A Young Wife's Guide to Thanksgiving: The "Perfect" Roasted Turkey

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Ahh, the turkey. It's the part of Thanksgiving that makes people afraid to host Thanksgiving. It's my hope that this post is the most informative and helpful for those hosting! As I have shared in previous posts, you can cook! You CAN make turkey!!

First, I'll show you photos of my turkeys so that you know I'm not "pulling your leg" (okay that was bad) about being able to talk about this.

This was the first turkey I ever roasted. I remember being so proud as Ben cut it! 

Turkey #2 Thanksgiving 2013

My finally perfectly browned bird... Thanksgiving 2014

I remember not actually liking turkey in the past.. but I promise this recipe will make you a juicy bird that everyone will love! I learned these tips from the best.. I attended a cooking demonstration at Williams Sonoma a few years ago and learned so much. I am excited to share with you my notes from that class and the personal experiences I have. Writing through this recipe I realized how intimidating it looks.. but it's really not. I PROMISE! You can do this. All the turkey words and gear are just big talk.. you'll see! 

The Main Attraction: Your Turkey

Tools You'll Need:

A flared roaster (the pan pictured in the bottom image, I got mine for about $20 at Sam's Club)
A leave in thermometer (note: poke the turkey the fewest amount of times possible)
A baster
A serving platter 
A fresh turkey (a few dollars more expensive than a frozen one but WORTH IT!)
a large brining bag (basically a giant ziploc works best, make sure you can zip it comfortably) 
string to tie up your turkey 
aluminum foil 
  • if you're new to turkey this can be confusing.. but the turkey will also be frozen, but it will be clearly labeled fresh on the label 
  • depending on where you live you may have to reserve your turkey 
  • In the past, I've gotten ours at Kroger for around $20
  • You'll need 1 and a half pounds of bird per dinner guest for enough food + adequate leftovers... ex: 10 people = 16 lb turkey
  • With last years large crowd, I just grabbed the biggest bird they had and called it good.. although it wasn't a sit down meal and a lot of the guests had already eaten turkey once that day, so follow the rule above mostly.
Planning ahead for hosting Thanksgiving is KEY... but especially with your turkey. You can't pop it in the oven an hour before. You have to defrost it. 

  • It will take your turkey 3-4 hours PER POUND to thaw
  • Usually it takes a turkey 3 days to go from rock hard to thawed
  • Last year even applying these rules, my turkey was still frozen morning of.. learn from my mistake. 
  • IF for some reason this happens to you.. what I did is turn my faucet on as hot as it would go, and let the water pour over my turkey. The cavity of the turkey was filled with ice so I ended up chiseling the ice out of the cavity. I've never felt like more of an intense woman. 
  • My turkey needs to be thawed 24-36 hours before cooking, so early Wednesday morning. My turkey will go from freezer to fridge on Friday night before bed this year. That way my bird will have Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday to thaw. That way I can be ready to brine Tuesday night or Wednesday morning. Better safe than sorry. :) 
I cook my turkey using a buttermilk brine. You can find various brine recipes online.. I'll link a few below. In the past, I've purchased brine from Williams Sonoma. Basically buttermilk means that you'll take an herby, salty mixture (brine) and mix it with lots of buttermilk, and let your turkey marinate in it for 24 hours. 

1 1/2 cups turkey brine 
1 quart water
4 quarts buttermilk 
1 fresh turkey, heart and gizzard removed (pull out all the stuff in the cavity!) 
half a stick of compound butter (see below) 
For compound butter: Soft butter, sea salt and pepper, rosemary, chopped tiny (I use just one stick of butter, follow your heart!) 
Aeromatics to stuff bird: celery, onion, apple, orange


In a small saucepan over high heat, combine the turkey brine mix OR the ingredients from your brine recipe and water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer, stirring often, until the brine dissolves, 5 to 10 minutes. Let the brine mixture cool to room temperature. 

The Pioneer Woman Turkey Brine I'm going to be using this brine recipe this year. 

Cool your brine in the fridge. You can even make your brine the weekend before Thanksgiving so that it will be ready to go on Tuesday-Wednesday morning. It is VITAL that you put a COLD brine on a COLD turkey. 

Rinse your bird inside and out with cool water and place it into your brining bag. Pour your buttermilk and your brine into the bag. Seal the bag, pressing out the air, and place it in a container (I use a tupperware if I put the bird in the fridge) to put in the fridge, or even use a cooler. Refrigerate for 24-36 hours. 

Make sure to take your turkey out of the fridge ONE AND A HALF HOURS BEFORE ROASTING. On Thanksgiving morning (!!!) remove the turkey from the brine, and discard the brine mixture. Rinse your turkey inside and out with cold water and pat it dry with paper towels. Trim off and disgard any excess fat. 

Compound Butter:
  • Ingredients:
Soft butter
sea salt and pepper
fresh rosemary, chopped tiny
  • Mash all of your ingredients together with a fork. On a sheet of wax paper, use your hands to make the butter back into a roll. Roll up the log of butter like a wrapped candy. Refrigerate. 
  • Note: you can also make another compact butter using lemon zest and parsley for your rolls, it's what a lot of fancy restaurants use. 
Cut your compound butter into slices. Slide the slices, evenly distributed, between the skin and the meat of the bird. This feels weird but just do it!! Cut all of your aeromatics, they don't have to be perfect.. just cut wedges and stuff them all into the cavity of your bird. 

You'll need to "truss" the turkey aka tie it up with string. I always have Ben do this via youtube video. Just search "truss turkey" and you should be good. :) You do this so that everything is held together and can cook evenly. Make the bird as compact as possible. 

  • Place your turkey in the roasting pan BREAST DOWN. 
  • Cook your turkey at 400 degrees for 30 minutes. Decrease heat to 325 degrees. Let the turkey roast for another hour, and flip it carefully to be breast up. Cooking the bird breast down for the first hour and a half total will allow all of those initial juices to flow into the breast, making it nice and juicy and unlike roasted turkey of the 1990s. If your breast starts cooking too quickly, tent your bird with aluminum foil. We've done this with all our birds for the first portion of cooking, this is the one thing you'll have to feel out on your own depending on the size of your bird. 
  • You will baste your turkey EVERY THIRTY MINUTES. Use the timer on your phone all day long. I'll set alarms for everything... ex: take turkey out of fridge and begin process, start roast, flip bird, etc. I also have all of these times written out on a piece of paper that will stay in my kitchen all day. Basting is just taking the juice from the bottom of the pan and squirting it all over the meat of the bird. I do this A LOT each time.. I want a very moist turkey!
  • You will want the thermometers in the breast and the thigh, I usually put them in after we flip the bird. You'll want the breast to be 165 degrees and the thigh 175 degrees. When you reach these temperatures.. your bird is done!
  • Total roasting time will be sometime between 3-4 hours
  • Transfer your turkey to a carving board, cover loosely with foil, and let it rest for 20-30 minutes before carving. 
And that's it, y'all! Hope this didn't leave you feeling too overwhelmed. Just make sure to read over your instructions 1) once when you're planning your timeline 2) once before you start the process 3) again over and over during the process... by that point you'll be an old pro! :) I can't wait to hear all about your turkey making processes! 

If you end up making a turkey using these instructions... I'd love for you to take a photo and tag me on instagram @victoriastrader! :)


  1. I haven't made a full Thanksgiving dinner by myself yet but one of the best tips I've learned from my grandmother is that once the turkey needs to be 15+ lbs just buy two smaller turkeys! Two 10 lb turkeys are so much easier to thaw, cook and carve than one giant turkey!

  2. THANK YOU!!! For this, I can't wait to read it and follow your steps. I did a little pinterest search and got so overwhelmed...but I trust your advice so I'm definitely following it! :)

  3. Look at you go! You really detailed this out well, and even
    Though I won't be cooking the bird this year, you make me kind of want to try it for the heck of it! :)

  4. Victoria, you encourage me so much. I wish I could be around you all the time. I am taking notes on this Thanksgiving series! xoxo


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