There really is nothing as delicious as a tender turkey around the holidays. This blog is a step-by-step guide to how to cook a turkey at 250 degrees.
Whether you are cooking a fresh turkey or a frozen turkey that has been thawed. Cooking the whole turkey at a low temperature always reaps the best results.
This is the Official East Pine Home Turkey Recipe!
So what is the answer? How long does it take to cook a turkey at 250 degrees? The short answer is a cooking time of 20 mins per pound. But if you want the long answer stick around so I can tell you the best way to a perfect turkey. So with my method if you had a 12 lb turkey you are looking at about 4 hours and then an extra 45 mins for heat spiking and making your turkey’s skin crispy (I’ll explain what all that means later).
The first thing is first.
Make sure you have a thawed turkey. We don’t want to be working with ice chunks. There are a few ways you can do this. The most ideal way is to thaw it in the fridge. To figure out how many days before you will need to pull it out. The rule of thumb is one day for every 4 pounds. If you are crunched for time you can try thawing it in cold water or on the counter. Neither of these methods is recommended because you risk bacteria growing on the skin that would cause food poisoning. The skin thaws first and the core last so be mindful of that when you are thawing your bird.
For this recipe, I was working with a turkey about 14 lbs. I have done this method and recipe with a 20-pound turkey. The size of your turkey will be different for everyone but the method is all the same. There are a million different ways to prepare turkey. From using an electric smoker to a crock pot. I love the simple way that gives consistent results. My method can be done with a little or larger bird and gives the best turkey every time.
What you will need:
- Whole Garlic Cloves
- Stuffing (homemade or stovetop)
- One Lemon or Lemon Juice
- Black Pepper
- A Roasting pan (preferably with a grate)
- Tinfoil (if your roaster has no cover)
- Baster or Ladle
- Paper towel
When you are ready to cook your turkey, wash and clean your sink before you get started. Once your turkey is thawed open it up and remove the bag of giblets and the neck. Move your turkey over to the sink. You need to rinse your bird and pluck any feathers that got left behind. Flip your bird up and let any water that got in the cavity drain out. Place the turkey in the roaster pan and pat your entire turkey dry with a paper towel. You can save the neck and put it in the bottom of the roasting pan to cook and add flavor to your gravy. I usually throw the organ bag away.
If you are making your own stuffing now is the time to pull it out but if you are going the easy way like me pull out the boxes of stove top and head to the burners. Pull out a pot for your stuffing. Usually, it’s about 2 cups of water and a spoonful of butter. Let the water boil at a high temperature. Add in your packets of stuffing and then remove them to bring them down to room temperature.
When you cook a turkey, usually you are thinking about the entire meal.
Now is the time when prepping your turkey to think about your gravy. I am not a fan of gravy packets at all. They are fine in a pinch but if I really want to be intentional and spoil my family, I’m going to prep it while I do my turkey. Gravy has always been a point of frustration for me. I could never get it just right or a consistent outcome until I figured out that it is what you put in your roaster pan around the turkey that makes the best gravy.
Take a whole head of garlic and take out the cloves. Scatter the cloves in the roaster around your turkey. You can even throw some in the cavity of the turkey. Next, quart an onion and place it around the turkey. I almost always toss a quarter in the turkey cavity before I put in the stuffing. Once we add the butter, herbs, and spices to our turkey it will all come together.
Now it is time to put the butter in your turkey. I use 1.5 – 2 cups of softened/room temp butter. That sounds like a lot because it is. Butter melts into the bottom of the pan so it is for the turkey and also the sake of the gravy. I like to lift the skin of the turkey and shove the butter under the skin. You can smear it all over the turkey or just shove it behind the legs, under the skin, or where ever it will fit.
Now you can stuff the stuffing into the cavity of the turkey. I love the look of a stuffed turkey. I think there is something so nostalgic and beautiful as an overflowing bird all golden in its glory.
Focusing on the herbs and spices,
First, we need to cut our lemon. For a turkey between 10-15 lbs, I use half of fresh lemon or 1 tbsp of lemon juice. You want to be careful to not overdo it because it will give your turkey an unpleasant tang. I think lemon makes a huge difference in the tenderness of your turkey. The acid in the lemon really helps break down the meat and create a tender turkey. Squeeze the lemon juice on and move on to the herbs and spices. First off salt and pepper. If you love spices you can add as much as you like. I like to add 1/2 tsp of pepper and 1 tsp of sea salt. But feel free to double those numbers if it doesn’t feel like enough for you.
Next fresh or dried rosemary sprigs. I always dry herbs from my garden but if all you have is the dried stuff from the grocery store that works too. Usually fresh and garden rosemary is a lot stronger than what you would get in a little baggy at the store so keep that in mind. if you are added 2-3 sprigs of rosemary fresh you will need 3-4 tsp of the stuff from a bottle or bag. Last is parsley. I love parsley I find it ties everything together and just balances all the flavors. You can really go to town with it and add 2-3 tbsps all over your turkey. Really this is all subjective too depending on if you have a smaller turkey or large turkey and personal preference. I have done turkey with no spices and herbs and it turned out perfect.
Let’s talk about the oven temperature
Yes, the name of the blog is a turkey at 250 degrees. But hear me out. You need to start your turkey at a higher temperature for the first 30 mins and then cook it at a lower temperature. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees f. I don’t know the whole science or why but I was always told it burns off any bacteria that might cause food poisoning. Maybe that’s not true but it certainly has always worked for me! Put the cover of your roaster on your turkey or cover your bird with aluminum foil. place in preheated oven and after 30 mins reduce your heat to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. That 30 minutes does NOT count towards your rule of thumb of 20 mins per lb.
The cooking process for a whole bird is really simple. Once it’s in the oven you will want to baste your turkey every 1.5 hours. Now, I have skipped out to church on Christmas day and missed a few basting sessions and the turkey was still perfect. So really it isn’t the end of the world if you have to leave the house or forget. Just do it as often as you can. If you have a turkey baster use it. If you’re like me and melted it on a hot burner last year and never remember to purchase a new one, you can just use a ladle. anything to get that juice back on your bird.
How long the process takes depends on your turkey size.
The entire bird needs to be cooked through and come to a safe internal temperature. When you think your bird is done plunge a meat thermometer deep into the breast meat. You need your turkey to be over 165 degrees to be out of the danger zone. Once the internal temperature of the turkey is over 165, you will turn up the heat in the oven to 350 degrees. Baste your turkey once last time and stick it back in for 15mins to a half hours. If you want that beautiful crispy skin: this is how you get it! Be sure to keep an eye on it so you don’t burn your turkey. If you are checking the temperature in the thigh, 175 is the “safe temperature”.
You will want to let your turkey rest for a half hour before slicing it. If you want to see if it’s the perfect turkey that you hoped and dreamed of, take a back leg and bend it forward. If all the meat falls off. Congrats. You did it. That’s exactly what you want.
The most delicious, tender, juicy turkeys are never the ones you see in photos.
Why? Because good ones are falling off the bone!
- The more you do turkey the less stress you will feel. I don’t like a recipe with millions of ingredients that require a million steps when it’s the Thanksgiving turkey and I have a dozen side dishes to prepare and still want to spend time with family. It can take a long time to master the skill of making an entire bird and doing it perfectly every time. I feel like turkey is something that is prepared mostly for holidays. I think we really like to do our best and serve our family and friends the best at those times so let me give you some suggestions for success.
- -Buy extra turkeys. Whole turkeys don’t have to be just for Thanksgiving and Christmas. They can be on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday. Where I live turkey goes on sale at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. I usually purchase 5 or 6 for the freezer each holiday.
- -Practice makes perfect. If you are really nervous, do a test run before you cook for a crowd. Get comfortable and get confident.
- -You don’t have to spend top dollar for top flavor. I raise my own chickens. I am an avid gardener. I love a good farmers market but I have seen the price of free-range turkey and I have no interest in raising them. You are allowed to waltz into Walmart and buy the 20$ turkey. Is it the best? absolutely not. But it still turns out every single time. If it’s not in the budget to get the best do not fret. Your dinner will still be amazing. If it is within the budget, you can grab these cheap birds for practice.
Now that your turkey is a little cooler you can carefully move it to a platter plate.
We need to make some gravy!
The garlic, onion, and whatever else is floating in all the juice so put a strainer on top of your gravy pot and strain all the floater out. Now take that pot over to your stove. Turn your burner on medium-high heat. This is where it gets a little tricky for you. I can’t see how much juice you have. Every turkey gives a different amount. I don’t know what kind of consistency you expect or like. So I’m going to do my best to give you the advice you need if you have never done this before.
Okay so assuming all the butter you put on your turkey has melted down and you got some juice you have to make a judgment call if you have all the liquid you want. Do you have 15 people to feed? you need to think about whos coming and how much gravy will be used. Usually, I end up adding 1-2 cups of water. But I have added up to 4 cups before. We add the water to create the volume we need. If you have chicken broth on hand you can use that too but 9/10 I just use water.
Okay, now we have a thin runny liquid.
We need to thicken it up. and again… I don’t you (although I’m certain we would be friends) but I love a runnier gravy, my husband loves one so thick it holds its shape. But let’s create a starting point. Add 1/3 cup of cornstarch and whisk vigorously. If you have 4 cups or so of liquid this will give you a runnier gravy. If you want a thick gravy mix in 1/2 cup of cornstarch. This is the tricky part of the gravy.
It really is easier to thin a thick gravy than the time-consuming process of getting it to high heat, all mixed, and adding more cornstarch because you risk the cornstarch lumping up, and trust me that’s a royal pain. But again I don’t know what kind of gravy consistency you like. Keep those measurements in mind when making it, make a note of which you tried and liked, and see what you prefer in the end. I really recommend using cornstarch over flour because I find flour gets horribly lumpy unless you make a roux first which is just a pain in the butt when you have a million other dishes on the go so I opt for cornstarch.
How to Cook a Turkey at 250 Degrees
- 1 Roasting pan
- 1 Meat themomotor
- 1 Baster
- 1 Turkey 15lbs
- 2 cups Stuffing
- 1.5-2 cups Butter Softened
- Half Lemon
- 1/2 tsp Pepper
- 1 tsp Salt
- 2-4 sprigs Rosemary
- 3 tbsp Dried Parsley
- 1 head Garlic
- 1 Onion Cut in quarters
- Preheat oven to 450 degree
- Thaw turkey
- Rinse turkey, pat dry with paper towel.
- Cut out cloves of garlic and add to bottom of pan, place 1-2 cloves inside turkey cavity. Quart onion and add to bottom of pan, place a quarter in cavity
- Lift the skin of the breast and shove slices of butter under the skin. Smear butter and shove around ceases in legs. Stuff the turkey cavity with stuffing
- Squeeze lemon to get the juice all over your turkey. Add salt, pepper, rosemary and parsley
- Cover turkey and cook for 30 mins at 450. Reduce heat and cook for 20 mins per pound.
- Baste turkey every 1-1.5 hours
- When internal temp (Breast 165, thigh 175) if reached, increase heat to 350. Baste turkey one last time and place in oven for 15 mins or until skin is crispy and golden.
Turkey really is a formula.
It isn’t hard to do. I often am shocked that so many people are overwhelmed or fearful of making turkey because they tried once and it didn’t work out. No one showed them how. Of they claim they just don’t like turkey because their Aunt Kay made cooked it at 400 and called it done when it was dry and rubber. My own husband use to be one of those people! When I met him he claimed he didn’t even like turkey and not to bother making it. Well, 11 years later he will tell you it’s his favorite meal I do. I have a lot of pride in that.
Although we eat turkey year-round, I do feel turkey has a nostalgic aspect for the holidays. It brings me so much joy to make a beautiful meal we can eat for days on Thanksgiving and Christmas for everyone to treasure and look forward to. Christmas presents really don’t hold a candle to the memories we create eating turkey and pumpkin pie. I feel like turkey dinner is an intentional meal that everyone can look forward to. I think big meals like this call for company. When we invite our friends and neighbors into our homes who don’t cook often or who live alone it is a real treat to have a beautiful turkey leg on their plate with whipped potatoes and homemade gravy.
Simple East Pine Home Gravy
- 1 Strainer
In Bottom of Turkey Pan
- 1 Turkey neck
- 1 Head Garlic
- 1 Med Onion
- 3 Sprigs Rosemary
- 1/2 tsp Pepper
- 1 tsp Salt
- 3 tbsp Parsley
In pot after liquid is strained
- 1/3-1/2 cup Cornstarch
- Follow East Pine Home Turkey Recipe
- Strain Turkey drippings in pot
- On med-high heat add 1/3 cup-1/2 cup cornstarch and whisk vigorously until incorporated.
- Continue to whisk. Bring to a boil and remove from high and allow to cool continuing to stir.
If you plan on making a turkey …
I really hope you opt to buy the biggest one you can find and afford. Even if you are not going to eat it all it only takes a few minutes to put together paper plates for someone who lives alone. Especially around the holidays, it can be particularly lonely for some people. If you are cooking up your turkey and someone comes to mind. Don’t delay that prompting and drop them off a plate, maybe add a sticky note letting them know you are thinking of them.
If you are a mother reading this I really hope you bring your children along and involve them in this simple act of service. Maybe while you are buzzing around the kitchen they can doodle up a little card for the people you intend to drop a plate off to. As a Christian mom, I see read in the bible Jesus sat and ate with his disciples over and over and over. Food is a bonding experience. Food brings people together and is an opportunity to form and strengthen relationships between family, friends, and strangers. Can you tell I just love food? Because I really do. I love good simple food to feed my family’s bellies and form tradition in our everyday rhythm.
If you try this recipe be sure to let me know in the comments down below!
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