How to Make a Tender, Juicy and Gorgeous Roast Turkey with Ease: A Step-by-Step, No-Fail Guide From Thawing to Serving Your Turkey

by Marge Perry on November 14, 2012

Roasting a turkey looks and seems harder than it is. It is not often you have to deal with anything that big in the kitchen, or that takes that long to cook, or that is the center of so much attention.

I promise: it is easy. It doesn’t require much prep time, and the turkey does most of the work all by itself in the oven while you tend to family, friends and the rest of your menu.

How to Choose What Size Turkey You Should Buy

The starting point for figuring turkey size is 1 pound per person.  If you want lots of leftovers, add on from there. When I have 16 people at my table, I generally roast at least a 20-pounder so everyone gets take-home.

How to Thaw Your Turkey

There is really only one good way to thaw your turkey: in a roasting pan on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator. The pan will catch the liquid that seeps out as it thaws, and you keep it on the bottom shelf to ensure that liquid doesn’t spill on and contaminate other foods. Leave it in the wrapper while it thaws.

No matter how cold your garage or basement are, it is not safe to thaw your turkey in either place. The temperature fluctuates too much, which could lead to the formation of bacteria which could lead to some really sick guests. Don’t do it.

A rule of thumb for thawing a turkey in the refrigerator: you need 24 hours thawing time for every 4-5 pounds of turkey.

12- 16 pound turkey thaws in…. 3-4 days

16-20 pound turkey thaws in…..4-5 days

20-24 pound turkey thaws in…..5-6 days

It is better to allow one extra day, because there is no harm if the turkey is fully thawed and refrigerated for two days before you roast it, and you don’t want to cook a turkey that isn’t completely thawed. (If you do, by the time the innermost frozen part is cooked through, the rest will be overcooked and dry.)

Turkey Roasting Pan and Rack

Cheap roasting racks aren’t worth the money– but you don’t have to spend a fortune to get a good one. Buy a decent one once in your life: the truth is, you won’t use it as often as you use other pots and pans, and it really will last.

I looked around for one to recommend to you.  My criteria is: it should be heavy and durable (otherwise you will get scorching on the bottom), wide enough to fit a really big turkey (at least 12-inches) and about 16-inches long. I want a surface that really comes clean– either a heavy duty anodized (non-stick) that can withstand high oven temperatures or stainless.  We work with Meyer Corporation, the company responsible  for Anolon, Circulon, Farberware and Kitchenaid pots and pans, (we provide recipes and pretty pictures for their web sites); I checked there first to see if they still make my Circulon roaster, which they sent us years ago and which we love. Sadly, they don’t. So this is now my pan of choice, which you can get from Amazon.

Many roasting pans come with a v-rack, but I don’t like them. They have a tendency to stick to the sides of the turkey and  tear the gorgeous crisp skin. I set an old flat rack inside my pan. (By the way, this is really a matter of opinion, My husband likes the v-rack– but he is just wrong :) ). I use a rack so the sides brown and the bottom doesn’t get soggy. (Without a rack, the sides tend to steam). Coat the rack with cooking spray– not only because it will be easier to wash, but because that way it won’t stick and tear the flesh.

How to Prep Your Big Bird for Cooking

Start by cleaning out your sink; make sure your sponge is not sitting in it. Place the bird, still in the wrapper, in the sink; cut the wrapper off. Stick your hand in the bird, first from one end and then the other, and remove the neck, giblets, bag-o-stuff: whatever you find that is loose. Set giblets, neck, etc aside if you are going to use it for stock or soup. (You can also freeze all of it in a zip top bag.) Rinse the inside of the bird and drain out the water. Transfer it to a clean board and pat dry with paper towels. Trim off the excess fat, and then follow this recipe, with explicit directions, which includes a step-by-step illustrated guide to taking the bird’s temperature. Taking the temperature is the single most important thing you do to ensure the bird is moist, tender, juicy– and safe to eat.

How to Transfer the Turkey from the Pan to the Carving Board

Let the turkey rest about 30 minutes in the pan after you take it out of the oven. You needn’t cover it: doing so can cause your crisp skin to steam and not be as crisp.

When you are ready to carve the bird, place a wooden spoon handle (or any long, straight spatula handle) into the breast cavity, and another in the cavity from the opposite end. You’ve formed a rod with the two handles; use it to lift the bird out of the pan and onto the carving board.

How to Carve Your Turkey (with step-by-step photos!)

Click here for an easy to follow, illustrated guide to carving your turkey.

Stay tuned for side dish and dessert recipes, and click here for detailed instructions on how to plan your menu and your time– and how to get the timing right to get all the food on the table warm and at the same time (without stressing out)

I think that covers it. When it comes to eating the bird (the only part of this I don’t think I covered) you are on your own. Oh, and clean-up is all yours, too. (Unless you have teenage or older kids, and then it can be their job.)

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

laurie November 14, 2012 at 3:49 pm

thank you thank you thank you. i’ve been stressing about my meal . now- i’m golden!


Debbie Mitchell November 15, 2012 at 8:54 pm

Thanks. Just what I was looking for.


Yvonne Rocha November 21, 2012 at 11:56 pm

Yes I want to thank you for ur recipes I just lost my mom 10/08/12 and we allways went to my mom,s house for every holiday and I was.nt gonna make a turckey this year but my DAD said lets just do thanksgiving in Honor of my MOM oh how I wish I knew her recipe cause her turckey was allways so tender …so I again thank you so much you are a blessing…Happy thanksgiving to you all and ur family,s…..???


Marge November 23, 2012 at 11:58 am

I hope that for this, your first Thanksgiving without your Mom, you and your Dad could be there for each other. It was also my first Thanksgiving without my Mom, and it was very difficult in many ways– but my sisters and my Dad (not to mention all our husbands and kids) were great support for each other. It didn’t make me miss my Mom any less– maybe a little more, because I would have loved to say, “Hey look, Mom, how we are all holding each other up”. But it did make me so appreciate the love we all have for each other– and how special and sacred that is.
I hope you had a meal that gave you some pleasure, and that during this first holiday you could find some happy memories and some laughter, even if those feelings were only fleeting.
I am so very sorry for what you must be going through right now. My thoughts are with you and your father.


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