Turkey 101


It’s best to thaw your turkey in a refrigerator that’s 40 degrees or cooler. A good rule of thumb is to allow 24 hours of thawing time for every 4 to 5 pounds of turkey.

If you’ve run out of time, you can defrost the turkey in a sink filled with cold water. Thaw the turkey breast side down, in its unopened wrapper, in enough cold water to cover it completely. Change the water frequently to keep the turkey chilled. Estimate a minimum thawing time of 30 minutes per pound for a whole turkey.
The benefit of brining? You will end up with a moist flavorful turkey.
The downside of brining? You will need a large space in the fridge to put the turkey in the bag of liquid and the process is somewhat messy. The drippings will be too salty to use for gravy.

Don’t brine a kosher turkey; it has already been salted.

Serves 10 to 12
1 turkey (12 to 15 pounds), giblets and neck reserved for gravy, outer wing joint cut off and reserved for gravy
3 tablespoons kosher salt

Gently separate the turkey skin from the meat on the breast, legs and thighs without breaking the skin. Rub 1 tablespoon salt evenly inside the cavity of the turkey, 1 ½ teaspoons under the skin of each breast and 1 ½ teaspoons under the skin of each leg/thigh. Wrap the turkey in plastic wrap or tightly in a plastic bag and chill for 24 to 36 hours. Pat very dry and proceed with the roasting recipe.
If the turkey is frozen, thaw in the refrigerator or a sink of cold water (see procedure above).
Should the Turkey Be Rinsed?
Raw poultry shouldn’t be rinsed, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The reason is that when you rinse, you risk contaminating the sink and everything around it with salmonella bacteria.

But, if you’d rather rinse off the juices, you can. You just must clean the sink, countertop — everything else that has come into contact with the raw turkey — with soap and hot water, and then follow that with a little bleach.

To Stuff or Not to Stuff?
It’s safer not to stuff the turkey. The internal temperature of turkey and stuffing should both reach at least 165 degrees. So, if you let the stuffing get to that temperature inside the turkey, the bird temperature will probably already be up to 175 degrees, which means the meat will be overcooked and dry.


Some people really prefer the taste of stuffing that has been cooked inside the turkey. If you’re one of them and the stuffing has not reached 165F inside the turkey when you take the turkey out, just scoop out the stuffing and put it in a shallow baking dish. Cover it and bake it until it has reached an internal temperature of 165F.

Do not purchase prestuffed turkeys. You should stuff the bird right before it’s cooked, and stuffing ingredients should be precooked.

What is the Turkey Roasting Procedure?
Preheat oven to 325 F. Arrange an oven shelf in the lower third of the oven. Remove the neck and giblets from the body cavity of the turkey, reserving them for turkey broth (see turkey broth recipe below). Drain the juices and pat the bird dry inside and out.

If stuffing, stuff right before roasting (see basic stuffing recipe below) and return legs to tucked position.

Arrange the turkey breast side up in a rack (preferably a v-rack), set in a heavy large roasting pan. Melt a stick of butter and brush the turkey all over with one third of the butter. Season with salt and pepper and cover the whole turkey loosely with foil. Pour two cups of chicken broth into the bottom of the roasting pan and roast the turkey in the lower third of the oven for 1 hour. Uncover and baste with another third of the butter, pour 2 cups of water into the bottom of the roasting pan. Recover the turkey and roast until approximately half way through the total cooking time. Uncover the turkey, baste with the remaining butter and roast, uncovered, until a thermometer when inserted in the thickest part of the leg thigh joint reaches 165 F. Add more water to the pan if all the juices in the bottom dry up.

Transfer the turkey to a platter, leaving the drippings in the pan for the gravy (see gravy recipe below) and cover the turkey loosely with foil. Let the turkey rest for at least 20 minutes, preferably 30 minutes before carving.

How Can You Tell When the Turkey Is Done?
The turkey must be cooked to a temperature of 165 degrees. Read the temperature of the turkey by inserting a thermometer into the leg/ thigh joint. The temperature will rise to 175 degrees with resting time.

Here’s a guide, by weight, of turkey cooking times (at 325 degrees). This guide comes from the USDA. I recommend that you check your turkey for doneness a full 30 minutes before the earlier times on this chart.

  • Eight to 12 lbs: 2 ¾ to 3 hours (unstuffed); 3 to 3 ½ hours (stuffed).
  • Twelve to 14 lbs: 3 to 3 ¾ hours (unstuffed); 3 ½ to 4 hours (stuffed).
  • Fourteen to 18 lbs: 3 ¾ to 4 ¼ hours (unstuffed); 4 to 4 ¼ hours (stuffed).
  • Eighteen to 20 lbs: 4 ¼ to 4 ½ hours (unstuffed); 4 ¼ to 4 ¾ hours (stuffed).
  • Twenty to 24 lbs: 4 ½ to 5 hours (stuffed); 4 ¾ hours to 5 ¼ hours (stuffed).

The turkey should rest for 20 to 30 minutes.
If you loosely cover the turkey with foil, it will remain hot for up to one hour.

Resting allows the turkey to finish cooking. If you carve the turkey right after it’s cooked, without allowing it to rest, the juices will run out and the bird will be dry.

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13 Responses to Turkey 101

  1. Clyde says:

    Thank you chef Sara M. Much help over the past few years. Now that chef Julia is resting, and chef Jacques is semi retired, I appreciate your guidance in the kitchen. Happy holidays from north east pa.

  2. Caroline T says:

    Hi Sara,
    Love your show. You always cook good common sense food that is both
    Tasty and nourishing. Some of the gourmet cooking others cook is frankly inedible!

    Thanks! You’re great.

  3. Lydia says:

    I have been watching your shows and cooking your recipes for so many years. Thanks for providing a trusted resource and a source of inspiration.

  4. Chrystie says:

    Dear Sara,
    Love your friendly, down to earth, easy to follow directions. Your instructions are always informative, and leave nothing to chance. Thank you for your gifts and for sharing them with the home cook.

  5. I cooked the turkey using the dry brine method. I was only able to brine turkey for 12 hours and it was still the best turkey I ever cooked. I never ate turkey skin before but that was my “appetizer” while carving.

    • moulton says:

      So glad to hear this! Also, that is why I always carve the turkey in the kitchen, so I can be alone with the turkey skin. Nobody will no it a little goes missing…

  6. Martha M says:

    Have watched your show and love your nonsense recipes and tips. Every year, I feel uncertain of how to cook the turkey so that it’s moist and tasty. Early this morning, I took your Turkey 101 tutorial and never knew about the dry brine. Following your steps, I look forward to a wonderful bird! Thank you!

  7. Wray says:

    It says “see gravy recipe below”, but alas no recipe below.

  8. I used this recipe twice a year and it’s perfect!!

  9. MARTY PERSKY says:

    I happened to catch the wishbone removal before carving trick and visited your website. Turkey 101 explains how to avoid every issue my “shooting from the hip” method has caused over the decades. This year our turkey is destined to be prefect. Thanks so much!

  10. Leah says:

    Dear Ms. Mouton,
    Every year I come back to your television reruns or your cookbook to refresh my memory and arm my amateur culinary skills with all of your sound, sage advice from Turkey 101. It is a comfort to know your words and wisdom are there helping me navigate in the kitchen, during what can be a stressful time, guiding me with your simple and straightforward common sense approach to holiday cooking.
    Thank you so much for your love and passion for cooking and sharing all that you have gleaned over your kitchen experiences. May I wish you and your family and wonderful and tasty holiday season.
    With gratitude, leah

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