The Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey

a plate of traditional turkey dinner with stuffing and gravy

As strange as it seems now, it’s thought that venison, ducks, and geese were served at the first Thanksgiving. These days, though, turkey is the meat of choice.

How can you make sure your bird is moist, delicious, and worry-free? Follow these tips.

Cooking The Perfect Bird

  • Plan Your Pounds

    You’ll need about one pound of turkey per guest. Add up how many pounds you need for your guest list—and then tack on an extra few pounds if you love leftovers!

  • Contain Leaks

    If you buy a fresh (not frozen) bird, store it in the fridge on a tray that can collect any leaking juices.

  • Thaw Safely

    If you buy a frozen turkey, keep it in its original packaging and thaw it in the fridge. It usually takes 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds of bird. You can also thaw the turkey in its wrapper submerged in cold water in a clean sink, advises the Mayo Clinic. For this method, plan for a half-hour per pound, and change the water every 30 minutes.

  • Get The Right Temperature

    It takes about four-and-a-half hours to roast a 20-pound turkey at 325°. Use a food thermometer to check for a minimum internal temperature of 165°.

  • Butter The Skin

    Brush the turkey skin with melted butter or oil before roasting. This adds flavor and helps with browning.

  • Baste With Care

    If you decide to baste, do so only up until the last hour of roast time, otherwise crisp skin can turn soft.

Click to See Our Sources

“Let's Talk Turkey—A Consumer Guide to Safely Roasting a Turkey,” USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service,

“Turkey Roasting Instructions . . .”

Label Lingo

When shopping for a Thanksgiving turkey, you may come across some labels on the bird’s packaging. Read up on the terms and what they mean.


Lisa Fabian

Contributing Editor

Lisa Fabian is an award-winning freelance writer with more than 25 years of experience in the publishing industry. She's enjoyed covering topics as diverse as arts and crafts, boating, food, and health and wellness.