This is a how to oven roast a turkey recipe for 12-20 pounds. Its complete guide with pics covers complete planning, preparations, oven temps and times, turkey weights, covering with foil, basting frequencies, servings, and how to ensure it’s very juicy and moist. Also, this is part of our Main Courses Recipes Category and is listed in our Holiday Dinner Suggestions article.
Watch our video of this complete step-by-step guide of “How To Oven Roast A Turkey“..
Overview of How to Oven Roast a Turkey Recipe
This is how to oven roast a turkey recipe. Also, it’s listed in our full meal Thanksgiving Dinner Meals Ideas & Christmas Dinner Meals Ideas articles. There, you’ll also see other traditional and related non-traditional fun recipes.
Here are the areas we’ll now cover.
- Planning to Have Turkey for Dinner
- Prepare a Turkey for Roasting in the Oven
- How to Cook a Whole Turkey in the Oven
- Serving the Turkey
- Storing the Turkey Leftovers
1. Planning Phase of How to Oven Roast a Turkey
This is a complete guide for how to oven roast a turkey recipe when using a roasting pan. It includes planning and selecting a whole turkey size ranging from 12 to 20 pounds. So, it’s best to check out our article on “What Size Turkey to Buy – Chart & Guide“.
Whether you’re planning for a perfect Thanksgiving turkey recipe, for Christmas, or just for regular dinner, this kind of main course always requires a good plan ahead of time.
When you buy a frozen turkey, you’ll need 2-3 days just to thaw it out in the fridge, which is the safest way. And there’s more to the planning than that so, keep reading for important details and tips. Ensure you have these areas covered for your roasting turkey in the oven plan.
- 1a. Ingredients for the baked turkey recipe
- 1b. Equipment and Tools for cooking a turkey in the oven
1a. Ingredients for the Baked Turkey Recipe
How to oven roast a turkey recipe starts with ensuring you have all the things needed. The ingredients are going to involve you to have all the spices, oils, and whatever else the recipe calls for. The key item, of course is the turkey.
Types of turkey are many such as whole turkey, whole turkey breast with bone, whole turkey breast boneless, and so on. I’ve cooked them all in many ways over the decades, both at home and commercially at work. Any turkey with bone-in tastes significantly better than boneless; however, the boneless items are easier to cut for both serving and eating.
What Size Turkey to Buy?
The size of turkey (we prefer Butterball whole turkey) to buy will depend on these 4 things:
- The size of the roaster pan you’ll be using
- The number of people you’re serving
- Will everyone eat white and dark meat?
- How much leftover turkey you want to have
How Much Turkey to Plan Per Person?
For whole (with bone), you usually plan on buying about 1⅓ pounds of turkey per person minimum. I go with 2 lbs per person so that I won’t run out of white meat preferences and there will be leftovers. Know that this means purchased pounds, not final serving of cooked meat. We show the number of servings based on purchasing the best turkey size, and not the actual serving amount of cooked meat! Keep reading for that explanation.
PURCHASED SERVINGS NOTE: The purchased pounds per serving references the related portion of the entire whole raw turkey which includes the bone and uncooked meat. Therefore, the actual, final cooked serving amount will be far less than that. So, we utilize a higher realistic amount of cooked turkey to be around 9 ounces per serving the final product.
How can I save on buying a turkey?
When planning how to oven roast a turkey recipe, you can also plan on saving money. There are 2 ways to save money when buying a turkey. So, this will involve preplanning and a volume purchase. Here are both ways described in more detail.
First way to save on turkey buying
About 2-3 weeks before Thanksgiving and Christmas, they will go on sale in many places (aka “Price Leader”) for at least half price (and sometimes even better).
Second way to save on turkey buying
You get more meat per pound if you get a larger turkey. That’s because turkeys have a higher meat percentage than bone, the larger they grow. However, you’ll need to ensure you have freezer space when planning way ahead for this roast a turkey recipe.
How much white meat vs dark meat should I plan?
Since most people prefer white meat, you might want to increase the size of the turkey to allow for that. Turkeys are about 70/30 on white/dark meat.
So, here’s a guide list that has a lower and higher number of servings. The lower servings number allows for individual preferences and leftovers. And the higher servings number is the absolute maximum where you’ll run out of white meat and have no leftovers.
- 12 lb turkey serves 6-9
- 13 lb turkey serves 6-10
- 14 lb turkey serves 7-10
- 15 lb turkey serves 7-11
- 16 lb turkey serves 8-11
- 17 lb turkey serves 8-12
- 18 lb turkey serves 9-13
- 19 lb turkey serves 9-14
- 20 lb turkey serves 10-14
1b. Equipment and Tools for Cooking a Turkey in the Oven
Of all the equipment and tools needed for this oven roast a turkey recipe, you’ll want all of them. For starters, you’ll definitely want a turkey baster (or you can use a large serving spoon). Also, ensure you have a roasting pan big enough to match the turkey size you’ll buy. Or, it can be a cheap foil roasting pan. You’ll also want to have a “meat thermometer” to check the internal temperature of the turkey (or any future meat) for doneness.
- turkey baster
- roasting pan (permanent or foil pan)
- roasting rack (goes inside the roasting pan)
- you don’t need a roaster pan cover/lid
- meat thermometer
About a Roasting Pan for Turkey in Oven
This is about using a regular roasting pan for this oven roast a turkey recipe. It can be any kind and it’s principally used for basting with water so, it needs to hold a lot of it. The roasting pans can be made of metal for repeated use but are also sold as disposable foil pans, made just for this kind of cooking a turkey perfectly.
Roasting Pan TIP 1: When buying a foil pan that seems kind of flimsy, get 2 of them and keep one inserted into the other for adding support and strength.
Roasting Pan TIP 2: If you do get a permanent roasting pan, try to also get one with a rack. This will let you place the turkey on a roasting rack that will keep it raised out of the basting water. Also, it will help help you towards a perfectly cooked turkey.
Roasting Pan TIP 3: When buying a permanent roasting pan, you don’t need to get one with a cover lid. Although there are recipes out there that use a roaster pan with a lid, you can opt for covering with foil when using those particular recipes. Also, the reasons I don’t use a roaster lid are several.
- My cooking and recipes never requires it.
- When using a lid, you often can’t use the 2nd oven shelf for side casseroles or dinner rolls because the oven’s too crowded.
- When using a lid, the roasted item doesn’t brown or develop a nice crust (basting keeps it moist inside).
- Sometimes, turkeys or other meats are too big for covering with the lid.
- When using a lid, you have to remove it and return it every time you baste.
2. Preparing Turkey Phase of How to Oven Roast a Turkey
While it seems like a lot of steps, properly preparing turkey for oven roasting is necessary for having a moist turkey. The entire duration time is small and these steps act really like a simple checklist so you don’t forget something. Here’s the complete process to prep a turkey:
- Thaw out the turkey in the fridge (2-3 days usually).
- Wash your hands thoroughly and repeat several times during the prepping process.
- Clean out a sink, rinse it completely, and place the turkey in it.
- Remove the outer bag of the turkey and take note of the turkey weight.
- Undo the bound turkey legs and remove the innards/bags from the cavity of the turkey. There’s usually something on each end. There are the turkey neck and various organ innards.
- To reduce bacteria on the turkey, use running water to rinse outside and inside the turkey cavity entirely.
- Benefits Comments: You do not have to place the turkey to a cutting board. And you don’t have to tie the turkey legs together because this is a turkey without stuffing.
- Fold the wings under. That way you don’t need to cover them with foil.
- Set the turkey in the roasting pan (on its rack, if applicable), breast side up.
- Pat the turkey dry with a paper towel.
- Rub the skin of the turkey with an oil, bacon drippings, or butter.
- Rub the top of the turkey and sides with any seasonings.
- Pour the basting water into the roasting pan.
- Leave only 1 shelf in the oven and place it on the bottom or next to bottom level. Start to preheat the oven and let the turkey remain out until oven is ready.
What If Your Turkey Is Still Frozen?
The majority of recipes are designed for thawed turkeys but, if it’s still frozen, you’ll want to plan ahead to get it safely thawed out. Keep reading to learn about thawing out in the fridge.
There is another old fashioned way of thawing it out in a sink. You can put it into a (cleaned) sink full of regular, cold tap water (not hot). The turkey needs to be completely covered in the water to retain a safe, cold temp. As the water gets colder from the turkey naturally, you’ll want to drain the water every hour and replace it. I never go past 3 hours of doing this. If it’s thawed out enough to remove the inner bags from the cavity, you’re good to go.
And, you can then use warm running water to assist and to speed up thawing the inside of the turkey so you can finish prepping it right away. Keep reading to see the normal, proper way to thaw out a turkey.
How Long To Thaw Out a Frozen Turkey In The Fridge
You can thaw out a turkey the safest way by leaving it in the fridge for 2-3 days. If you have a lot of refrigerator “traffic”, it might not take as long. But, usually a 10-14 lb turkey takes about 2 days, and a larger 14-20 lb turkey will take 3 days.
Can I Prep the Turkey in Advance?
Yes, you can prepare the turkey ahead of time and return it to the fridge, covered in food plastic wrap (not foil). However, you generally shouldn’t do this further than 12 hours ahead of baking. And, if you do it in advance, make sure your turkey is left out of the fridge for at least 1/2 hour. You don’t want it too cold before putting the turkey into the oven.
What About Rinsing the Turkey?
While there are controversies over this on the Internet, I always follow a strict food safety protocol when handling raw poultry. After many years in food service management and receiving training from different health departments, I’m astounded by the misinformation on this topic. I’ve also visited several food related factories involving packaging. So, with that said, I always thoroughly wash my hands, clean out the sink very well, and then I rinse the turkey in that sink. I then, rewash my hands. And that 2nd hands wash is the repeated step that most articles miss. Also, I never use cloth towels and I finish by making the turkey fairly dry with paper towels.
Basic Steps To Prepare the Turkey
The basic steps to prepare turkey for the oven are to remove the innards and packet, rinse and pat dry the turkey, fold wings under, rub on oil and seasonings, lay bacon strips, add water to roasting pan, place it into the roasting pan (in rack), and then into the preheated oven.
Ensuring you fold the wings under the turkey body. It often will require some direct force and you might hear the joints breaking. If you do this step, you don’t have to cover the wings with foil during the long baking session.
Which Way to Place Turkey in Pan
Many have asked about which way to place turkey in pan. If you have a rack, it goes in it. The turkey position should be placed in the rack in the roasting pan with legs and breast sides on top.
3. Cooking Phase of How to Oven Roast a Turkey
In covering how to oven roast a turkey recipe, there is a lot to include. You’ll need to know the size of the turkey to set the time and temp, how often to baste while cooking, when to use foil for covering parts, and so on. Keep reading to see all aspects of cooking a whole turkey.
Temp for Oven Turkey
The best temp for oven turkey is sometimes based on the size of the turkey. However, there actually is a common temp for oven turkey that is good for many sizes. So, temperatures for oven turkey cover 2 aspects. One is the temperature you set the oven for this roast a turkey recipe. And the other is the internal meat temperature you want to attain before serving.
Oven Turkey Cooking Temperature
There are many preferences of how to oven roast a turkey recipe cooking temperature. It’s also one of the key sources for a more tender turkey. Also, the proper oven turkey cooking temperature of 325⁰F offers you a more even cooking internally as well as a well rounded browning exterior. Also, if you cook it at a higher temp, some areas would overcook since you have to wait for the thickest parts to finish cooking.
Turkey Cooking Internal Temp
The desired turkey cooking internal temp is intended to arrive at 165⁰F. Some roast a turkey recipes will convey to remove a turkey before reaching that temp because it will continue to rise in temp after removal from the oven. This temperature rise occurs during the resting stage after cooking.
Oven Turkey Time
There are 3 areas involved with how to oven roast a turkey recipe cooking time. Those times for oven turkey are:
- Initial resting time before you put turkey in the oven
- Cook time for turkey while in the oven
- Final resting time after turkey is done cooking and before carving
We’ll now cover all 3 of those oven turkey times.
Turkey Resting Time Before Cooking
Applying a turkey resting time before cooking, because it’s a large meat item, will help it cook more evenly if you do. The inside of the turkey is the last to thaw in the fridge so, it tends to usually be the colder area.
Some people will actually not start to preheat the oven until after they’ve prepared the turkey. It’s a smart way and it permits that wait time to occur naturally. However, I don’t recommend leaving it out it for longer than 1/2 hour, as you don’t want the outside of the turkey exposed a long time to room temperature. So, for final prepping, place turkey in the pan and follow all the recommended steps. And yes, this counts as rest time at room temperature.
Oven Turkey Cook Time
How to oven roast a turkey recipe cook time is going to be dependent on the turkey’s weight and it also coincides with the oven cooking temperature. This one here is based on a whole turkey (with bone) without stuffing at 325 degrees F. And it accounts for the recipe’s guide on adding water, removing bacon strips, and frequent basting.
Also, understand that turkeys larger than this guide list might require more than 15 minutes per pound as they have a higher meat-to-bone ratio. On the other end of the scale, smaller turkeys are the reverse and might cook faster and closer to a 10-12 minutes per pound rate.
- 325°F – 12 lb – 3 hours
- 325°F – 13 lb – 3 hours & 15 mins
- 325°F – 14 lb – 3 hours & 30 mins
- 325°F – 15 lb – 3 hours & 45 mins
- 325°F – 16 lb – 4 hours
- 325°F – 17 lb – 4 hours & 15 mins
- 325°F – 18 lb – 4 hours & 30 mins
- 325°F – 19 lb – 4 hours & 45 mins
- 325°F – 20 lb – 5 hours
Oven Turkey Resting Time After Cooking
Resting time after cooking if very important for how to oven roast a turkey recipe. This is before carving and is the waiting period after you’ve removed the turkey that’s done from the oven. This final resting time is critical to ensuring the moist juices will come to their peak. In other words, if you carve too early, the bird won’t be as juicy or moist.
Many recipes will call for a 10 minute resting time but, this is way too short. So, the usual resting time varies but generally it’s about 30 minutes. A small turkey of around 6-8 pounds can take just 20 minutes of final rest time.
4. Serving Phase of How to Oven Roast a Turkey
After the resting time is over, you can carve the turkey any time within the next 30 minutes. With a large (carving) knife in one hand and a fork in the other, you traditionally will begin just a little off one of the breast sides of the turkey.
How Do You Carve a Roast Turkey?
But, the modern way is to now start by cutting downward of each leg. It doesn’t cut all the way, of course, but you’ll cut it down enough to get it a little out of the way for when you carve the breast meat, which is next. You’ll then carve off relatively thin slices of breast. After each slice, you’ll pierce it with the serving fork and serve it on an individual plate or you’ll place it onto a serving platter, where the remaining slices will also go.
Soon, you’ll be encountering slices that don’t pull away from the turkey after carving. This is when you’ll need to take the carving knife and adjust it to cut inward at the base of the immovable slice. You can actually go ahead and cut all along the base at that time so the next slices will be more easily removable.
When dinner’s done, you can finish up carving the turkey more properly. It’s best to not leave the cooked turkey out too long for food safety reasons. It won’t be as hot to handle with your hands; however, when going deep inward, it will tend to remain hotter. Also, since your getting ready to really dig into it, it’s an extremely important consideration to wash your hands before this task of directly handling meat so it will remain safe for everyone.
In order to know the best ways for finalizing the cutting up of the turkey, you can view our article on how to cut up a whole chicken. It’s quite the same. Keep reading to learn about storing and what you can use leftover turkey with.
5. Leftover Turkey Phase of How to Oven Roast a Turkey
Even though this is how to oven roast a turkey recipe, it nearly always involves leftovers. So, you can do a lot with leftover turkey. You can freeze it in food storage bags. It’s good for about 3 months. You can make classic turkey sandwiches with some mayo, salt, and pepper included. Adding lettuce, tomato, and provolone cheese makes it extra special.
You can also make turkey salad for sandwiches. Just use a chicken salad recipe but, using turkey as the meat, instead of chicken.
You can make it in a great Chef Salad, replacing the ham. If you add in some crumbled bacon and sliced hardboiled eggs, you’ll have a winner.
And yes, you can just heat up the turkey meat and have it as the main course in a dinner again!
Best Moist Roast Turkey Tips
All the steps involved with how to oven roast a turkey recipe are directed towards having a good, moist turkey. So, to end up with the best moist roast turkey, there are very particular steps in the recipe to end up with a juicy meat. Here are some of the steps to follow to have the best moist roast turkey.
- Ensure the turkey has been coated with some form of oil. This will help seal it during the baking process.
- Absolutely ensure you baste it frequently, usually about every 30-45 minutes. And, this will definitely require adding some extra water during the cooking time.
- Cover the areas of the turkey (with foil) that start to appear to overcook or dry out, such as the legs. And, if you couldn’t tuck the wings underneath, cover them with foil during the entire cooking time.
- Finally, you absolutely should let the turkey rest for the recommended time before the first carving of it. The turkey is still cooking and you want to retain that internal heat to finish the job. There are other recipes that recommend a rest time to maintain moisture (e.g., steaks, fajitas, pizza). A good 30 minutes is best but the earliest can be a 20 minute rest.
Who Likes White Meat vs Dark Meat?
An American poll in 2018 showed that 41% prefer white meat, 17% dark meat, 32% liked both, 7% don’t eat turkey, and 3% picked the last category because none of the other categories applied. So, there’s that; LoL!
How Many Calories in Oven Roasted Turkey?
How many calories in oven roasted turkey? The nutritional values are shown in the <Print Recipe> option. They are overall values of the entire turkey and actually will vary, depending on which portions the servings are pulled from, e.g., the thigh vs the breast. Also, you can learn more about oven baked turkey nutrition from MyFitnessPal.com.
Best Turkey Side Dishes
The sides that go with turkey are countless. Here’s a list of some. And they’re all perfect for a Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas dinner, or a regular family dinner.
- Macaroni and Cheese Casserole
- Best Deviled Eggs Recipe
- Mashed Potatoes and Gravy
- Pecan Encrusted Sweet Potato Casserole
- Green Beans and Carrots – Quick 10 minute recipe
- Cranberry Sauce, an easy homemade recipe
- Pineapple Lime Jello Salad with Cream Cheese
- Dinner Yeast Rolls
- Loaded Bake Potatoes (3 Ways)
- Southern Cabbage (Fast Recipe)
- Egg Potato Salad
- Tomato Cucumber Onion Salad
What About Turkey Gravy?
You can use the basting juices to make your own gravy if you desire. Just make it like you would a white sauce. We typically just buy the Heinz turkey gravy in the jar. We tried many over the years and that one seems to be the best from your everyday grocery store.
Conclusion of How to Oven Roast a Turkey Recipe
So, you now have the newer foundation of how to oven roast a turkey recipe correctly with today’s updated traditional methods. You can now reduce steps, save time, plan better, and have been exposed to lots of tips to have a moist, tender turkey that everyone will enjoy. See what goes with Turkey in our Thanksgiving Dinner Meals Ideas article. So, wait no longer, and start your turkey dinner plan.
Recipe for Whole Turkey in Oven
- 1 Roasting Pan An additional Roasting Rack is optional
- 1 Turkey Baster Or use a large serving spoon
- 1 meat thermometer for checking internal temperature
Tap to reduce/increase Servings
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- 16 lb turkey whole (includes bone); we use Butterball.
- ½ lb bacon strips optional
- ½ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp Ground Black Pepper
- 6 cups water before baking
- 4 cups water hot, for last 1-2 baking hours
- Preparing TurkeyWash hands and clean out a sink. Then, place the unopened, thawed turkey in the sink.Remove any packaging outside and inside of turkey. Check both turkey ends to remove any bags and innards/organs.16 lb turkey
- Rinse the turkey inside and out. Place it on a cutting board or into a roaster pan (or on a rack contained in the roaster pan). Pat the outer turkey dry with paper towels.
- Lightly grease the outside of the turkey. Can rub using uncooked bacon strips, bacon drippings, shortening, or vegetable oil.
- Rub salt and pepper onto the outside of the turkey. Then, lay the uncooked bacon strips across the entire turkey.½ tsp salt, ¼ tsp Ground Black Pepper, ½ lb bacon strips
- Pour the initial water into the roaster pan. If not there already, place the optional rack, and then turkey, into the pan.6 cups water
- Cooking TurkeyRemove oven shelves, except 1, which should be on the bottom or next to the bottom level. Start oven to preheat to 325°F.
- Add the uncovered turkey roaster pan to preheated oven on bottom/low shelf. In 1 hour, baste the turkey the first time. Repeat basting every 30 minutes.After 2-1/2 hrs in oven, remove bacon strips, cover leg ends with foil, pour final water in pan, baste once, resume cooking, and repeat basting every 30 minutes.4 cups water
- After about 4 hours (or 12-15 mins per lb @325°F), or when internal temperature is 160°F, remove roaster pan, remove foil from leg ends, give final basting, and let it rest for 30 minutes. Internal temp will rise to be least 165°F. After rest is done, carve and serve.