Cook Like a Chef: The Secret to Perfectly Cooking a 20-Pound Turkey!

cooked turkey

Hey there, fellow food enthusiasts! Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and I can already smell the delicious aroma of a perfectly roasted turkey filling the air. But wait, you’ve got a 20-pound turkey this year, and you’re wondering, “How in the world am I going to cook this massive bird to perfection?” Fret not! As an experienced chef, I’m here to share some mouthwatering tips and tricks to cook that 20-pound beauty like a pro.

Getting Started – Preparing the Turkey

Choosing the Right Turkey: Before we dive into cooking, let’s talk turkey selection. Look for a quality, fresh or frozen bird that fits your preferences and budget. Personally, I love using organic, free-range turkeys for their rich flavor and ethical sourcing.

Safely Thawing the Turkey: Picture this: it’s Thanksgiving morning, and you realize your turkey is still frozen solid! Don’t panic; I’ve been there too. The best way to thaw your 20-pound turkey safely is in the refrigerator, allowing 24 hours for every 4-5 pounds of turkey. If you’re pressed for time, you can use the cold-water thawing method (submerging the turkey in cold water, changing it every 30 minutes).

Seasoning and Brining Tips: Let’s talk about flavor! To ensure your turkey is juicy and packed with taste, consider brining it overnight. Trust me, brining works like magic. I like to prepare a simple brine with water, salt, sugar, and a blend of herbs and spices. The brine locks in moisture, making your turkey a real showstopper.

Cooking Methods for a 20-Pound Turkey

1. Roasting – Classic and Reliable

Ah, the traditional oven roast – can’t go wrong with that! Preheat your oven and place the turkey on a roasting rack inside a sturdy roasting pan. Calculate your cooking time, allowing about 13-15 minutes per pound for an unstuffed turkey and 15-17 minutes for a stuffed one.

Basting Techniques: Throughout the cooking process, basting the turkey with pan juices or a butter-based mixture will keep it moist and add a beautiful golden-brown color to the skin. Pro-tip: I love adding a hint of maple syrup to my basting mixture; it gives the turkey a delightful caramelized glaze!

Meat Thermometer is Your Best Friend: To ensure your turkey is cooked to perfection, invest in a reliable meat thermometer. Insert it into the thickest part of the thigh without touching the bone. The turkey is ready when it reaches an internal temperature of 165°F (74°C).

2. Smoking – For the Adventurous Souls

If you’re a fan of smoky flavors and crave a culinary adventure, smoking your turkey is the way to go! Smoking requires a bit of patience, but the results are undeniably worth it.

Preparing the Smoker: Start by choosing the right wood chips for a complementary flavor. Applewood and hickory are my go-to choices for turkey. Soak the wood chips in water for at least 30 minutes before adding them to the smoker box.

Monitor the Internal Temperature: Smoking can take some time, but keep the smoker temperature steady at around 225-250°F (107-121°C). Use a digital meat thermometer to track the internal temperature, and remember, slow and steady wins the race!

3. Deep-Frying – Crispy Skin Lovers Unite

For the daring souls who desire a crispy-skinned delight, deep-frying is the ticket! Warning: this method is not for the faint of heart or the inexperienced, but the result is a succulent, golden turkey with irresistible crunch.

Selecting a Suitable Fryer: Safety first! Use an outdoor turkey fryer specifically designed for this purpose, and follow the manufacturer’s guidelines to the letter. Place the fryer on a flat, stable surface, away from any flammable materials.

Safety Precautions for Deep-Frying: Before lowering your turkey into the hot oil, make sure it’s completely thawed and dried. Slowly lower it into the oil to avoid splatters and potential accidents. Keep a fire extinguisher nearby—better safe than sorry!

Achieving a Crispy Skin: For that perfect, crackling skin, fry your turkey for about 3-4 minutes per pound. Once again, use that trusty meat thermometer to ensure it reaches 165°F (74°C) at the thickest part.

Cooking Tips for a Perfect 20-Pound Turkey

Trussing the Turkey Properly: Trussing your turkey, or tying the legs and wings together, helps the bird cook more evenly and keeps it looking picture-perfect. It may seem daunting at first, but there are plenty of easy-to-follow tutorials online.

Using Aromatics and Stuffing: Stuffing your turkey with aromatic herbs, citrus fruits, or onions not only imparts incredible flavor but also fills your kitchen with an enticing aroma. Be cautious, though: always cook the stuffing separately to ensure thorough cooking and food safety.

Choosing the Right Cooking Pan: Opt for a sturdy roasting pan that can accommodate your large turkey comfortably. A pan with high sides helps collect flavorful pan juices for basting and gravy-making.

Recommended Internal Temperatures for a 20-Pound Turkey

White Meat (Breast): For tender and juicy white meat, aim for an internal temperature of 165°F (74°C). Insert the meat thermometer into the thickest part of the breast without touching the bone.

Dark Meat (Thighs and Legs): Dark meat lovers, rejoice! Your turkey’s thighs and legs will be at their best when they reach an internal temperature of 175°F (79°C).

Resting and Carving the Turkey

Allowing the Turkey to Rest: Before carving into your masterpiece, let the turkey rest for about 30 minutes. This allows the juices to redistribute, resulting in a moister and more flavorful bird.

Carving Techniques for the Best Presentation: Carving a turkey can be intimidating, but it’s simpler than it looks! Start by removing the legs and wings, then carve the breast meat in thin, even slices. Don’t forget to display your beautifully carved turkey like the star it is!

Serving Suggestions: Arrange the turkey slices on a platter and garnish with fresh herbs and seasonal fruits for an impressive presentation. Serve it with classic sides like stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and gravy for a Thanksgiving feast to remember!

Troubleshooting and FAQs

How to Handle Overcooking or Undercooking: Oops, did you overcook the turkey? Don’t fret! Slice it up and pour some extra gravy or broth to moisten the meat. If undercooked, return the turkey to the oven or smoker, and keep a close eye on the internal temperature.

Adjusting Cooking Times for Stuffed Turkeys: Stuffed turkeys take longer to cook, as the stuffing needs to reach a safe temperature too. To avoid overcooked or dry meat, consider using a smaller amount of stuffing or cooking any extra stuffing in a separate dish.

Safety Guidelines for Handling Poultry: Food safety is paramount. Always wash your hands thoroughly after handling raw turkey, and ensure all utensils and surfaces are properly sanitized to prevent cross-contamination.


Cooking a 20-pound turkey might seem like a daunting task, but with the right techniques and a sprinkle of confidence, you’ll create a Thanksgiving centerpiece that’ll impress everyone at the table. Remember to choose the cooking method that suits your style, keep an eye on the internal temperature, and don’t forget the seasoning and love! So, roll up your sleeves, put on your chef’s hat, and embark on this culinary adventure. Your deliciously golden, perfectly cooked turkey awaits!

Happy Thanksgiving, and bon appétit!