What is the Best Way to Cook a Turkey?

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

The way to cook a turkey, like many culinary issues, is a matter of individual taste, and there is, in fact, no one best way to cook a turkey. That being said, there may be better ways to cook a turkey, and here are some hints to help you end up with the turkey of your dreams, no matter how you heat it. Use this article to make your basic choices, and then seek a specific recipe in a cookbook, at the FoodNetwork website, your state university extension service or from some other reliable source. There are unsafe methods for cooking turkey in wide circulation, so be careful!

A roast turkey.
A roast turkey.

Step 1: To cook a turkey to perfection using any method, the best bet is to start with a great quality turkey. Depending on personal criteria, this may mean different things. Just keep in mind that what comes out of your kitchen depends on what you start with, and in general, freshly killed birds will provide a better result than frozen.

A turkey.
A turkey.

Step 2: To make plans to cook a turkey, you need to decide on both the any precooking preparation as well as the cooking method you wish to use. Preparation can include:

When marinating turkey, make sure the container is made from a non-reactive material, such as glass.
When marinating turkey, make sure the container is made from a non-reactive material, such as glass.

stuffing the turkey
brining the turkey
• marinating the turkey

Roast turkey seals in moisture.
Roast turkey seals in moisture.

If you’re going to stuff your turkey, it will require substantially more cooking time than an unstuffed bird, so be prepared and use the appropriate roasting timetable. Insert stuffing into the bird at the last possible moment before roasting for food safety reasons. Properly inserting the thermometer is also key in judging doneness. Stuffing can be cooked alongside the bird as well.

Salty brine actually makes turkey meat juicier via osmosis.
Salty brine actually makes turkey meat juicier via osmosis.

Brine the turkey in a salt water solution overnight before cooking. Huge pots or buckets are both used. This may be difficult to fit in your refrigerator, but in areas that are cold enough, the turkey can be brined in the mudroom, on the porch, or even outside. The exact components of the brine solution vary: some use a very simple salt and water solution, while others offer more elaborate concoctions involving allspice or juniper berries, sugar, etc. You should rinse your brined bird and pat it dry before cooking. Nevertheless, gravy made from a brined turkey will be extra salty, so taste often and season carefully.

Deep fried turkey is popular in the US.
Deep fried turkey is popular in the US.

Turkey marinade can give a turkey delightful flavor. Ingredients include herbs and seasonings combined with such liquids as oil, apple cider, wine, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, sherry, and beer. Be sure to marinate the turkey in a non-reactive container, such as glass or glazed ceramic, and make sure it is properly cooled.

Step 3: To decide how to cook a turkey, consider the method you wish to use before you order or purchase your turkey, because some will work best with a smaller bird. Even though a roast turkey may be customary for occasions like Thanksgiving dinner, there are other ways to make a turkey dinner. Possibilities include:

• traditional oven-roasted turkey
• deep fried turkey
• grilled turkey
• smoked turkey
• rotisseried turkey

Oven Roasting
One method of oven roasting involved slipping the turkey part-way through cooking or alternatively covering the breast with cheesecloth during the first 2/3 of cooking and removing it to crisp the skin. Recommendations for moistening the cheesecloth include: chicken stock, melted butter, wine, and combinations thereof. In either case, basting the bird will yield best results. Unstuffed birds can be seasoned by placing onions, herbs, and other ingredients in the cavity.

Deep Frying
Deep-frying a turkey is much faster than roasting. To cook a turkey in this style, set up a propane heated burner and appropriate sized pot outside and at a distance from anything flammable. Choose a cooking oil with a high smoking point, and use a thermometer to make sure that the oil temperature is hot enough.

Grilling can be used as the exclusive cooking method, or combined with roasting and/or smoking. A kettle-style grill with a hood is best suited for this method. Aluminum foil can be used to cover the wingtips so that they don’t burn.

Smoking a turkey takes at least twice as long as oven roasting, as well as requiring a specialized piece of equipment, so be sure to plan ahead. Smoking can be done simply over charcoal, or with the addition of hickory, mesquite, or other chips for additional flavor. You might also consider using an oven bag or braising the turkey.

Gravy made from a brined turkey may be too salty.
Gravy made from a brined turkey may be too salty.
Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Mary Elizabeth is passionate about reading, writing, and research, and has a penchant for correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to contributing articles to wiseGEEK about art, literature, and music, Mary Elizabeth is a teacher, composer, and author. She has a B.A. from the University of Chicago’s writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont, and she has written books, study guides, and teacher materials on language and literature, as well as music composition content for Sibelius Software.

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Discussion Comments


One of the methods that the author mentions in the article is actually about brining. Will I never thought this method would taste very good for Turkey, I've come to realize that it actually does wonder the moisture content of a turkey. By using saltwater as a brine, you are in fact allowing the cooking process to become a complex chemical reaction inside of your oven. Cooking after all, is chemistry. Once you understand this process that the fact that food is so very delicate in the way that you mix it, your dishes will come alive.

The basics of how long to cook a turkey and what flavors to use are fairly obvious to most cooks. The complication truly comes in in the method in way that you cook it. Why have tried many different methods of the years I found that the best method is in fact to use a brine before you cook it in the oven. I recommend you try this the next time that you prepare a turkey for your family meal.


A very strange addition to Turkey cooking that I have come across when scouring the Internet for different recipes, is the use of a sugary glaze on the outside of the turkey. The proper cooking method for using Sugar such as this must be done in a precise manner as it is very simple to mess up a sugar glaze.

I think it is important to remember when doing this method, that you use brown sugar and not regular white cane sugar. The richness and flavor that brown sugar can bring to your dish is amazing. Flavors will jump out at your tongue like you never thought possible. The amazing mixture of brown sugar and dark turkey meat is something that you will not soon forget.


It always amazes me how much discussion can actually go into cooking a turkey, I mean, how hard is it? You stick to turkey in a pan, and you turn on the oven. Obviously weight will determine the cook time of the actual process but the reality remains that the actual cooking of the turkey is a very very basic.

Personally, I think the intricacies of cooking a turkey truly come into play when deciding what flavors to use. My favorite types of flavors are a mixture of citrus using both wine and lemon and even oranges in addition to several types of herbs. One very special herb that I use in a very reduced amount but can have an overall influence on the turkey is lavender. Many people in America do not cook with lavender but I found that is very popular in certain parts of Europe. This herb that is usually used for its smell can also be used for its flavor.

I would never recommend using Lavender is a predominant type of flavor for any dish that you cook, but besides this you can use it to complement other flavors such as rosemary and sage. One of my favorite combinations is Rosemary, Sage, lavender, and orange cinnamon. the flavors that you will get out of slow roasted turkey with these herbs and spices will amaze your taste buds. Next time you cook a turkey I recommend going to a specialty herb store and looking up lavender and to many different uses besides as a smell.


@anon52767, I couldn't agree with you more. Over the many years that I've been cooking turkeys for Thanksgiving dinner and other special family events, the best way that I found is by using a turkey back. It seems odd the first time that you do it. Putting a plastic bag over the turkey seems like it would melt in the oven. This is simply not the case and actually traps in the moisture juices and flavor that come out of the turkey and get whisked away if it's not inside of the turkey bag.

The greatest part of cut cooking a turkey inside of a turkey bag is the fact that you can still add your own types of seasoning stuffing or what ever it is that you choose to do flavor your turkey with as the bag is simply a method for cooking the turkey and not dependent on the flavors that you use. After having used this way of cooking turkeys over the past few years, I cannot think of another method that I will try until some other ingenious way of cooking a turkey is developed.


The best way to cook a turkey is in a plastic cooking bag. It is much faster, safer, cleaner, and produces the most tender meat. Once in the bag you don't have to keep opening the oven to baste the bird. Basting is a real waste of time, and fairly useless.

A plastic cooking bag is better by far than any method for oven roasting a turkey, period.

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