How to Prepare a No-Fuss Thanksgiving Turkey

No Thanksgiving is complete with the perfect turkey as its centerpiece. When your friends and family gather around the table, a juicy and delicious turkey can make your Thanksgiving an extra special event to look forward to each year.

However, it can be challenging to prepare a Thanksgiving turkey because most of us don’t cook one except during the holiday season and don’t have much experience with a roasted turkey recipe. With a step-by-step guide and helpful tips, you can easily make the perfect Thanksgiving turkey for your family without any stress or hassle. 

Choose the Right Size Turkey 

The first thing to do when preparing a perfect Thanksgiving turkey is to choose the right size for your guests. You want to make sure that you calculate the right size turkey so that you have enough for everyone while not overshooting and getting too large a turkey. Too large of a turkey adds to the cooking time, which is already quite long, and could cause food wastage.

A good rule is to plan for 1-1.5 pounds of turkey per person. If you have 10 people visiting, a 10 to 15-pound turkey will suffice. If you want leftovers, add a few additional pounds, rounding it out to 20 pounds. Remember that it’s better to have too much than not enough, so if you’re debating between two sizes, go with the larger turkey. You can always send guests home with extras. 

Thaw Your Turkey Correctly

Most turkeys Americans buy for Thanksgiving come frozen to ensure they taste great and make it to everyone’s table without spoiling. To ensure your turkey is ready to cook and safe to eat on Thanksgiving, you must make sure you thaw your turkey correctly.  

The preferred method for thawing a turkey is in the refrigerator, but plan ahead because the thawing process can be lengthy and may take up a lot of room in your refrigerator, possibly already stuffed with Thanksgiving preparations.

Place your turkey, unopened, in the fridge with the turkey breast facing up. It’s a good idea to set the turkey in a container or use a baking sheet to catch any liquid that could drip from your turkey and make a mess in your refrigerator.

Plan for about one day of thawing per five pounds of turkey. Once your turkey is thawed, it is okay to sit in the fridge for up to two days before it must be cooked, or it risks spoiling. If you have a 20-pound turkey, you should start thawing four days ahead or on the Sunday before Thanksgiving.

Forgo Washing or Brining Your Turkey

Washing or brining your turkey isn’t necessary and adds more complications to the cooking process. Bringing is leaving your turkey in a salt bath for multiple hours or even days. It adds extra time and effort to the process that is already hard to balance with the many other tasks you will have while preparing for Thanksgiving. 

Choose to skip the washing and brining to simplify the process and focus your time on the cooking method to create a turkey that will be a Thanksgiving hit.

Skip the Stuffing

Another element that can create complications is trying to cook the stuffing inside of the turkey. While trying to get the stuffing to cook correctly, you risk overcooking the turkey and drying it out. Instead, cook your stuffing in a separate dish to ensure the turkey and stuffing are cooked properly. 

You can choose to stuff the turkey after the cooking process for serving purposes if you enjoy the traditional stuffing method.

Use a Casserole Dish

You might feel like you need to buy a new expensive roasting pan to get the perfect turkey. While this is an option, it isn’t necessary to achieve the perfect turkey. 

Instead, choose a large casserole dish that comfortably fits the turkey to get a great cook on the turkey without spending additional money on a tool you might use once each year.

Check Your Turkey’s Temperature

A critical part of cooking a turkey is checking the temperature of the turkey to ensure you have cooked it properly. Use an instant-read food thermometer on the thickest section of the turkey, typically the breast, to ensure that your turkey is safe to eat. 

Your turkey needs to reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees to be safe to eat, so make sure you monitor the temperature closely. If unsure about the temperature, test multiple places on your turkey to ensure it is cooked evenly.

Save the Drippings

After your turkey is finished cooking, don’t get rid of the juices that have accumulated at the bottom of your dish. Save your turkey’s drippings so you can make homemade turkey gravy. This gravy is much richer and more flavorful than a store-bought packet or packaged turkey stock.

Steps to Cooking a Hassle-Free Turkey

  1. Thaw your turkey. Following the five-pound-per-day rule, thaw the turkey in the fridge early enough that it is ready to cook on Thanksgiving day. On Thanksgiving morning, you can also thaw your turkey in its original wrapping in cold water. Just make sure you change the water every 30 minutes, so the turkey remains at a safe temperature.  
  2. Dry your turkey. Then, remove your turkey from the refrigerator one hour before cooking and let it come to room temperature on a cutting board or sheet pan. Remove the giblets from the cavity and pat the turkey dry with paper towels. If you use the cold water defrosting method, dry your turkey and cook it immediately. 
  3. Preheat your oven temperature to 325°. 
  4. Gather herbs and spices. Besides salt and pepper, some popular spices for turkeys include garlic powder, onion powder, and smoked paprika. Herbs can  impart a traditional and delicious flavor to your turkey. If you’re unsure what to use or want to stick to the classics, rosemary, thyme, and sage are all commonly used for Thanksgiving turkey.
  5. Create an herb butter. Add your herbs and seasonings to ½ a cup of softened or slightly melted butter to create an herb butter. After putting your turkey in your casserole dish, use a pastry brush or your fingers to coat the outside of the turkey in the herb butter. 
  6. Add additional flavor if wanted. If you want extra flavor, season the inside of the turkey with sliced lemons or onions. 
  7. Roast your turkey. Roast your turkey in the center of the oven, uncovered, for about 15 minutes per pound. If you have a 20-pound turkey, you’ll need to cook it for 4½ hours to 5 hours.
  8. Cover with foil halfway through. Halfway through your cooking time or when the turkey turns golden brown, cover it with aluminum foil to prevent overcooking the outer parts of the turkey.
  9. Check the temperature. Remove your turkey from the oven. After removing, the thickest part of the thigh is the best place to test the temperature with an instant read thermometer to ensure the turkey has been cooked to 165° at its thickest part.
  10. Rest the turkey. Let the turkey rest for 30 minutes before carving and serving.

Focus on Togetherness This Thanksgiving

Serve your delicious turkey with stuffing, mashed potatoes, turkey gravy, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, home-baked bread, pumpkin pie, and all your favorite side dishes. 

With a hassle-free Thanksgiving turkey, you can focus on what is really important on Thanksgiving. Make sure to take a break from cooking to spend quality time with your family by enjoying a delicious home-cooked meal.

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