Thanksgiving: Everything you need to know to carve, brine, and cook a turkey

Cooking the turkey for Thanksgiving may arguably be the hardest part for some people. There are many steps that go into making in the perfect dinner for your family.

By following a few laid out steps, your family will be pleased with their meal.

Every year there seems to be new ways to prepare, whether it’s deep frying the bird, or brining it.

By having patience, taking your time, and following a few specific steps, you’ll have a great turkey in no time.

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How to prepare and cook the perfect Thanksgiving turkey

Most turkeys are sold frozen, so the first step is to thaw the bird ahead of time.

Take out the bags of giblets as soon as you can.

Per USDA recommendations, thaw the turkey in your fridge. The turkey needs one day per every 4-5 pounds to fully thaw.

If you waited too long, that’s okay. You can use the water method or microwave, but you need to be careful and pay close attention.




To thaw with cold water, change the water every thirty minutes for each pound of turkey. A 14 pound turkey will need the water changed every half hour for 7 hours.

You may also start to wet brine the turkey if it is not fully thawed.

To microwave thaw, double check the size of the turkey you can fit into your microwave as well as the minutes and power necessary.

You’ll need to pay attention and rotate your turkey to make sure no parts of it are cooking. If it starts to cook just let it sit for 5 minutes then put in cold water to stop the cooking process.

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If you have absolutely no time to thaw the turkey, it is safe by USDA standards to cook a frozen or partially frozen turkey. If fully frozen it will take 50% longer to cook, and you’ll need to check with a thermometer to be sure it’s at 165 degrees throughout the turkey.

Brining is also an option when preparing a turkey to cook ahead of time. This is salting the turkey.

Wet brining is soaking the turkey in a mixture of salt and other things like oranges and rosemary to soak into the turkey.

Dry brining is rubbing the salt and other things into the turkey.

This process will make the turkey tender and moist as well as help it cook faster.




Wet brining needs to happen in a bucket or pot large enough to hold the turkey fully submerged, and it needs to go in the fridge. Porches or garages are not suggested due to the potential for bacteria growth. The process can take a few hours to a few days.

Dry brining can be done in a pan with raised edges, and can sit for a few hours to three days. It needs to be kept in the fridge.

When preparing your turkey for the oven, you can rub olive oil or lard over the skin to get it crispier.

To cook the turkey, preheat your oven to 325 degrees. If your turkey is stuffed, add 30-45 minutes to the cook time.

Brining shaves off about a half hour of cook time.

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The following times are how long you need to roast the turkey based on weight, according to Better Homes and Gardens.

  • For 8- to 12-pound turkey, roast 2 ¾ to 3 hours.
  • For 12- to 14-pound turkey, roast 3 to 3 ¾ hours.
  • For 14- to 18-pound turkey, roast 3 ¾ to 4 ¼ hours.
  • For 18- to 20-pound turkey, roast 4 ¼ to 4 ½ hours.
  • For 20- to 24-pound turkey, roast 4 ½ to 5 hours.

Make sure to baste the turkey with its drippings every half hour as it cooks.

Aluminum foil can be used to protect parts of the bird from becoming burnt or dry.

Check the temperature to be sure it’s 165 degrees throughout, and cut to check that the meat is white. You can also microwave carved turkey after to be safe.

Finally, you can carve the turkey at the table if you have the space, or you can carve it ahead of time to serve on a platter.


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