Thanksgiving Part 2 of 2

11/26/2019 - 12:59:03 PM

A few years ago the tradition of Thanksgiving dinner fell onto my plate. I went from going to a relatives house with a veggie dish to cooking a complete meal for 18 people. I was terrified to say the least. I always considered myself a decent cook but I had ALOT on the line. I asked my mother, my mother in law, friends, and the internet and what I found out is that no one person cooks a turkey the same. Each person has their own twist or special step that they believe makes the turkey the juiciest, the crispest etc. Of course, there are different methods, Brine or no Brine, Oven Roasted or Deep Fried...I tired many over the last few years and from my family and friends, traditional oven roasted has always come back to be the winner. Below is a fool proof recipe that I have found and has not disappointed. However you make your Turkey, Lasagna, or other Entrée, here is to a Happy and Blessed Thanksgiving from my family to yours.

Special Thanks to Julie Espy for the recipe!

You’ll be the talk of your family’s holiday get-togethers with this easy to make turkey recipe! Don’t forget the sides – you have to have Make Ahead Mashed Potatoes and Green Bean Casserole, right?!

If you want to make the Best Thanksgiving Turkey Recipe this year, Learn how to cook a turkey with this easy recipe.

Making this Thanksgiving turkey recipe for the first time? Be sure to read our FAQs at the end of this post! 

There’s something magical about the holidays; seeing friends and family, sharing some much needed quality time, and the food. Oh, the food! There is always a table lined with food beckoning everyone to eat, drink, and be merry! The quintessential Thanksgiving main course is a turkey here in the states and today I’m showing you how to cook a turkey that is flavorful and moist and that will have everyone raving!


I remember the first Thanksgiving dinner I hosted – it was my first time making a whole turkey. It was just a few short years ago and I was SO nervous – I didn’t know how to cook a turkey! What if the bird came out dry? What if it wasn’t cooked all the way through?

I had a friend give me some words of encouragement and remind me that a turkey is basically a really big chicken, and I had roasted LOTS of chickens before. So I did some research and after finding tons of different ways to make the “perfect” turkey recipe, I decided to combine a few methods. The turkey was edible and I felt accomplished.

The Best Thanksgiving Turkey Recipe


Since learning how to cook a turkey, I’ve made whole turkeys almost every year at Thanksgiving. I’ve basted. I’ve brined. I’ve rubbed.

If you’re thinking about brining your turkey, and don’t mind getting up at 2 am to start it, go for it! The turkey recipe I used that year was crazy good. However, lots of butter paired with a great dry rub and aromatics has become my favorite flavoring system.

The real secret to this bird is the foil. Placing aluminum foil over the turkey breast helps dissipate some of the heat. Since dark meat takes longer to cook than the light meat, this method lets the thighs and legs get their roast on while the breast gently cooks. Once the foil comes off, everything cooks at the same pace and that gorgeous golden skin forms. This turkey recipe is juicy and super flavorful!


If your turkey is frozen, you will need to completely defrost it in the refrigerator before you even remove any of the packaging. Place your bird in a deep roasting pan in the fridge to catch any juices that may run out.

Resist the urge to thaw in your kitchen sink as this can encourage harmful bacteria to spread. Be sure to start defrosting the turkey a few days before you need to cook it. To determine the actual time needed, using the handy calculator linked in the FAQs below.

Once your turkey is fully defrosted, you can prep it for roasting using the recipe below. Allow the bird to come close to room temperature once prepped to help it to cook evenly.


These instructions are for how to cook a 12 pound turkey in the oven. If your bird is bigger or smaller, you will need to adjust the time based on the instructions provided below. Scroll down to the printable recipe card for the full instructions.

  1. Preheat your oven. We start with the oven at 325 degrees Fahrenheit, keeping it low and slow for 2 hours, then cranking it up to 400 for the remaining time to get that juicy meat and crispy skin.
  2. Rack it up. Place the seasoned turkey in a roasting pan with a rack at the bottom to keep the turkey raised up and not sitting in the juices.
  3. Cover. Cut a piece of foil large enough to cover the turkey breasts. Press it down and mold the foil to the shape of the breasts. This will keep the breasts from drying out. You’ll remove it before the turkey is finished cooking to brown the skin.
  4. Roast the turkey in the oven at 325 degrees for 2 hours, adding an additional 15 minutes for each additional pound. Then turn the heat up to 400 degrees, remove the foil and roast until the turkey reaches the optimal temperature. Use our handy guide below to adjust the time.

How long to cook a turkey

One of the most frequent questions we get is: How long do I cook a 16, 18 or 13 pound turkey?  The basic recipe below is for a 12 pound bird, which is a fairly average size. But what is your bird is bigger or smaller than that? Never fear, we’ve done the math for you!

If your turkey is bigger than 10 pounds, you will add 15 minutes per pound at the 325 degree cooking time. The temperature increase at the end does not change. Here is a handy list of how long to cook your turkey at different weights:

  • 10 pounds: 1 hour 30 minutes at 325 degrees; 1 hour at 400 degrees.
  • 12 pounds:12 hours at 325 degrees; 1 hour at 400 degrees.
  • 14 pounds: 2 hours, 30 minutes at 325 degrees; 1 hour at 400 degrees.
  • 16 pounds: 3 hours at 325 degrees; 1 hour at 400 degrees.
  • 18 pounds: 3 hours, 30 minutes at 325 degrees; 1 hour at 400 degrees.

Best Thanksgiving turkey recipe | How to cook a turkey | Side view of a cooked turkey.

Tips, Tricks & FAQs for this Turkey Recipe:

Every year we get lots of questions for how to cook a turkey so we’ve put them all in one place. Hopefully these helpful hints will take the guesswork out of cooking your Thanksgiving turkey!


  • How long do you thaw a turkey? Place the frozen turkey in the refrigerator. You’ll need to allow about 24 hours for each 4 to 5 pounds of frozen turkey you plan to thaw in the fridge. Check out this handy online calculator to determine how long it will take to defrost your frozen turkey.
  • How many pounds of turkey do I need? If you are the family who wants leftovers, I recommend 2 pounds per adult and about half a pound per child. Cut that if half if you don’t want leftovers. I personally think leftovers are awesome, because you can make Turkey Tetrazzini or Turkey and Stuffing Casserole.
  • Do I have to use the onions inside the turkey? Nope! You can stuff your bird or don’t stuff it. The onions and garlic absolutely do help give a nice flavor boost though.
  • My turkey is 16 pounds, do I increase the seasoning? You could add a little extra seasoning, but it won’t change the flavor too much.


  • Why increase the temperature for the last hour? Increasing the temperature during only the last hour helps the skin to get nice and crispy, without drying out the meat.
  • What temperature should I cook the turkey to? The most important thing to remember is to adjust the time for the weight of your bird. Use an instant-read meat thermometer to check the internal temperature of the meat to make sure the breast and legs both reach 165 degrees F. Those are absolute basics. The actual length of time it takes to reach the correct temperature will depend on the temperature of the bird before cooking, its size, and your oven temperature.
  • Why do you cover the breasts with foil? The foil over the bird thing is a trick I picked up from watching Alton Brown. It helps make sure the breast meat doesn’t get overcooked. Dark meat takes longer to cook than light meat and the foil helps deflect a little of the heat to slow the cooking of the breast slightly. That’s the one “trick” I stand by.

There are TONS of posts saying theirs is the best or they know the “secret” to a perfect bird, but this recipe is tried and true at my house and has always produced a gorgeous, juicy bird. So I stand by it. Just remember, a turkey is like a really, really big chicken. You can do it!

The Best Thanksgiving Turkey Recipe - and easy too! Learn how to cook a turkey with this easy recipe.

My Favorite Thanksgiving Side Dishes

Your Thanksgiving turkey may be the best ever, but you’re still going to need to fill some supporting roles. Here are some of our favorite Thanksgiving sides that will compliment your turkey in the best way!




Don’t forget the Easy Turkey Gravy!

Hosting Thanksgiving this year? Be sure to check out our tips for keeping it simple and looking like a pro HERE.

Watch How to Cook a Turkey:

You'll be the talk of your family's holiday get togethers with this easy to make Best Thanksgiving Turkey Recipe!

Best Thanksgiving Turkey Recipe

You'll be the talk of your family's holiday get-togethers with this easy to make Best Thanksgiving Turkey Recipe!
5 from 4 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Main
Servings: 12 people
Calories: 454kcal
Author: Julie Kotzbach


  • 12 pound turkey thawed
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter cut into 1 Tablespoon pats
  • 1 1/2 yellow onions peeled and halved
  • 4 garlic cloves peeled

Dry Rub:

  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried sage
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground mustard


  • Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F.
  • In a bowl, combine the salt, thyme, sage, paprika, pepper, and ground mustard until evenly incorporated.
  • Remove the turkey from its packaging. From the bird's cavity, remove the neck and the bag containing the gizzards and heart. (You can keep these items to make stock or discard them.)
  • Use a few paper towels to dry off the skin of the bird and inside the cavity.
  • Lift the skin over the turkey breast (on the side closest to the legs) and slide your hand under the skin separating it from the breast meat. Do this on both sides of the breast.
  • Insert three pats of butter under the skin on one side fo the turkey breast spreading them around evenly. Repeat on the other side.
  • Sprinkle the dry rub all over the turkey - breast, legs, wings, anything you can see. Using your hands press the rub into the skin a little. If you have any extra rub sprinkle it inside the cavity.
  • Place the onion halves and garlic cloves inside the turkey's cavity.
  • Transfer the bird to your roasting pan. (I like to use a pan with a rack to keep the bottom of the turkey from getting soggy.)
  • Take a good sized piece of foil and place it over the turkey breast. (You want to make sure to the foil piece is big enough to fit over the whole breast.) Press down and mold the foil to the breast., let the ends stick out if the foil's a bit big.
  • Place the turkey in the oven and roast for 2 hours. Carefully remove the foil from the turkey. Increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees and cook the turkey for another hour, or until the internal temperature of the breast reaches 165 degrees F and the skin is golden and crispy.
  • Remove the turkey from the oven and let it rest briefly before carving.



This recipe is for a 12 pound bird. You will add 15 minutes per pound at the 325 degree cooking time. The temperature increase at the end does not change. Here is a handy list of how long to cook your turkey at different weights:
  • 10 pounds: 1 hour 30 minutes at 325 degrees; 1 hour at 400 degrees.
  • 12 pounds: 2 hours at 325 degrees; 1 hour at 400 degrees.
  • 14 pounds: 2 hours, 30 minutes at 325 degrees; 1 hour at 400 degrees.
  • 16 pounds: 3 hours at 325 degrees; 1 hour at 400 degrees.
  • 18 pounds: 3 hours, 30 minutes at 325 degrees; 1 hour at 400 degrees.
If you have questions, please be sure to read the entire post - we answer lots of questions and offer tons of helpful tips and tricks!


Calories: 454kcal | Protein: 70g | Fat: 18g | Saturated Fat: 5g | Cholesterol: 232mg | Sodium: 361mg | Potassium: 721mg | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 180IU | Calcium: 35mg | Iron: 3mg

About Julie Espy

Food nerd. Cocktail enthusiast. Carboholic. Bacon addict. Basset nuzzler. Boy mom. Come eat something delicious with me on my website, Bread Booze

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