Mom’s Roast Turkey

My father and I spend weeks planning who will cook what for the Thanksgiving feast. Divide and conquer, correct?

For fifty years, my mother was in charge of the turkey. But now that the dinner party has moved to my place, the responsibility has fallen to me. Luckily, my mother trained me well!

Her turkey cooking method consistently yields a nicely cooked roast bird. The breast is never dried out; instead, it is soft and flavorful. There is no need for brining or basting.

A turkey cooked to temperature and set on a platter.

How to Cook a Turkey: 3 Tips to Know

How does my mother do it? Here are her three keys to cooking a perfect turkey:

  • Cook the turkey breast side down. While the turkey roasts, the juices fall down towards the breast, resulting in the most succulent meat. The breast is also more protected from the heat, which helps keep it from getting too dried out.
  • Use a meat thermometer to take out any guess work of when the turkey is done.
  • Cook the turkey stuffing separately, not in the cavity, which makes it easier to cook the turkey more evenly.

The Best Way to Roast a Turkey? Breast Side Down

My father and I spend weeks planning who will cook what for the Thanksgiving feast. Divide and conquer, correct?

For fifty years, my mother was in charge of the turkey. But now that the dinner party has moved to my place, the responsibility has fallen to me. Luckily, my mother trained me well!

Her turkey cooking method consistently yields a nicely cooked roast bird. The breast is never dried out; instead, it is soft and flavorful. There is no need for brining or basting.

How to Defrost a Turkey

Cooking a turkey is not particularly complicated, but you will need to make preparations in advance. Since roasting a turkey might take several hours, it is necessary to give it some time in advance (at least a few days, if you need to defrost it) so that it can lose the cold that it developed in the refrigerator.

Any time you purchase a turkey that is already frozen, you will need to place it in the refrigerator so that it may thaw. Each pound of turkey will require around five hours of defrosting time in order to be ready for consumption.

Therefore, if you have a turkey that weighs 15 pounds, let it defrost in the refrigerator for approximately 75 hours, which is equivalent to three days. It takes around 100 hours, or four days, for a turkey that weighs 20 pounds to defrost.

In the event that your turkey is still partially frozen on the day that you intend to cook it, you should fill the basin of your sink with cool water, clean out the basin, and then place the turkey inside of it. Until the turkey is completely defrosted, the water should be changed every half an hour.

Use a Meat Thermometer

You should definitely purchase a meat thermometer if you don’t already have one! The use of one will make your life a great deal simpler; otherwise, there is simply an excessive amount of guessing.

It is more convenient for me to use a remote thermometer since it allows me to monitor the progress of the turkey as it is cooking without having to open the door of the oven. An instant-read thermometer of any kind will do, however. There are two remote thermometers from ChefAlarm that I use; one is implanted into the breast, and the other is inserted into the thigh.

The Internal Temperature for Roast Turkey

165°F is the USDA recommended internal temperature for cooked turkey. The turkey will continue to cook for several minutes after you take it out of the oven, so take it out before the meat reaches those target temperatures.

I usually take the the turkey out when the breast reaches 155°F to 160°F, and the thighs 155°F to 165°F. While white breast meat can easily dry out if its temperature gets too high, thigh meat can handle a higher internal temperature without drying out.

Breast-side up roast turkey, after the turkey has been turned over and broiled a few minutes to brown the breast. Elise Bauer

How Long to Cook Your Turkey

Here’s a quick way to estimate how long it takes to cook the turkey, though note that the actual cooking time will vary depending on how cold your turkey is to start, and your individual oven. So make sure to check the turkey WELL BEFORE (at least an hour) you estimate it to be done.

Approximate Roasting Times of Turkeys By Weight
Weight, in pounds Approximate roasting time
10-pound turkey 2 hours 10 minutes
12-pound turkey  2 hours 36 minutes
14-pound turkey  3 hours 2 minutes
16-pound turkey 3 hours 28 minutes
18-pound turkey  3 hours 54 minutes
20-pound turkey 4 hours 20 minutes

*For other size turkeys, multiply the weight of your turkey by 13 minutes per pound. 

The estimated times above are for starting with a preheated 400°F oven for about 20 minutes and then reducing the heat to 325°F for the duration of the cook time.

Again, this is just an estimate! If your turkey is not close to room temperature when it goes in the oven, it will take longer to cook. If it is at room temp, it may take less time to cook. So, check the temperature of your bird earlier than the full cooking time.

To Brine or Not to Brine the Turkey

If you follow these instructions for cooking the turkey (breast side down and removing the turkey from the oven before the thighs reach 165°F and the breast 160°F, there is no need to brine the turkey! Your turkey will be perfectly succulent and delicious.

That said, if you would like to cook your turkey in a more conventional manner, breast side up, brining will help keep the breast from drying out. See our methods for both wet and dry turkey brines:

Turkey Hotline

If you find yourself in a bind when cooking your turkey, Butterball offers a telephone hotlines during the holiday season at (800) 288-8372. For food safety questions, try the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline.

What to Serve with Your Thanksgiving Turkey

  • Turkey Stuffing served on the side
  • Perfect Mashed Potatoes made with Yukon Gold potatoes
  • Cranberry Sauce with or without mix-ins
  • Cranberry Relish with fresh cranberries, apples, and orange
  • Roasted Brussels Sprouts with lemon juice and Parmesan
  • Pumpkin Pie with whipped cream
  • Apple Pie with the flakiest homemade crust

What to Do With Leftover Turkey

Need recipes for all that leftover turkey? Here are some of our favorites.

  • Turkey Tetrazzini
  • Turkey Chili (with Leftover Turkey)
  • Curried Turkey Soup (With Leftover Turkey)
  • Mom’s Turkey Soup
  • Leftover Turkey Pot Pies

Mom’s Roast Turkey

PREP TIME20 mins
TOTAL TIME7 hrs 20 mins
SERVINGS12 to 14 servings
YIELD1 Roasted Turkey

Handle raw turkey the way you would raw chicken, with care. Use a separate cutting board and utensils to avoid contaminating other foods.

Wash your hands with soap and water after touching raw turkey and before you touch anything else in the kitchen. Wipe down surfaces with dampened paper towels.

Need help figuring out how big a turkey to get? Butterball has a turkey calculator that helps you figure out just how many pounds you need per person.


  • turkey, approximately 15 pounds (see Recipe Note)
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Extra virgin olive oil, or softened/melted butter
  • 1/2 medium onion, peeled and quartered
  • 1 medium rib celery
  • 1 to 2 carrots
  • 1 bunch fresh parsley
  • Several sprigs fresh rosemary, sage, and/or thyme


What is Mom’s Roast Turkey?

Mom’s Roast Turkey refers to a classic and beloved recipe for preparing a whole turkey for special occasions like Thanksgiving or Christmas. It often involves seasoning the turkey with a blend of herbs and spices, roasting it until golden brown and juicy, and serving it with traditional side dishes like stuffing, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce.

How do I make Mom’s Roast Turkey?

To make Mom’s Roast Turkey, start by preparing the turkey by removing giblets and rinsing it under cold water. Pat the turkey dry with paper towels, then season it generously with salt, pepper, and your choice of herbs and spices. Stuff the turkey cavity with aromatics like onion, garlic, lemon, and fresh herbs for added flavor. Roast the turkey in the oven at a moderate temperature, basting occasionally with pan juices or butter to keep it moist. Use a meat thermometer to ensure the turkey reaches the appropriate internal temperature before removing it from the oven. Let the turkey rest for a while before carving and serving.

What ingredients are needed for Mom’s Roast Turkey?

The main ingredients for Mom’s Roast Turkey include:

    • Whole turkey
    • Salt and pepper
    • Herbs and spices (such as thyme, rosemary, sage, and parsley)
    • Aromatics (such as onion, garlic, lemon, and celery)
    • Butter or olive oil Optional ingredients for seasoning or stuffing may include citrus fruits, bay leaves, and cinnamon sticks.

Can I customize Mom’s Roast Turkey recipe?

Yes, Mom’s Roast Turkey recipe is highly customizable based on personal preferences and dietary restrictions. You can adjust the blend of herbs and spices used to season the turkey according to your taste preferences. Additionally, you can experiment with different aromatics and stuffing ingredients to create unique flavor profiles. For example, you might consider using a citrus herb butter under the turkey skin or incorporating dried fruits and nuts into the stuffing mixture for added texture and flavor.

How long does it take to roast Mom’s Roast Turkey?

The roasting time for Mom’s Roast Turkey depends on the size of the turkey and the oven temperature used. As a general guideline, you can estimate approximately 13-15 minutes of cooking time per pound of turkey at 325°F (165°C). However, it’s essential to use a meat thermometer to ensure the turkey reaches an internal temperature of 165°F (75°C) in the thickest part of the thigh before considering it fully cooked. It’s also recommended to let the turkey rest for at least 20-30 minutes before carving to allow the juices to redistribute and ensure a juicy and tender bird.

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