Tips for the Perfect Holiday Turkey

tips for a perfect holiday turkey

When I was a child, watching my mother fix our holiday meals for us with ease, I never realized how daunting it was to attempt to cook a turkey for your family until I became the cook. (And then subsequently screwed it up a time or two. Ahem. And whoops.)

Over the years, I’ve done my research in hopes of never ruining another holiday meal. I’ve tried many different ways to cook a turkey, and I must confess to you – this recipe, my friends, is the best holiday turkey recipe of them all. The single best, juiciest, most sought-after turkey you will ever lay your taste buds on. I promise you.

But before I share my awesome holiday turkey recipe, let me offer you a few tips on how to make your turkey fantastic.

Turkey Tips

  • Create and use a tin foil “shield” for the breast:

    This foil “shield” is molded over the turkey breast and only the turkey breast, to ensure it doesn’t overcook. No need to steam your turkey in the oven by covering the entire thing with foil, this tin foil “shield” just protects the breast from burning/overcooking/drying out.

  • Create an herbed butter spread for inside your bird:

    Using flavors you know and love (mine are below), combine butter with herbs and place them in your bird, between the skin and the breast meat. You’ll have to do a little extra work to separate the skin from the meat to slide the butter mixture in there, but it’s worth it, it keeps your meat juicy, flavors your turkey nicely while it cooks, and truly makes the meal.

  • Insert your turkey into the oven legs first:

    Deep in the thigh is where you stick the thermometer in order to test for the magical 180 degrees. Legs going into the oven first helps assure that will happen, as the back of the oven is the hotter part of the oven. Breast meat facing out will help it not become too dry by overheating.

  • Cook your turkey’s breast to only 161 degrees:

    Like I said in the previous note, the thigh meat is what needs to be 180, not the breast. Cooking your breast meat to 161 ensures doneness.

  • A stuffed turkey cooks longer:

    If you choose to stuff your turkey, you will have to bake it for longer to ensure its done. The above temperatures still apply, but you’ll want to be sure the stuffing is also fully done by inserting your thermometer down into the middle of the stuffing. 165 degrees is the magic number there.

turkey closeup

The Perfect Holiday Turkey Recipe

The Perfect Holiday Turkey Recipe
This scrumptious turkey recipe is juicy, moist, and is worth every second of your preparation time.
Cuisine: dinner, holiday
Serves: 10
  • 16 pound turkey
  • ¼ cup kosher salt
  • ¼ cup fresh-cracked pepper
  • 1 pound softened butter or butter substitute (I know this sounds like a lot, but you need it)
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp fresh thyme, coursely chopped, or dried
  • 2 tbsp fresh sage, coursely chopped, or dried
  • 3 sprigs rosemary, coursely chopped, or 1 tbsp dried
  • 1 tablespoon bread crumbs (seasoned or unseasoned, your choice)
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 4 large carrots, peeled and coursely chopped
  • 3 celery ribs, coursely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1-2 cans cream of mushroom soup for gravy (or use the homemade gravy recipe below)
Homemade Gravy Recipe
  • ⅔ cup organic butter
  • ⅔ cup all-purpose organic flour
  • 2 tbsp Mrs. Dash table blend
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon celery seed
  • 2½ cups turkey drippings and/or organic chicken broth
  • 1⅓ cup organic milk
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Wash turkey and dry off with towels.
  3. Rub turkey with olive oil, and use aluminum foil to shape and form a "shield" over the breast only
  4. Take foil off carefully, still in breast-shape, and set aside for later.
  5. Sprinkle turkey with salt and pepper all over, to include inside the cavity.
  6. In a small bowl, mix softened butter (or substitute) with the chopped herbs, a little salt and pepper, and bread crumbs.
  7. Gently push your hand between the skin of the turkey and the turkey breast to separate the skin from the breast; spoon some of the herbed butter mixture between the skin and the breast, massaging the butter down into the bird. Ensure the butter is evenly displaced throughout the breast meat. Try to use most of the butter under the skin, with a little placed like "pats" of butter above the skin.
  8. In a large roasting pan for the turkey, place rough-chopped vegetables at the base of pan, placing the turkey on top, and place aluminum foil "shield" back on top of the turkey breast, and place in oven, LEGS FIRST, at 350 degrees.
  9. Let the turkey cook for one hour completely untouched with the foil "shield" on top.
  10. After an hour, untouched, remove foil and baste with a brush.
  11. Return to oven and baste turkey every half hour or so.
  12. Once the turkey breast reaches at least 161 degrees, take it out of the oven and let it rest for 15 minutes in the pan on your countertop. Cover it with something, like a lid, more foil, or, what I usually do is use foil and a large kitchen towel.
  13. After the 15 minutes rest time, remove the turkey from the pan and over to a cutting board or platter.
  14. Strain all the drippings with a fine strainer and remove the fat from surface with a spoon for gravy.
  15. Place the natural drippings in a sauce pan and bring to a simmer.
  16. Here you will take 1 or 2 cans of cream of mushroom soup (or gravy, instructions below) and add to drippings and whisk until bubbly for gravy.
For Homemade Gravy
  1. Melt butter in a medium saucepan; add flour and blend to form a Roux
  2. Add the turkey drippings/chicken broth and milk, whisking the Roux into the liquid, until the thick roux lumps are gone.
  3. Heat slowly until bubbly, stirring constantly, until thickened.

I simply cannot wait to make this for my family tomorrow for Thanksgiving, and again for Christmas.

What about you? What do you do for your holiday meals? What are you most looking forward to making for the holiday?