkey!

Honestly the hardest part of making a turkey is getting it into the oven, and the prep involved, not actually roasting the turkey.  One thing I have noticed about several of the posts I have read on how to prepare a turkey, they skip over most of the steps between actually buying your turkey and seasoning the turkey. Today I thought I would share with you more of the tactical details of getting that perfectly delicious turkey home from the grocery store and onto your dinner table!

Last week, I had a potluck for work and volunteered to bring the turkey. Again, I got a lot of “wow, you are acutally making a turkey?” and “when did you have time to make the turkey”.  If only everyone knew how easy making a turkey could be…

Let me tell you how…

The most obvious place to start is by picking up a turkey! I like the Jennie- O brand turkey because it comes with a gravy packet, which I love using to make my gravy.

Turkey Package

Picking the right size of turkey is always key. For my potluck I bought a 14 and half pound turkey, to feed my team of 13.   I like to go with 1 lb of turkey per guest.  I know this might not seem like a lot, and is smaller then the 2 lb per person you may have heard before, but trust me, there is always so much food on a Thanksgiving table that 1 lb per person is plenty.

However, the smallest turkey I would buy is a 10lb turkey, regardless of if it is only 2-4 people.  Left over turkey is always yummy on a sandwich the next day!

Also,  never pay full price for a turkey! Most of the time during the holidays you can find coupons or deals for less than $1.00 per lb. This guy was $.89 per lb with a coupon.


Now it is time to thaw this bird! You will need several days to thaw your turkey in the refrigerator, or several hours in a sink of cold water.  I prefer the sink of cold water, because I swear that the refrigerator takes longer than they advise. If you are not sure how long it will take to thaw your turkey you can use this website to deteremine time. Now if you are reading this the day before Thanksgiving, you will need the cold water method 😉

Once thawed, its on to bathing your turkey.  This is where things get gross and most people decide turkey making is not for them. Place your turkey into the sink, and remove all the packaging.  Then stick your hand into the cavity of the turkey and pull out the neck of the turkey. Next, lift the flap of skin on the “butt” of the turkey and pull out the bag that has the turkey organs.  Gross, I know, but this is a very necessary step in your turkey making process.

Some people cook these in the pan with the turkey.  My grandma boils them, grinds them up and puts them in her stuffing.  Most people, throw them away.  I am most people.

Once you have disposed of the organs, your turkey needs a cold water bath.  Run cold water over your turkey and rub down the skin, removing any remaining feathers or any “skin gunk”. Yes, that is a technical term.  Cleaning your turkey is a must before roasting.

Here is where I am going to remind you that we are making a basic turkey, nothing fancy. There are many recipes out there for fantastic brines, great herb combinations to stuff your bird with, or delicious marinade injects, but we aren’t doing anything fancy with this bird. At this point in the instructions feel free to use one of the other recipes to jazz your turkey up. I am one to normally brine my turkey too, but it isn’t NEEDED to have a delicious turkey. The basics are good too!


Once your turkey is clean, place it into your roasting pan, breast side up. Most recipes call for placing it on a rack in the pan. I don’t find a rack is needed.  If you are using a disposable aluminum roasting pan, make sure you put it on a cookie/baking sheet before you place the turkey inside the pan, this will make it easier for lifting in and out of the oven.  Next, pat your turkey down to dry the skin.

You will need to prep your roasting veggies at this point. Its the basic cast of characters; celery, carrots and onion.    These will be stuffed into the cavity of the turkey and discarded prior to eating. I don’t even peel my carrots, just wash them and cut in half.  Adding the veggies will help make the drippings taste even better for your gravy.


On to another gross part… pulling the skin away from the breasts of the turkey. You will need to wiggle your fingers between the skin and the meat, across the entire breast. Do this part slowly, as you don’t want to tear the skin, you still need it to protect the breast while roasting.  This process will allow you to season the meat under the skin.

Just don’t think about it, dive right in…

(side note, my hand looks huge in this photo…


In our basic turkey, there still are a few seasonings to add.  #1 Butter!


Now that you have pulled the skin away from the breast meat, you will have the perfect pocket to place small slices of butter between the layers. This will help crisp up your turkey skin while roasting. Some people slather the outside of the bird with butter or oil, I prefer to trap it under the skin. This helps seal it in, and prevents any of it just running off into the pan. If there is any run off, it is right into the meat of the turkey. Mmmm mmm!


The last step before popping the bird into the oven, season the heck out of the skin with salt and black pepper.


Time for roasting.  Place the turkey on a low rack in your oven at 325 degrees, un-covered and with no water or liquid added to the pan.

Roast according to the directions on the package for the size of turkey you have, basting every  20-30 minutes after the first hour.  If your turkey has a thermometer in it already, like mine did, you can watch for that to pop out.  I always double check the temp in the thickest part of the breast meat with a kitchen thermometer.  You want your meat to be at 180 degrees.  The last hour of cooking watch your turkey very carefully.  Some ovens will cook faster than others. You don’t want to dry your turkey out by cooking it too long.

Once the turkey is done, allow it to rest for a half hours before carving. This will allow the meat to finish cooking, and keep your fingers from frying when carving.  Use the 30 minutes to make gravy from your delicious drippings.  Your pan will be full of drippings, which I always love!


Do you feel ready to make your own Thanksgiving Turkey now?? 

About Rachel

Country girl turned urbanite. Finding ways to mess up my kitchen, keep my country roots and explore all that city living offers!

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