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How to Cook and Prepare a Turkey

Nothing says holiday quite like a crispy-skinned, deep-browned roast turkey and Betty’s here to help you make it so! From oven to cutting board, learn how to prepare and cook a turkey like a pro.

Whether it’s your first time hosting the holidays, or you just need a quick review before this year’s feast, Betty’s got your back with all the details you need to prepare and cook a turkey to perfection.

Sure, you can deep fry, grill and even slow cook a turkey, but for the classic holiday meal we think roasting is best, so let’s dig in! Read on to delve into the delicious details.


Getting Started: Gather Your Tools


Once you have your turkey, it’s all about having the right equipment, especially if you’re just learning how to prepare and cook a turkey. We’ve got you covered with the following list:

  • A roasting pan with handles for easy lifting in and out of the oven
  • An ovenproof or instant-read meat thermometer
  • Aluminum foil to help keep your turkey warm while it rests after roasting
  • A sharp knife for carving (your best chef’s knife will do)
  • A cutting board, ideally with a groove for catching all the juices
  • A V-rack or other rack to lift the bird above the drippings
  • A basting brush
  • Cotton string for trussing

How to Prepare a Turkey

No matter if you plan to roast, slow cook, deep fry or grill your turkey, you’ll want to follow three basic prep steps: thaw the turkey, remove the giblets and season the turkey. We’ll dive into each step below.

Thaw the Turkey

Thawing your turkey in the fridge is usually the easiest and most efficient—make sure you plan ahead and have plenty of fridge space. It takes about 24 hours for every four to five pounds of turkey weight, meaning a 20-lb turkey can take up to five days to thaw in the refrigerator.  Keep in mind that brining adds two days, so your prep could begin up to seven days before the holiday meal. For more details about turkey thawing and a chart to help you figure out how much time your turkey will take, check out our article on How to Buy a Turkey.

Remove the Giblets


Inside the cavity of your bird, you will find the giblets—the neck and internal organs, including the heart, liver and gizzard. Often they’ll be packaged up in a little bag. It’s important to remove the giblets before cooking your turkey but you don’t have to waste them. Their flavor can be used to enrich gravy, stock or even stuffing. Check out these recipes to learn more: Giblets Gravy and Use-it-Up Turkey Stock.

Season the Turkey


While there are several ways of seasoning a turkey before cooking, our favorite method is wet brining—it’s the simplest way to infuse the turkey with flavor and keep the meat tender. Keep in mind, you must plan in advance to brine your turkey—get all the details in our How to Brine a Turkey article. If you don’t have time to brine, don’t fret, just rub your turkey all over with salt and pepper before cooking.

How to Cook a Turkey

Whether you’re first learning how to cook a turkey or you’re a seasoned pro, roasting is an easy way to get delicious results. After wet brining your turkey, follow Betty’s fail-safe recipe below. (Want to use those tasty turkey drippings for gravy? Betty has a fool-proof recipe for that too!)


  1. Heat oven to 325°F. Remove turkey from brine; discard brine. Thoroughly rinse turkey under cool running water, gently rubbing outside and inside of turkey to release salt. Pat skin and both interior cavities dry with paper towels.
  2. Fasten neck skin to back of turkey with skewer. Fold wings across back of turkey so tips are touching. Toss onion, carrot, celery and thyme with 1 tablespoon of the melted butter; place in turkey cavity.
  3. Place turkey, breast side down, on rack in large shallow roasting pan. Brush entire back side of turkey with 1 tablespoon melted butter. Turn turkey over. Brush entire breast side of turkey with remaining 1 tablespoon melted butter. Insert ovenproof meat thermometer so tip is in thickest part of inside thigh and does not touch bone. (Do not add water or cover turkey.)
  4. For an unstuffed 14 to 18 lb. whole bird, roast uncovered 3 hours 30 minutes to 4 hours, brushing twice with pan drippings during last 30 minutes of roasting.
    • Tip: To know exactly how long to cook a turkey, it’s best to use your turkey’s weight as a guide. The USDA website is a great resource for this information.

  5. Turkey is done when thermometer reads 165°F and drumsticks move easily when lifted or twisted. If a meat thermometer is not used, begin testing for doneness after about 3 hours. When turkey is done, place on warm platter and cover with aluminum foil to keep warm. Let stand about 15 minutes for easiest carving.
    • Tip: Check the turkey’s temperature in three different spots: the innermost part of the thigh (avoiding the bone), the innermost part of the wing and the thickest part of the breast.

How to Carve a Turkey

Anyone can master carving a turkey without any special equipment. All you need is your best chef’s knife, the one you use all the time—no fancy carving fork and knife necessary. A cutting board with a moat, or groove for catching liquids, running around its edge, can help contain the mess. Our article How to Carve a Turkey Like a Pro has all the details you need and If you’re just learning how to carve a turkey, follow these key tips:


  • Remember to let it rest! If you carve right away, the juices will run out, leaving your turkey drier than if you had waited. It also helps make carving easier.
  • Don’t carve your turkey at the table! That hot, juicy bird will make a mess of your tablecloth and put undue pressure on you, the one wielding the knife.

So there you have it, now you know how to prepare and cook a turkey—from the thawing to the carving! Whether this year is your first or fortieth time hosting, Betty’s here to help every step of the way. If you have more questions, be sure to leave a note below.