How to Cook a Turkey and a Recipe for Orange Glazed Turkey

I roasted my first turkey in 2000.  I’ve made about 20 turkeys since then, using a variety of recipes and methods.  But I keep coming back to the one I used that very first Thanksgiving.

I had no idea what I was doing, and figured out what to do from a magazine and an old cookbook.  And amazingly, it worked pretty well!

There are many tried and true approaches to cooking a turkey, and all of them are great.  I am going to share with you my approach and what has worked for me.  By all means, experiment and figure out what works for you!  But if you are new to this, here is a good place to start.


  • Choosing your turkey.  I generally start with a 20 pound bird.  This will feed up to 10 people, and if you have less, you might just get some leftovers!  If I’m having more than ten, I’ve gone up to a 25 pound bird, but much more than that and you will most likely have problems fitting it in your oven and cooking evenly.
  • If you are buying a frozen turkey, as most are, start defrosting it EARLY. My friend Greg and I used to make turkeys every Thanksgiving for international students, and his turkeys were incredible!  But every year, we would leave it until the last couple of days to defrost, and went into defrost-crisis mode.
  • Here are the recommendations for defrosting…
  • Refrigerator Thawing Times
    •  4 to 12 pounds ……  1 to 3 days
    • 12 to 16 pounds …… 3 to 4 days
    • 16 to 20 pounds …… 4 to 5 days
    • 20 to 24 pounds …… 5 to 6 days
  • I say, 6 days ahead, stick it in the fridge and be safe.  Then, the night before check on it.  If its not fully defrosted, you will need to go to plan B…
  • cold water method- Submerge the wrapped turkey in cold tap water. Change the water every 30 minutes until the turkey is thawed. Cook the turkey immediately after it is thawed. 
  • Cold Water Thawing Times
    •  4 to 12 pounds …… 2 to 6 hours
    • 12 to 16 pounds …… 6 to 8 hours
    • 16 to 20 pounds …… 8 to 10 hours
    • 20 to 24 pounds …… 10 to 12 hours
  • Do not cook a partially frozen turkey!  If it is still problematic the night before, get up early and do the cold water method.  The turkey will not cook evenly if it is partially frozen, and you could end up with a pink inside and burnt outside.
  • I don’t brine my turkey.  Mainly because I am a bit lazy, and I don’t like the thought of that giant raw turkey swimming around in my fridge.  But there are some wonderful recipes out there.  I am actually tempted this year to try The Pioneer Woman’s Favorite Turkey Brine Recipe.

Preparing the Turkey.

  • Now its time to get down and dirty.  Frankly, I’m totally grossed out by this giant raw bird that looks like its feathers were just torn out of it.  When I confessed this to my mom, she told me that its actually the man’s job to wash and clean the turkey before it goes in the oven.  Amazing, my husband bought it, so these are his lovely hands in the pictures…
  • First, you want to remove the neck from the large cavity of the turkey.  Most places will put all of the giblets in a bag, and stuff the bag in the back cavity which I call “the butt.”  Dig around until you find it, you won’t want to find that little surprise later.

  • Next, wash the inside and out of the bird with cold water.
  • Place it on the roasting pan with rack and dry completely with paper towels.  A very dry skin will help give you a crispier skin in the end, so don’t skip this step.  Some people even do all of the above steps the night before, then leave the bird in the pan uncovered overnight and swear that it gives you an even crispier skin in the end. I have yet to try this, but it sounds like a good idea to me.

Its time for stuffing.

  • This is another one of my weird little eccentricities.  I can’t handle cooking the stuffing inside the turkey.  I’m paranoid about the germs.  Its silly, I know.  And produces a MUCH juicier, more flavorful stuffing.  But, there ya go.
  • I stuff my turkey with this mixture, and it has worked really well for me.

  • One onion, orange, and apple, all with skin on, cut in large wedges.  Melt 1/2 stick of butter, combine with 2 Tablespoons of rosemary, 2 teaspoons of salt and onion mixture, and stuff in the large cavity of the bird.  I also stuff the “butt” of the bird with this mixture.  Do not stuff tightly, as you want room for it to steam and cook inside as well.

  • Brush the turkey with 1/2 stick of melted butter.

Now its time to cook!  I cook mine in a preheated oven at 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

  • Basting.  Here is another controversy in the turkey roasting community.  Many say basting too often increases the cooking time too much and dries out the turkey.  But I’m of the basting clan.  I love to baste, it makes me feel involved with the turkey.  I love the smell, I think it makes for a moister turkey, and frankly, I enjoy it.  I baste the turkey every 15 minutes.
  • When its time to baste, quickly pull the roasting pan out enough to tilt, get your baster, and baste a few times, getting all around the turkey.  Try to do it as quickly as possible.

  • Now its time to refer to your individual recipe for any kind of glaze, or sauce to baste with, etc.  Below is the recipe I used.

How long do I cook it?  This varies of course, but here are the estimated times.  Remember to give yourself an hour for it to rest after.  I usually give myself another hour, just to be safe.  The turkey will stay hot for quite some time.

  • Roasting times are for a preheated 325 degrees F. oven.
    Approximate Roasting Times for Stuffed Turkey
    Turkey Weight Hours
    6 to 8 pounds 3 to 3-1/2 hours
    8 to 12 pounds 3-1/2 to 4-1/2 hours
    12 to 16 pounds 4-1/2 to 5-1/2 hours
    16 to 20 pounds 5-1/2 to 6 hours
    20 to 24 pounds 6 to 6-1/2 hours
    Approximate Roasting Times for Unstuffed Turkey
    Turkey Weight Hours
    6 to 8 pounds 2-1/2 to 3 hours
    8 to 12 pounds 3 to 4 hours
    12 to 16 pounds 4 to 5 hours
    16 to 20 pounds 5 to 5-1/2 hours
    20 to 24 pounds 5-1/2 to 6 hours
  • When is it done?  Generally it is recommended to cook a turkey to 180 degrees fahrenheit.  But a turkey will continue to cook 10-15 degrees after being removed from the oven.  I take my turkey out when the thermometer reads 165-170.  Dry turkeys are often overcooked turkeys, so be vigilant on this one.  I check my turkey after about 2 hours, then every 30 minutes, and less as it gets close.  It is up to you if you want to use a thermometer you leave in or an instant read thermometer.  Do not rely on those little pop out turkey things, as they can be unreliable.  I have attempted to show you in this picture where to place the thermometer.  You want it to be deep in the thigh meat, not touching the bone.

  •  Let it rest for at least 30 minutes after it is removed from the oven.  I try to give it an hour if I can.  This will allow the juices to soak back into the meat, and will give you a much more moist turkey in the end.

Now it is time to carve and enjoy!  For carving tips, you will have to look elsewhere as I always leave this to my husband.  Basically, you carve it as you would a roasted chicken.  But that’s about as much as I know on that one.

The first turkey I ever made was this Orange Glazed Turkey.  It was simple and absolutely stunning, so I have made it about 7 or 8 times since.

Orange Glazed Turkey


  • 1 turkey (18 to 20 pounds)
  • 3/4 cup orange marmalade
  • 3/4 cup orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon honey


  • Prepare your turkey for the oven as shown above.
  • Brush with 1/2 stick melted butter and roast and baste as shown above.
  • Meanwhile, combine orange marmalade, orange juice and honey in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes or until slightly thickened, stirring occasionally. Set aside and keep warm.
  • When turkey begins to brown, after about 2 hours, pour half of orange mixture on turkey.
  • Continue to baste and cook for another 45 minutes, then pour the rest of the orange mixture on top of turkey.
  • Continue basting.  But if it starts to get to brown, tent lightly with foil.
  • Keep on basting and cooking until the temperature reaches 170.  Remove from oven and let it rest before carving.

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