Never Cooked a Turkey? Quick Tips for the First Timer!

Nothing screams adulting like cooking a turkey and the entire Thanksgiving dinner. It is truly an art form making a meal with this many dishes come together. I found myself hosting for the first time a few years ago, and to say that it was stressful was an understatement. I was responsible for the main dish…that takes several hours to prepare…if it didn’t turn out it would be all my fault. Talk about pressure!

I consulted every mom I could, and I have compiled all of the tips here. We have been trying to find the silver linings in this crazy year, so while you might not be able to celebrate with your family, maybe 2020 is the year you cook your first turkey dinner. 


Size: A good rule of thumb is to allow for 1.25 -1.5 lbs of turkey per person. Some kids will eat way less and some relatives will eat a little more. This number is pretty accurate and it still allows for some leftover turkey. My family lives off thanksgiving leftovers for the entire weekend! If you plan on having 20 guests, you should buy a bird that is 25-30 lbs. You could also buy a smaller bird and an additional turkey breast if you prefer more white meat. 

Thawing the turkey- This is where most first-time turkey chefs make mistakes. It takes forever to thaw a giant bird. You can’t run down to the freezer and pull it out the night before and expect it to be ready. If you have a 25 lb bird, you should plan on moving it out of the freezer and into the fridge at least 5 days before the big day. It doesn’t hurt to check in it often and rotate it. In a worst-case scenario, you can always take it out of the fridge and leave it on the counter for a few hours, or try to thaw it in a bucket of water.

TurkeyPrepping the bird- A frozen turkey will come with a couple of extra surprises in the cavity. You must reach deep in the cavity to grab out 2 bags. One is a bag of gravy. The other bag contains the neck and some extras. I will never forget on Thanksgiving eve, my husband spent a solid 45 minutes searching the cavity. We had just about given up when we discovered the bags on the bottom side of the bird. Once you grab the “bag of goodies” out of the cavity, you can stuff the bird if you like. My family is from the South, so we make “dressing” instead of “stuffing.” I would encourage you to massage the entire bird with lots of butter. This will help make the pretty golden brown coloring. 


Roasting Pan: Also, make sure you have a roasting pan big enough to fit your turkey. If you don’t check you might end up running around town the night before the big day and paying big bucks for a roasting pan. I learned this lesson the hard way. 

Foolproof Cooking Methods:
Oven bag– Our favorite way to cook our bird is using an oven bag. I don’t have time to baste the bird, make all of the other dishes, and get the family ready for the day. Just follow the directions on the bag. You put a little bit of flour in the bag and shake it to coat. Slide your turkey in. We place it on top of the celery and onions. Turkey has to cook to an internal temperature of 165 degrees. {Invest in a digital meat thermometer…totally worth it}. You should plan for 15 minutes of cook time per pound. A 20 lb bird will take about 5 hours to cook. 

Turkey prepCrockpot– I’ve also cooked smaller turkey breasts in the crockpot. I put celery, onion, and apple slices in the crock. Place the turkey breast in. Throw a few tablespoons of butter on the top with a sprinkle of dry onion soup packet. Cook on low for 6 hours {or until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees}.

Make sure to let the turkey rest for 30 minutes before carving. Voila! Pour some wine and relax!

And while Thanksgiving might look different, I hope you are still able to find many things to be thankful for this year


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Courtney Cox
Courtney lives in Grand Blanc. She's married to Matt, and they have two very smart, energetic, and involved kids, Walker and Tenley. Courtney is a working mom who spends her days teaching High School Biology and English. She thrives on being busy, but also struggles with finding a good balance. She loves working with people, but definitely is inspired when she is interacting with young people. In her free time....just kidding she doesn't have free time, but she does love to go to concerts and catch up with friends and family. Favorite things include Michigan football, college basketball, scented candles, any beach, campfires, traveling and spontaneous dance parties.


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