Top Turkey Tips Hero

Top Turkey Tips

Whether it’s your first time hosting or you’re a seasoned pro, you probably already know that the secret to a delicious Thanksgiving dinner is in a little planning and lot of patience. From preparation to presentation, we’ve put together a few helpful turkey tips that’ll make this year’s celebration the tastiest one yet.


How Big of a Turkey Do I Need?

Plan Hero
Plan Hero

Figure you’ll need about 1 pound of turkey per person, or 1½ pounds if you want leftovers (and who doesn’t?). If you only need enough turkey for 2-3 people, consider a breast rather than a whole bird.

Should I Get a Fresh or Frozen Turkey?

This choice is about timing. Frozen turkey needs to thaw in the refrigerator 1 day for every 5 pounds. This means a 20-pound turkey will take 4 days to thaw.

If you need to thaw your turkey faster, submerge it, wrapped, in cold water. If it’s not fully submerged, rotate the turkey every 30 minutes or so, and change the water every 30 minutes to keep it cold. Using this method, you’ll need at least 30 minutes per pound to completely thaw a whole turkey.


How to Prepare a Turkey

There’s no need to rinse the turkey, but you will want to remove the giblets before prep. The giblets can be cooked separately, used for gravy or simply discarded.

Some cooks like to season the turkey using a wet brine method. To do this, fill a large bucket or tub with a saltwater solution that’s been infused with aromatic herbs and spices such as rosemary, black peppercorns, bay leaves and sage. Submerge the turkey in the saltwater and let it sit 8-24 hours at a temperature of no more than 40°F to ensure food safety. If you can’t fit it into the fridge, put it in an extra-large cooler and monitor the temperature regularly. Pat dry with paper towels before roasting.

Dry brining is an easier, quicker option. Pat the turkey dry with paper towels, then top with a mixture of kosher salt, herbs and spices. Sprinkle your turkey seasoning mixture inside the turkey cavity, too. Refrigerate for 12-24 hours before roasting.


How to Roast a Turkey in the Oven

Before roasting, rub softened butter under and over the skin to achieve a beautifully golden and crispy coating. If you don’t have a rack that sits in your pan, make one by forming foil into a rope shape and coiling it, or simply place the turkey over a bed of carrots, celery, onions and garlic. Roast the turkey at 325°F for about 20 minutes per pound, until a meat thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the turkey, close to but not touching the thigh bone, reads 165°F. Remove the turkey from the oven and let it rest for at least 30 minutes to allow the juices to redistribute. Cover it loosely with foil to keep it warm.

Though oven-roasting is traditional, it’s not the only way to get a flavorful turkey! Check out these creative ways to prepare your bird this year:

Oven-roasted: Savory and sophisticated, caramelized shallots and white wine add layers of flavor to this Wine and Shallot Roasted Turkey Breast.

Smoked: Smoky and savory flavors are balanced out by the sweetness of cranberries in this tasty Smoked Turkey Breast with Cranberry Pan Sauce.

Air fryer: The air fryer gives these sweet and savory Brown Sugar and Herb Turkey Drumsticks crispy skin and fall-off-the-bone tenderness.

Grilled: With a rich, smoky flavor, nothing quite compares to Kentucky’s Best Bourbon and Hickory Grilled Turkey.

Expert Tips Hero
Expert Tips Hero

Start with a large cutting board and an electric knife or sharp chef’s knife. The quickest way to carve a turkey is by breaking it down piece by piece. First, remove the legs and thighs. Next, carve each breast by using long, clean strokes and cutting against the grain. Separate the bird into two halves by slicing along the natural separation, then remove the wings and any remaining meat.

How to Add Garnishes
Whether you present your turkey whole or carved and plated, garnishes will add a picturesque finish. Surround the turkey with leafy greens (watercress and arugula work well) or add colorful fruits like apples, oranges, pomegranates, cranberries or lemons. Shelled nuts and sprigs of fresh herbs also make for an attractive spread.

How to Make Gravy
Making your own gravy is simple. First, make a thickened paste, known as a roux, by whisking together about ¼ cup of pan drippings with ¼ cup of flour. Continue heating a few minutes to “toast” the flour. Whisk in 2 cups of liquid, like stock, juices from the turkey, white wine or sherry, milk or cream, until thick and smooth, then season with salt and pepper. Check out our full collection of gravy recipes for more techniques.

Don’t Forget the Stuffing
Thanksgiving side dishes are just as important as the bird, and the most iconic of them all is the stuffing. When making stuffing, include delicious extras like toasted pine nuts, pecans, currants, dried cherries, golden raisins, chopped apple, cranberries, bacon bits or crumbled sausage. For stuffing inspiration, check out our wide collection of stuffing recipes.

Head to our Turkey Shop to grab everything you need for your turkey day celebration, and check out our turkey page for even more helpful cooking tips, recipes and more. Have a happy Thanksgiving!

Gravy Hacks for Thanksgiving

Give your ready-made gravy a flavor boost when you add these delicious traditional ingredients.