By doing everything wrong over the years, I’ve found the best way to cook a turkey is to toss out everything you may have heard about the “right” things to do. High heat, upside down, no basting. These are the secrets to the best turkey you’ll ever eat. Keep reading to learn more!
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Best Way to Cook a Turkey – upside down, high heat, no basting!
I know this information might be shocking, but the best way to cook a turkey is not low and slow, breast side up. It does not require basting. (It doesn’t even require washing and patting the turkey dry, you guys!) These out-of-date methods make a dry and yucky turkey for your beautiful Thanksgiving table. If you want a delicious, crispy skinned turkey with divine meat, the best way to cook it is to start upside down, using high heat, and no basting. Bonus! Your turkey will cook quicker too.
In full disclosure, I learned this completely by accident. The first year I cooked the turkey for our huge family thanksgiving meal, I accidentally cooked it upside down. It was embarrassing at first because everyone laughed when they saw it. When they tasted the meat, however, it was immediately clear that cooking the turkey upside resulted in a better product. Here are more tips and tricks I’ve learned along the way about cooking turkeys.
To cook the best turkey, make sure you:
1. COMPLETELY THAW your frozen turkey
- 12-16 pounders need 3-4 days to thaw. (Put in fridge on Sunday or Monday BEFORE Thanksgiving.)
- 16-20 pounders need 4-5 days to thaw. (Put in fridge on Saturday or Sunday BEFORE Thanksgiving.)
- 20-24 pounders need 5-6 days to thaw. (Put in fridge on Friday or Saturday BEFORE Thanksgiving.)
2. Remove all innards (neck & giblet)!! You might laugh… but not everyone knows to do this.
3. Cut off all plastic pieces on the bird – ties holding legs together and the pop up timer. That dumb plastic timer doesn’t work anyway so get rid of it before cooking your turkey.
Now that you’ve done that, here’s the best way to cook a turkey!
Remove all extra racks in the oven, leaving only one in the lowest position. Pre-heat oven to 500 degrees a half hour before cooking time. Double and triple check that you have removed the turkey neck and bag of giblets, cut off any plastic ties that may be holding the legs together, and removed the pop up thermometer, if there is one.
Carefully, separate the skin from the turkey and spread melted butter under the skin. Then, brush the outside of the turkey with the remaining butter and season to taste with salt and pepper. A silicone basting brush makes spreading the butter easy. If you don’t want to use butter, feel free to use oil. It’s your call. You’ll probably want to tie the legs together with kitchen twine instead of inserting them in the skin as pictured above.
Place all vegetables and apple chunks in the turkey cavity.
Now bake that turkey
Place turkey breast side DOWN in a roasting pan. I forget to take a picture after I put it in the pan, so refer to the picture above for proper breast side DOWN position. Tuck the wing tips under the bottom of the turkey so they don’t over brown. Put water in pan around the bird but not over it; you don’t want to wash away the butter or seasoning.
Cook turkey at 500 degrees for 30 minutes. Then, turn oven down to 350 and cook for 1 1/2 more hours (without opening the oven). Turn the oven light on and check from time to time to make sure the turkey is not browning too much. If it is, loosely tent the turkey with foil. Realize, though, that every time you open the oven door, your turkey dries out a little more. That’s why basting does more harm than good. So really resist opening that door if you can help it.
Flipping the bird!
After the turkey has cooked for about 2 hours, take it out of the oven. Using silicon oven mitts, flip the bird breast side up so the breast can brown nicely. Now it’s time to insert the oven-safe remote thermometer in the thigh, without touching the bone. Make sure the wings are tucked underneath. Cook the turkey for 45 minutes to one hour longer, or how ever long it take for the meat thermometer to reach 165 degrees. (Just to reiterate, the turkey in the above picture is breast side UP).
The total cooking time ranges from 2 3/4 hours to 3 1/2 hours for a 12- 16 pound turkey. Add about 13 minutes more for each additional pound if your turkey is over 16 pounds.
If you don’t have an oven safe thermometer, you can use the stick variety too. Just realize that every time you open the oven to check the turkey, it’ll dry out the meat a little bit more. 🙁
Finally, when the turkey is fully cooked, remove from oven. Loosely tent with foil and let turkey rest for at least 30 minutes before carving. This is very important!! Don’t slice it for at least a half an hour.
Kitchen tools that make cooking a turkey very easy!
Best Way to Cook a Turkey Printable Directions
Yields 12-16 servings
The best way to cook a turkey! High heat, upside, no basting!
10 minPrep Time
3 hrCook Time
3 hr, 10 Total Time
- 1 12-16 pound turkey
- 1 carrot, chunked
- 1 stalk celery, chunked
- 1 onion, quartered
- 1 green apple, quartered
- 1/2 stick melted butter
- salt & pepper to taste
- ½ C. water
- Heat oven to 500 degrees.
- Remove the turkey neck and bag of giblets. Cut off any plastic ties that may be holding the legs together. Remove the pop up thermometer, if there is one.
- Place all your vegetables in the turkey cavity.
- Carefully, separate the skin from the turkey and rub half the butter under the skin.
- Rub the outside of the turkey with the remaining butter.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Place turkey breast side DOWN in a roasting pan.
- Put water in pan around the bird but not over it.
- Cook turkey at 500 degrees for 30 minutes, turn oven down to 350 and cook for 1 1/2 more hours.
- After the turkey has cooked for about 2 hours, remove from oven, carefully flip over so the turkey is now breast side UP. Insert a remote safe oven thermometer in the thigh, without touching the bone and continue cooking until the meat thermometer reads 165 degrees.
- Remove turkey from oven, cover loosely with foil and let rest for 30 minutes before serving.
- Carve & Enjoy!
Add about 13 minutes cooking time per additional pound of turkey over 16 pounds.
Now that you have figured out the best way to cook a turkey, here are some more options for delicious side dishes!
Have you tried cooking a turkey like this? I’d love to hear!