We're sharing the fundamental rules for getting a beautiful, golden bird.

By Jennifer Anderson
October 22, 2019

No matter how many Thanksgiving dinners you've cooked or eaten, no matter how many birds you've bought, thawed, brined, seasoned, buttered, basted, stuffed, or spatchcocked, there's no escaping those nagging questions, "Am I doing it right?" and "Is there a better way to roast a turkey?" Certain styles of cooking turkey come into fashion and fall out of favor, only to return every few years. Deep-frying was all the rage for a few years, then it was brining, then upside-down roasting. But what do trends have to do with juicy, flavorful turkey? As it turns out, very little. There's more than one way to roast a turkey, and as long as you follow a few fundamental rules, you can still use your favorite turkey recipe.

Marcus Nilsson

Related: Choose an Easy Turkey Recipe for this Thanksgiving

Choose Your Seasoning Method (Just Don't Skip It!)

Don't skip the seasoning! Whether you go with wet brining, dry brining, a spice rub just before cooking, or the simple, tried-and-true combo of butter, salt, and pepper, the time to start adding flavor is before the turkey goes into the oven.

Dry the Skin

For turkey skin that's toasty golden brown—the kind of crispy skin that's just begging to be snitched and nibbled while you're carving—you need to dry every surface thoroughly before the bird goes in the oven. Employ plenty of paper towels or clean cotton dishcloths to soak up the liquid—or take your inspiration from New Yorker food correspondent Helen Rosner and use a hair dryer to evaporate every last drop of moisture from your turkey's nooks and crannies.

Don't Go Cold Turkey

Remove the bird from the refrigerator and allow to sit out at room temperature for at least an hour before it goes in the oven. (Don't worry, the hot oven temperatures will kill off any bacteria that grows on the meat's surface.) If you put an ice-cold bird in the oven, the skin will burn well before the meat is cooked through. By letting it warm up a little bit, the turkey will cook more evenly.

If You Must Stuff…

A stuffed turkey will cook less evenly, will require longer in the oven than one without stuffing, and it poses a food safety risk (the danger being that the stuffing, full of raw turkey juices, will not reach a safe temperature even after the meat is cooked). However, for some families, it's just not Thanksgiving if the stuffing hasn't been cooked inside the bird. If this is you, follow these three rules: First, wait until right before the turkey goes into the oven to add the stuffing. Next, don't pack the stuffing too tightly, or it won't get hot enough. Last, check the stuffing's temperature with a meat thermometer. Don't serve it until it has reached 165 degrees F.

Legs First

The dark meat takes longer to cook than the white meat. Since the back of the oven is hotter than the front, place your turkey in the oven legs-first.

Use a Thermometer

The only way to be sure that bird is perfectly cooked—not raw, not dried-out, but just right—is to use an instant-read meat thermometer. Insert the thermometer probe into the thickest part of the thigh, away from the bone. Take the turkey out of the oven when the thigh meat reaches 165 degrees F.

Let It Rest

After the turkey comes out of the oven, cover it loosely with foil and allow it to rest for 30 minutes. Resting is actually the final phase of roasting: the internal temperature will continue to rise and the juices retreat from the surface, settling back into every part of the meat. While the turkey rests, keep yourself busy by making gravy.

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