A fresh turkey (never frozen) weighing between 12 and 18 pounds
Salt and Pepper
A meat thermometer, either instant-read or leave in (I especially like the Rosele digital meat thermometer here)
A roasting pan and rack (see below for photo). If you don't have a roasting pan, you can buy a disposable one. Ideally, the turkey should be elevated above the bottom of the pan; purchasing a real pan with a rack is the best way to do this. Some roasting pans can also be used on the stove; this makes it easier to make the gravy.
1. Remove the turkey from the plastic wrapping, take the neck and organ meats out of the cavity (see photo below) and bring to room temperature by leaving it on the kitchen counter for at least an hour. If desired, remove the plastic "thermometer" with which many turkeys are packaged.
2. Adjust oven racks so that the turkey will fit, placing it low in the oven. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
3. Pat the turkey dry with paper towels, and salt and pepper the outside of the bird as well as inside the large cavity.
4. Place the turkey on the roasting rack upside down. An upside down turkey will have the tail (a small, diamond shaped protrusion on the edge of the smaller cavity) and the drumsticks and wings on the top, and the opening of the larger cavity will be less visible (see photo and video below).
5. Let the turkey sit on the counter for another 15 minutes so that the salt and pepper begin to flavor the skin.
6. Slide the turkey into the oven and set the timer for 30 minutes.
7. When the timer goes off, get two large bunches of paper towels, grab the turkey and flip it over so it's breast side up. If you can, get someone to help you and have that person hold the roasting pan or use large forks or spatulas to help you. You will see some indentations on the skin from the rack; don't worry, these will go away by the time it's done cooking.
8. If using (and I recommend that you do), place a leave-in thermometer in the thickest part part of the turkey thigh.
9. Slide turkey back into the oven and reduce heat to 350 degrees. Cook turkey until thermometer reaches 165 degrees, about 2 - 3 hours total depending on the size of the turkey.
10. Remove from oven, cover very lightly with a piece of tinfoil ("tent"), and let rest for at least 15 minutes before carving.
Good to know
When planning a roast turkey meal, you want to buy between 3/4 - 1 pound per person. If you can't decide between roasting one large turkey or two smaller ones, get the two smaller ones; they are easier to cook since the meat cooks more evenly, and will usually fit on a single large roasting pan.
If your turkey is done early, don't worry about it! Just lightly cover it and get your sides ready. Even if the turkey sits for an hour, it will be warm to eat and with hot sides and gravy, your guests will not notice.
Once the turkey is removed, you will have plenty of tasty juices that can be made into gravy. There is a good recipe with photos here.
The neck, heart and giblets can be added to turkey stock for making gravy (just in case you have time on your hands in the midst of preparing Thanksgiving dinner). The liver, which is a very dark red and softer than the other organ meats in the turkey, is too strongly flavored for stock, but you can saute it quickly and feed it to your dog; he will be very happy about this!