How to Cook a Christmas Turkey

A turkey is an easy and classic main course to serve that can feed the whole family

Christmas dinner is one of the highlights of the holiday season.

Besides opening presents on Christmas morning, Christmas dinner is one of the highlights of the holiday season. It’s a time for families and friends to come together and enjoy a meal sitting around the table. What you serve is special and takes thought to prepare and serve. A turkey is an easy and classic main course to serve that can feed the whole family.

Click here to see teh How to Carve a Perfect Turkey (Slideshow)

The first step is to brine your fresh (not frozen) turkey. This involves soaking the turkey in a salty solution long enough for the salt to infiltrate the flesh, resulting in a juicer and tastier turkey. You can buy ready-made brining solutions or make your own. First, remove the innards (you can save these to make a broth for the stuffing: put into a saucepan, cover with water, add salt, and simmer for about an hour). Place the turkey (breast side down) into the brine solution, making sure the cavity gets filled. Place in a brining bag, seal tightly, and place in the refrigerator overnight.

Remember to handle raw turkey with caution. Be sure to always use separate cutting boards and utensils and avoid contact with other foods. Wash your hands with soap and warm boards and utensils and avoid contact with other foods.

An hour before roasting, take the turkey out of the refrigerator and place in the roasting pan to dry and take the chill off the meat. This helps the turkey cook faster and promotes even browning and crisping.

Since stuffing your turkey adds cooking time, we opt to stuff with aromatics instead. Stuff the inside of the turkey with half an onion (peeled and quartered), lemon halves, a few smashed garlic cloves, and herbs like parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. Rub the skin with melted butter or olive oil and sprinkle with black pepper (omit salt because it has been brined). Truss your turkey by tying the legs together with kitchen string and tucking the wing tips under.

Roast the turkey at 500 degrees for 30 minutes. Then cover the breast area with aluminum foil, reduce heat to 350 degrees, add 2 cups of water or broth to the roasting pan, and cook until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees. The rule of thumb is about 13 minutes per pound. Baste frequently, to promote even browning, but be sure to keep the oven door shut in between basting so the heat doesn’t escape.


Turkey Weight

Roasting Time (Unstuffed)

Roasting Time (Stuffed)   

4 to 6 pounds

1½ to 2 ½ hours

2 ½  to 3 hours

6 to 8 pounds

2 ½ to 3 hours

3 to 3 ½ hours

8 to 12 pounds

3 to 4 hours

3½ to 4½ hours

12 to 16 pounds

4 to 5 hours

4½ to 5½ hours

16 to 20 pounds

5 to 5½ hours

5 ½ to 6 hours

20 to 24 pounds

5½ to 6 hours

6 to 6½ hours

When the turkey has reached the desired temperature, remove from the oven, and tilt the bird so the inside liquids run out into the pan. Lift the whole turkey and transfer to a clean cutting board. Tent the turkey with foil and let it rest for 30 minutes before carving. Reserve the drippings for the gravy.

For the gravy, transfer the drippings to a saucepan and ladle off any excess fat. In a separate bowl, whisk together cornstarch and water (just enough so the cornstarch is absorbed), and stir into drippings. Stir constantly until the mixture thickens. Season the gravy with salt, pepper, and herbs to taste.

So, there you have it — one moist, juicy, and tender turkey. Follow these simple tips to cook one delicious turkey.

For more holiday cheer, visit The Daily Meal’s Ultimate Guide to Christmas!


Emily Jacobs is the Recipe editor at The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @EmilyRecipes.