Thanksgiving Countdown: Master Step-by-Step Turkey Prep

Holidays, Learn, Tips & Techniques

Step-by-Step Turkey Prep

Are you ready to take on the turkey this Thanksgiving? To help you prepare, we’ve gathered our tried-and-true tips for seasoning and roasting your bird, step by step.


Before you get started, a quick tip: when deciding what size turkey to buy, allow for 1 to 1 1/4 lb. of turkey per person.


BrineStep 1: Brine or Add Flavor

A soak in a savory brine — a mixture of salt, water and seasonings — adds flavor and juiciness to turkey, penetrating even more deeply than a marinade. When making your brine, heat the ingredients to make sure they dissolve completely, then cool before submerging your turkey in the brine. Cover and refrigerate for at least 24 hours. Watch the video to see how it’s done.


Alternatively, you can season your turkey with a dry rub or paste on the outside of the skin. If you do, score the skin before applying the spices and seasonings to make sure it permeates throughout the meat. A flavor injector also works to infuse the turkey with liquid flavorings before roasting.


Step 2: Stuffing & Trussing

Cooking your stuffing inside the Thanksgiving turkey means that as it roasts, its juices are absorbed into the stuffing. The result? A savory, moist, delicious mixture that’s hard to achieve any other way.


Make sure your stuffing and turkey are both at room temperature before you begin, and stuff the turkey just before roasting to avoid contamination. Make sure to pack it loosely, as the stuffing will expand while cooking. Tip: line the turkey cavity with a cheesecloth beforehand so it’s easy to remove the stuffing after cooking. After roasting, take the temperature of the stuffing; it should be at 165 degrees when finished. Watch the video here.


To make sure the turkey cooks evenly and holds its shape for carving, it’s a good idea to tie it. Just place the turkey breast side-up and tie the legs together. Then, tuck the first joint of each wing under the body of the bird.



If you’re trussing a stuffed turkey, pass trussing pins through the skin on both sides of the body cavity as you would shoelaces. Pull it snug and tie it securely at the bottom. Pull the neck skin over the dressing and fasten it underneath with trussing pins or sturdy toothpicks. Truss the legs and tuck the wings under as directed above.


Step 3: Roast and Rest 

About an hour before roasting, take your turkey out of the refrigerator. For best results, roast it on a wire rack in an open roasting pan –400°F, breast side down, for the first 45 minutes, then turned breast side up and roasted at 325°F until done. An unstuffed 10-lb. bird will take about 2 1/2 hours to cook through, while a 20-lb. bird will take up to 4 1/2 hours.


After roasting, let the turkey rest for 20 to 30 minutes before carving.


Step 4: Carve

To carve a turkey, you’ll need a sharp knife and a two-pronged fork. Place the turkey breast side-up and cut through the skin between the leg and body, then cut through the joint to remove the leg. Remove the wings the same way.


Cut between the joint to separate the drumstick and thigh. Slice the meat on the drumstick lengthwise along the bone, turning after each slice. Place the thigh, flat side down, and slice the meat parallel to the bone.


For the breast, make a first cut through the breast meat just above the leg and shoulder joints. Then, starting near the breastbone, carve the meat vertically into thin slices, cutting parallel to the rib cage, ending each slice at the preliminary cut. Watch the video.


Follow along as we continue to gear up for Thanksgiving! Earlier on our Thanksgiving Countdown:

Plan Your Guest List Now

Get a Head Start With Our Make-Ahead Thanksgiving Menu

Check Out Our 2015 Thanksgiving Brochure!

Thanksgiving Countdown: Break Tradition With New Recipes

61 comments about “Thanksgiving Countdown: Master Step-by-Step Turkey Prep

  1. Sandra Gunn

    I like to put the rub, oil, and spices under the skin and inside s turkey. Then basting the skin with oil as well. At first part, put in the oven with temperature around 300 F covered with aluminium foil, the second part step the oven temperature up to 400 F just about 20 minutes to make the skin brown and crispy.

  2. Deborah Tamez

    So, you can do both, brine & inject? Always thought it was one or the other, If you roast breast side down for 45 min, then flip…wouldn’t it be difficult to flip a large hot, stuffed turkey?

    1. Williams-Sonoma

      Hi Deborah, sorry for the confusion — as you said, you should brine OR inject the bird with seasonings, not both. Also, the directions for roasting here refer to an unstuffed bird. If you are roasting a stuffed bird, roast it breast side up, at 325°F, covering the breast loosely with foil for the first two-thirds of the roasting time and removing it for the final third. Then — using the chart here: — add about 30 minutes to the total cooking time for stuffed birds weighing 16 lb. or less, and about 1 hour for birds weighing more than 16 lb.

  3. Jeffrey Collins

    Hi.. I have really enjoyed all of your videos on how to prepare a turkey..
    Yet in each of the videos you all show the roasting pan and I see chopped vegetables in the pan but I do not know which to put in there.. Can you all tell me what vegetables are in the bottom of the pan and how they should be prepared/chopped?
    I bought the Apple and Spices brine and can’t wait to try it out this year!

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  6. Beth Sanford

    Today I was looking through my Williams Sonoma Holiday Cookbooks: Thanksgiving & Christmas that I have had for several years. I use them quite often and interchange the recipes between the two holidays.I was struck as I was reading each recipe which I haven’t done before there was a reference (p. 57) to the holiday of Hanukkah within a recipe for Latkes and described in detail the history of the observance of Hanukkah. As I continued reading, I came across another recipe, Almond and Apricot Rugelach (p. 73), which referenced the history behind why some dairy foods are eaten during Hanukkah. Here you recount a story about Yehudith, a man”who escaped a lascivious Greek ruler by plying him with dairy foods and wine until he fell asleep….??? Are you joking? I went on to then look and see where you referenced Christian observances in light of it being a “Christmas Cookbook”. Nowhere was there any mention of Christmas (religious) traditions mentioned in the Cookbook. Since you are packaging and selling a “Christmas Cookbook”, I thought that odd and very biased.

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