The Turkey Game Plan
Thanksgiving week is finally here, which means it’s time to get your turkey ready for the big day. Whether it’s your first time cooking a turkey or you’ve tackled it a few times before, this is the day-by-day plan that will set you up for success. From thawing a frozen turkey to roasting, carving, and beyond, this is what you need to know.
Welcome to Thanksgiving week! Dinner isn’t for another few days, but now is the time to start prepping the turkey. If you haven’t already picked up a bird, you’ll want to get on that today. Otherwise you’ll want to get that turkey out of the freezer so it can start thawing.
Today is also a great time to choose a turkey recipe if you haven’t done so already. Round up all the cookware, supplies, and ingredients you’ll need so you’re set come Thursday.
Do any last-minute turkey shopping.
If you don’t already have it, buy your turkey now.
Tips for Buying the Turkey
- Your Turkey-Buying Cheat Sheet: Whether you want a little bit of leftovers, a lot, or none at all, this sheet will help you buy the right size bird for your needs.
- How Much Turkey per Person? Use This Rule of Thumb: Do you know the right amount of turkey to feed your guests? Work out that number to make sure your bird is big enough.
- A Complete Guide to Buying a Thanksgiving Turkey: Everything you need to know from how much to buy, to fresh versus frozen.
Thaw the turkey.
If you haven’t done so already, take the turkey out of the freezer this morning. As a rule of thumb, allow about one day of thawing for every four pounds of turkey. Leave the turkey in its bag or wrapping and place it in a large pan in the refrigerator.
Tips for Thawing the Turkey
Choose a turkey recipe.
Will you go with a classic roast turkey, or something more adventurous?
Our Favorite Turkey Recipes for Thanksgiving
- How To Cook a Turkey: The Simplest, Easiest Method: This is the classic roast turkey, with crispy skin and tender, juicy meat.
- How To Make a Bacon-Wrapped Turkey: Give your turkey a bacon blanket.
- How To Roast a Turkey Upside Down: Yes, turkey can be cooked upside down. It’s faster and makes for juicier white meat.
- Coke-Glazed Upside-Down Turkey: While cola and turkey might not seem like a natural pairing, the two work well together in this slightly sweet, quirky recipe.
- Pati Jinich’s Mexican Thanksgiving Turkey: Spices and citrus join forces for this twist on the main course.
Gather your cookware.
You don’t want to realize your meat thermometer is missing right when you need it on Thursday afternoon. Pull other the cookware, tools, and ingredients you’ll need to cook the turkey, and pick up anything you might still need. I’m talking about everything from the roasting pan and rack, to a meat thermometer and baster.
No Roasting Pan? No Problem.
- No Roasting Pan? 5 Alternatives Already in Your Kitchen: There are a few alternatives in your kitchen right now.
- What to Do If You Don’t Have a Roasting Rack on Thanksgiving: A roasting rack lifts the turkey away from direct heat of the pan and allows hot air to circulate underneath. There are a few easy ways to improvise if you don’t have a roasting rack.
Use Tuesday to finish gathering the cookware and tools you’ll need to cook the turkey. You can also get your brine started today.
Brine the turkey (if you like).
This process is totally optional, although it’s easy to do and produces a well-seasoned, succulent turkey. We recommend brining turkey for one to two days before roasting, so Tuesday evening is a good time to tackle this task. Check to make sure your turkey isn’t pre-brined. Some brands like Butterball come already seasoned.
Tips on Brining the Turkey
- How To Dry-Brine a Turkey: Also called pre-salting, a dry-brine seasons the turkey to the same effect of a wet brine, but it does not use any water.
- How To Brine a Turkey: Brining is your ticket to a juicy, full-flavored turkey, even if you’re not feeling totally confident about your roasting skills.
- The Best Place to Brine Your Thanksgiving Turkey Is in Your Refrigerator Drawer: If you’re cooking a really big bird that won’t fit in a stockpot or bucket, brine it in a cleaned-out refrigerator drawer.
Do not panic! Even if you don’t have a turkey yet, we have some solutions on how you can still make it the main course of your Thanksgiving spread.
There is still hope if you’re turkey-less.
You might still be able to get your hands on a whole fresh turkey. Otherwise, consider buying turkey pieces like the breast, drumsticks, or thighs.
Turkey Recipes That Are Better than the Whole Bird
- How To Cook Turkey Breast: This is the recipe that delivers juicy white meat blanketed with ultra-crispy skin.
- Apple, Pecan & Brie Stuffed Turkey Breast: When you love stuffing in the bird, this is the recipe for you.
- Dutch Oven Braised Turkey: Turkey thighs and drumsticks are braised in a Dutch oven to make Thanksgiving a one-pot meal.
Alright, Thanksgiving is here! By now most of the prep is done, and it’s time to cook the turkey before you can present it to the table and chow down.
Do not panic if your turkey is still frozen.
If you underestimated the time needed for thawing, and your turkey is covered in a few ice crystals or it’s frozen solid, there is hope.
Yes, You Can Cook a Frozen Turkey
Tend to the turkey while it roasts.
Roasting a turkey isn’t a totally set-it-and-forget-it process. Plan to tend to it while it cooks by basting and eventually checking the internal temperature with a instant-read thermometer.
Tips to Tend the Turkey While It Roasts
- Is Basting the Turkey Really Necessary?: I like basting the bird, although this step is entirely optional.
- How To Check the Temperature on a Turkey: Internal temperature is the best gauge for the turkey’s doneness.
- The Right Internal Temperature for Cooked Chicken (and Turkey): Like chicken, turkey should be cooked to 165°F.
Rest the turkey.
This step is just as important as cooking. Tent the turkey with foil to help it stay warm, and rest it for at least 30 minutes. This gives time for the meat to firm up and the juices to be re-absorbed into the muscle tissue, making the turkey easier to carve.
Carve and serve the turkey.
This job can look intimidating, but it’s not as tough as it seems. Pull out a large cutting board and a sharp chef’s knife.
Carve the turkey like a pro: How To Carve a Turkey
Package up leftovers and use the carcass for turkey stock.
Dinner might be done, but there’s still one more step — it’s time to package up the leftovers and make the turkey stock.
Tips for Tackling Turkey Leftovers
- The Thanksgiving Leftovers You Can Freeze (or Shouldn’t Freeze): If you don’t plan to eat the leftover turkey right away, you can freeze it for up to three months. Just be sure to pack it separately from the bones if you’re also freezing them.
- How To Make Turkey Stock: This is turkey’s last hurrah — simmering the carcass to make liquid gold.