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How to Cook Thanksgiving

Turkey is the star of the show

Make a bird that everyone will rave about. Our recipes deliver the tender, juicy, perfect turkey that'll shine on your Thanksgiving table.

Watch Now: Roasted Brined Turkey

Since we introduced the brined turkey in 1993, we have tested dozens of techniques for producing the perfect Thanksgiving bird. Here's what really works. Watch the whole episode, A Hearty Fall Feast, where we also make the ultimate root vegetable gratin and roasted rack of lamb at home.

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How to Salt a Turkey

Salting poultry in advance is one way to season the meat and keep it juicy. When salt is applied to raw poultry, juices inside are drawn to the surface. The salt then dissolves in the exuded liquid, forming a brine that is eventually reabsorbed by the poultry. The salt changes the structure of the muscle proteins, allowing them to hold on to more of their own natural juices. Salting requires time, but it won’t thwart the goal of crispy skin. We prefer to use kosher salt for salting because it’s easier to distribute the salt evenly.

How to salt a whole turkey

  • Time: 24 to 48 hours
  • Kosher salt: 1 teaspoon per pound
  • Method: Apply salt evenly inside cavity and under skin of breasts and legs, wrap tightly with plastic wrap, and let rest in refrigerator.

How to salt a boneless or bone-in turkey breast

  • Time: At least 6 hours or up to 24 hours
  • Kosher salt: 3/4 teaspoon per pound
  • Method: Apply salt evenly between skin and meat, leaving skin attached, and let rest in refrigerator on wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet. (Wrap with plastic wrap if salting for longer than 12 hours.)

We use Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt; if using Morton Kosher Salt, reduce the amounts listed by 33 percent (e.g. use 2/3 teaspoon Morton Kosher Salt in place of 1 teaspoon Diamond Crystal).

How to Brine a Turkey

Brining works in much the same way as salting. Salt in the brine seasons the poultry and promotes a change in its protein structure, reducing its overall toughness and creating gaps that fill up with water and keep the meat juicy and flavorful. Brining works faster than salting and can also result in juicier lean cuts since it adds, versus merely retains, moisture. But note that brining inhibits browning, and it requires fitting a brining container in the fridge. We prefer to use table salt for brining since it dissolves quickly in the water. Follow a recipe's specific instructions; otherwise, here is a good rule of thumb on brine times and concentrations.

How to brine small whole turkey (12 to 17 pounds)

  • Time: 6 to 12 hours
  • Cold water: 2 gallons
  • Table salt: 1 cup

How to brine large whole turkey (18 to 24 pounds)

  • Time: 6 to 12 hours
  • Cold water: 3 gallons
  • Table salt: 1½ cups

How to brine bone-in turkey breast (6 to 8 pounds)

  • Time: 3 to 6 hours
  • Cold water: 1 gallon
  • Table salt: ½ cup

Thanksgiving Turkey Recipes

Top Turkey Cooking Equipment

Top Turkey Cooking Equipment

  • Calphalon Contemporary Stainless Roasting Pan with Rack

    A handsome, heavy-duty roasting pan bearing a big holiday roast—what could be more iconic? Whether roasting a turkey, browning potatoes, or searing a pork loin, our winning roasting pan and rack gave us great results.

    [Buy winner on Amazon | Read our review of roasting pans]

  • Thermoworks Thermapen Mk4

    An instant-read thermometer takes all the guesswork out of cooking virtually anything—for one, you will never over- or undercook a turkey again—but it's also useful for pies, cakes, breads, poaching water, butter, tea, coffee, caramel, custards, and even baked potatoes. Our favorite is accurate, speedy, and sports an auto-rotating display that lights up in low light and wakes up when the unit is picked up. 

    [Buy winner on Thermoworks | Read our review of instant-read thermometers]

  • Thermoworks Thermapop

    Looking for an excellent inexpensive alternative to the top-of-the-line instant-read thermometer? Our favorite best buy thermometer was fast, accurate, and easy to hold. It had a few cushy extra features, including a rotating display and a backlight. 

    [Buy winner on Thermoworks | Read our review of inexpensive digital thermometers]

  • iDevices Kitchen Thermometer

    Another convenient, high-tech alternative to the traditional instant-read thermometer is a remote thermometer. It allows you to monitor, from a distance, the temperature of food cooking on the grill, the stovetop, or in the oven. One or more temperature probes inserted into the food connect to a battery-powered base that communicates wirelessly via Bluetooth with your mobile device.

    [Buy winner on Amazon | Read our review of remote thermometers]

  • Thermoworks ChefAlarm

    In the test kitchen, we use hands-free clip-on digital thermometers to monitor temperatures when checking food (like a roasting turkey) as it cooks in the oven without needing to open the oven door.  Our favorite model, with an oven-safe probe, was the most accurate among those we tested, plus it had an intuitive design.

    [Buy on Thermoworks | Read our review of clip-on probe thermometers]

  • Cuisipro Fat Separator

    If you’re making gravy (or soup), you can use a fat separator to defat stocks and pan juices almost immediately. Our winner consistently produced the greatest volumes of defatted stock. It had a big, comfortable handle and a wide, small-holed, tall-sided strainer that was easy to pour into.

    [Buy winner on Amazon | Read our review of fat separators]

  • J.K. Adams Maple Reversible Carving Board

    Carving boards are designed to allow you to neatly slice into a juicy roast, traditionally by relying on a trench around their perimeter that traps the liquid. Our easy-to-handle favorite boasts trenches on both sides that easily accommodate 1/2 cup of liquid. One side provides uninterrupted cutting space, while the other features a poultry-shaped well that steadied turkeys during carving but didn’t obstruct our knife. 

    [Buy winner on Amazon | Read our review of carving boards]

  • Victorinox Chef's Knife

    Not only is our favorite chef's knife, with its super-sharp blade, a must-have essential in the kitchen, it's also our recommended tool for carving a turkey neatly and efficiently.

    [Buy winner on Amazon | Read our review of chef's knives]

Tip: Keep the Turkey Carcass

After you've served the Thanksgiving meal (and made a wish on the wishbone), be sure not to discard the turkey carcass. Store it in the refrigerator (it will hold for a day or two) and then use it to make turkey stock. Nothing could be more economical or delicious.

Cook's tip: Try not to use a barren carcass for the stock. The stock will taste best made with a carcass that has a good amount of meat clinging to it. And once the stock is done, make sure to pick off the bits of meat still clinging to the carcass. They will make a delicious addition to turkey soup.

All the Turkey

All Recipes Turkey, Gravy, Stuffing

Want more? See our full list of turkey recipes from the test kitchen.

 

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