How To Cook A Turkey

My wife and I have been students of how to cook a turkey for the last 15 years.  With 5 hungry kids, we have to be!  So even though this is a financial planning website, I wanted to share my favorite way to cook a turkey.  I don’t remember where we first read this recipe, but now I’m starting to see similar ones in lots of places.  And for good reason!  This is the best way to cook a turkey that we’ve found.


  • Washed & dried off turkey (giblet bag removed)
  • 1 or 2 sticks of butter (depending on the size of your Thanksgiving bird)
  • 1 cup chopped pancetta, ham or bacon
  • 1 or 2 tablespoons of poultry seasoning (again, depending on size of gobbler)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Lay the turkey on the counter on its back with the cavity facing you.  With your hands, gently separate the skin from the breast meat.  It’s cold and gross feeling, but you’ll get through it.  Leave the skin attached to the meat at the front of the turkey breast so that it forms a pocket to hold the butter.  Mix the softened butter with the other ingredients.  Now spread the butter over the turkey breast evenly, underneath the skin.  Rub the outside of the turkey with some vegetable or olive oil.  Sprinkle some extra salt on the outside of the bird as a final touch.  Tuck the ends of the wings under the rest of the wing.  This will prevent them from burning to a crisp.  Tie the ends of the drumsticks together with the string provided with your Thanksgiving turkey.

I’m not big on cooking stuffing inside a turkey, I think it tastes better if you don’t.

Heat your oven up to 500 degrees and cook the turkey for about 30 minutes.  Then turn the oven down to 350 and put a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the breast.  It’s a good idea to cover the turkey with some foil for the next 45 minutes to prevent the skin and breast from drying out too much.  Make sure you take it off for the remaining time so the skin gets nice and golden brown.

Don’t go by the per pound cooking time, go by the temperature of the meat.  The USDA says you should cook the turkey till it reaches 160 degrees.  But once you take the bird out of the oven it will continue to cook and the temperature will rise for about 15 minutes.  I recommend taking the bird out when the thermometer reaches 155 degrees for a moister meat.  This is the key to a moist turkey meat.  Don’t cook it too long and crispify it!  After you take it out, plan on letting the bird sit for 30 – 60 minutes prior to carving it.  A 20 lb. bird will take around 3 hours to cook.  But again, don’t go by time, go by temperature!

Follow these simple instructions and your family and guests will be telling you that this was the best Thanksgiving turkey they ever had!  Now you know how to cook a turkey, and how to cook a moist turkey.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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