How to Cook a Turkey: The Easiest and Best Tips!

Learn How to Cook a Turkey with this Guide!

Turkey makes the holidays even better!

And when it’s your turn to cook the turkey, you want it to turn out absolutely perfect!

holding a cooked turkey

When our family moved overseas to Cambodia, I didn’t have a mom or a grandmother oto cook our Thanksgiving turkey.

I had to learn fast how to cook he perfect turkey because I only had one chance to get it right!


Brine the turkey.

I know there are oodles of people who wan to skip this step, but I never do.

Brining my turkey gives me loads of juices to make an amazing homemade turkey gravy.

I use a mix of Alton Brown’s turkey gravy recipe and the Pioneer Woman’s turkey gravy with my drippings.

Brining the turkey also helps the turkey cook faster, which is a huge plus for me because I need those drippings to make the gravy.

Plus, I often has Thanksgiving for a large crowd, and I need the extra time to get the table set, candles lit, and everything visitor-friendly.

Here’s an article on brining the turkey. You’re so welcome!

Be generous with the butter.

Always buy more butter than you’ll think you’ll need for Thanksgiving.

Butter is in all the favorite dishes, so really stock up!

I’m normally sparing with butter, but not on Thanksgiving or Christmas!

We need rich flavor!

Butter goes under the skin and gets rubbed on top of the turkey too.

Buy a meat thermometer.

I always purchase the turkeys with the built in thermometer, but sometimes those break or they’re not accurate.

I’ve had two times in the past 8 years where my built-in thermometer was not giving me the accurate reading and I almost burnt my beloved turkey!

I learned to use a meat thermometer (like this one!) and trust the above the built-in, plastic one!

Make a Tent.

If you don’t cook your turkey in a bag, then make an aluminum foil tent.

Keeping your turkey covered until the last 20 minutes of baking keeps the juices in for a super moist turkey!

If you can use an oven bag, that makes it easy to see the turkey and keeps all the mess in one area!

cooked turkey in roasting pan


This is for all the cooks out there who want to go with the oven bag option. (You can purchase an oven bag here!)

I do recommend this option, but it’s not necessary to have an oven bag.

If you don’t have one, don’t sweat it! We’ll give you a recipe in option two!

Cooking Turkey Step 1: Preheat oven.

Place oven rack one level below center. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cooking Turkey Step 2: Remove turkey from packaging and rinse and pat dry.

If you brined the turkey already, rinse and pat dry as well.

Cooking Turkey Step 3: Prep turkey.

Remove neck and giblets from turkey.

Tuck wings under turkey. Season cavity of turkey with salt, garlic cloves, and chopped onions.

Cooking Turkey Step 4: Prepare butter mixture.

 In a small mixing bowl stir together butter, garlic, thyme, rosemary, sage, and a few dashes of salt and pepper.

Cooking Turkey Step 5: Rub softened butter under the skin of the turkey.

Using your hand, gently rub butter underneath the turkey’s skin. Get it all buttered up!

Cooking Turkey Step 6: Season.

Add a few more sprinkles of sage, thyme, Italian seasoning and garlic powder to the top and sides of the turkey.

We want this bird flavorful!

Cooking Turkey Step 7: Add flour to oven bag.

Add 1 Tbsp flour to the bag and shake.

Cooking Turkey Step 8: Place bag in roasting pan.

If you don’t have one, you can buy a disposable one form the store and place it on top of a large cookie sheet.

The turkey gets HEAVY after it’s cooked!

Cooking Turkey Step 9: Add veggies.

The following veggies to the bottom of your oven bag: 4 celery ribs, diced. 2 large onions, chopped, and two carrots, chopped.

Cooking Turkey Step 10: Add turkey to oven bag.

Place turkey over vegetable layer.

Cooking Turkey Step 11: Roast.

Bake until turkey registers 165 degrees in thickest portion of thigh and breast in several places.

Refer to times listed below for an estimate.

Cooking times vary based on how much the turkey weighs and if the turkey was brined or not.

Remember, a brined turkey cooks faster, so check it about one hour ahead of normal cooking time!

Cooking Times for Cooking Turkey in an Oven Bag

The following times are estimates only.

Test temperature to ensure it reaches 165 degrees in thickest portion of breast and thigh in several places for doneness.

This is crucial to prevent food poisoning!


10 – 12 pounds: 1 1/2 – 2 hours

12 – 16 pounds: 2 – 2 1/4 hours

16 – 20 pounds: 2 1/4 – 2 1/2 hours

20 – 24 pounds: 2 1/2 – 3 hours


10 – 12 pounds: 2 – 2 1/2 hours

12 – 16 pounds: 2 1/2 – 2 3/4 hours

16 – 20 pounds: 2 3/4 hours – 3 hours

20 – 24 pounds: 3 – 3 1/2 hours

Allow the turkey to rest 30 minutes after removing from oven.

This will allow the juices to drain.

Gently cut top of oven bag and place the turkey on a carving board.

Carve, serve, and use drippings for gravy!

carving the cooked turkey


Cooking Turkey Without Oven Bag Step 1: Remove thawed turkey from packaging and rinse and pat dry.

Using paper towels is the easiest solution for this!

Cooking Turkey Without Oven Bag Step 2: Remove the neck and the bag of giblets and discard.

You can also save these for gravy. 

Cooking Turkey Without Oven Bag Step 3: Season the insides of the turkey.

Season the cavity of the turkey with salt, pepper, garlic, sage, thyme, and rosemary.

Stuff the cavity with one chopped onion and four, peeled cloves of garlic.

Cooking Turkey Without Oven Bag Step 3: Prepare the turkey for roasting.

Tuck the wings of the turkey underneath and set the turkey on a roasting rack that’s inside a roasting pan.

You can also create a “roasting rack” with chopped celery, carrots, and onions!

Cooking Turkey Without Oven Bag Step 4: Get to rubbing!

Rub chunks of softened butter under the turkey’s skin.

This makes it flavorful and super moist! Once your done, give the outside of the turkey a minimal butter rub down.

Adding too much butter or oil on the top of the skin can make I brown too quickly.

Cooking Turkey Without Oven Bag Step 5: Make an aluminum foil “tent” for the turkey.

Cover the sides of the pan and make a tent over the turkey.

Make sure the foil is sprayed with non stick spray or you can wipe a tablespoon of butter on it to prevent it from sticking to the turkey’s skin.

Remove the tent the last 30 minutes of cooking.

Cooking Turkey Without Oven Bag Step 6: Now, roast!

Begin checking the turkey every half-hour at the two-hour mark.

Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh.

Cook until the thermometer reads 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

The average cooking time for turkeys is 3-4 hours.

Note about checking turkey’s temperature: If your turkey isn’t done the first time you take its temperature, wash the thermometer with soap and hot water before using it to take the turkey’s temperature again.

cooked turkey on table

Additional Cooking Turkey Tips:

Tips from our readers, because they’re the best!

“Add strips of raw bacon to the top of the turkey the last 30 minutes or you’re not cooking it in an oven bag. This gives extra flavor and prevent the turkey from getting dry!” — Sharon in CA

“My favorite version of a Thanksgiving turkey is literally rubbing the turkey in Duke’s mayonnaise like you lather up a toddler with sunscreen! It’s my favorite turkey I’ve ever made!” — Christy in SC

“My mother-in-law taught me to cook the turkey breast-side down. Dark meat is naturally moist. White meat is drier. Putting the breast meat in the juices moistens it SO well! It does NOT make for beautiful browned turkey pics, however!” — Rebecca in MI


Any tried and true turkey tips we left out?

Share them with us on our Facebook page or email us your tip and we’ll try to add it to the list!

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