How to Prep a Turkey: for Commercial and Home Chefs

Last updated on October 10th, 2023 at 11:22 am

Serving turkey can be a grand adventure, whether you’re a home chef preparing a Thanksgiving feast or a professional chef in a restaurant. Before you serve your next turkey, save yourself time and energy by understanding these key preparation steps!


  • Thaw your turkey
  • Gather your supplies
  • Remove giblets and neck
  • Season the turkey
  • Trussing
  • Preheat your equipment
  • Cook your turkey

It’s essential to get your turkey ready. Preparing a turkey before cooking it is a crucial step to ensure a flavorful and safe result.

Follow this step-by-step guide to help prepare your turkey for a delicious meal.

Step 1: Thaw Your Turkey

A frozen turkey won’t cook evenly, so first you’ll need to thaw it. Place your turkey in the fridge. Never thaw at room temperature to avoid bacteria growth.

Plan for approximately 24 hours of thawing time for every 4-5 pounds (1.8-2.3 kg) of turkey. So be prepared days in advance to ensure a fully thawed bird.

Step 2: Gather Your Supplies

Having all your utensils, spices, and cookware ready makes the process smoother. Be sure to work in a clean workspace and wash your hands. Gloves are a good idea, but not necessary.

Supplies needed to prep a turkey at home or in a commercial kitchen

What You Need: Paper towels, salt, pepper, spices, a roasting pan with a rack, a meat thermometer, kitchen cutlery, turkey baster, food brush, and kitchen twine (optional).

Depending on the process you’ll use to cook your turkey, this equipment may be needed: convection oven, food smoker, deep fryer, sous vide machine, gas grill.

Step 3: Remove Giblets and Neck

You’ll want to take out the extra stuff inside the turkey. Turkey giblets are the edible inside parts of the bird, including the heart, gizzard, and liver. The giblets should be removed before cooking the turkey because they may melt if left inside. Now you run the danger of burning them and affecting the flavor of the bird.

How? Open the turkey and look inside. You’ll find bags with giblets and the neck. Remove these parts and set them aside. You can use them for making gravy or discard them if you prefer.

Step 4: Season

Home chefs and commercial chefs should season their turkeys before cooking.

Seasoning any protein is essential for delicious flavor. You can season your turkey a day in advance for a dry brine or immediately before cooking for wet brining.

How? Pat the meat dry with a paper towel. Generously sprinkle both the inside and outside with salt, as well as black pepper for a simple, classic taste. For extra flavor, add herbs like rosemary, thyme, and sage to the cavity and the surface.

You can use marinade injectors to inject some delicious concoctions directly into the turkey. Choose whatever herbs you like to make the meal your own. You can also rub it with softened butter or oil for golden, crispy skin.

Step 5: Trussing (Optional)

Trussing is using kitchen twine or string to tie the turkey’s legs and sometimes its wings together. This process helps the bird maintain a compact shape while cooking, ensuring even cooking throughout. It also helps prevent the turkey’s parts from flopping around.

Trussing can also enhance presentation. It’s an optional step but can contribute to a more evenly cooked and beautifully presented meal, especially when roasting.

Step 6: Preheat Your Equipment

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees to cook a turkey.

You need heat to cook a turkey. Prepare your cooking equipment for your bird.

Choose a way to cook your turkey whether that be an oven, food smoker, grill, deep fryer, or sous vide machine. No matter what cooking process you choose, preheating your equipment is always required.

Check out our blog 5 Delicious Ways to Cook a Turkey, for in-depth info on each cooking method.  

Quick Temps: Ovens and Grills – preheat to 325°F (163°C). Smoker – preheat to 225°F (107°C). Deep Fryer – preheat to 350°F (177°C).

Step 7: Cook Your Turkey

The time has finally come! Depending on you cooking process, cooking times will differ.

Roasting (Oven): Roasting is simple. Season the turkey, put it in a roasting pan, and bake in a preheated oven at 325°F (163°C). Cook for 15 minutes per pound, using a meat thermometer to ensure it reaches 165°F (74°C). Baste for a crispy skin.

Deep Frying (Turkey Fryer): Deep frying involves immersing the turkey in hot oil (350°F or 177°C). It’s quick at about 3-4 minutes per pound but requires caution due to hot oil. Always fry outdoors, never indoors.

Smoking (Smoker): Smoking infuses a smoky flavor. Maintain a low temperature (225°F or 107°C) and cook 30 minutes to 1 hour per pound using wood chips for smoke.

Grilling (Charcoal/Gas Grill): Grilling is like roasting, but on a grill. Cook with indirect heat at 325°F (163°C), about 10-15 minutes per pound, adding smoky flavor with wood chips or chunks.

Sous Vide (Sous Vide Machine): Sous vide requires a machine to cook the turkey in a vacuum-sealed bag. Set to 150-165°F (65-74°C) and cook for 2-4 hours. Finish with a quick sear for crispiness.

Step 8: Adding Flavor (Optional)

Extra flavor never hurts! Experimenting with different ingredients allows you to craft a unique, mouthwatering turkey. Here’s a short list of some different flavoring ideas.

  1. Herbs: Fresh or dried herbs like rosemary, thyme, sage, and parsley add earthy and aromatic notes, either as a rub, in the cavity, or under the skin.
  2. Spices: Spices such as paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, and ground pepper provide depth and warmth to the turkey’s flavor.
  3. Aromatics: Sliced onions, garlic cloves, shallots, or citrus fruits like lemons and oranges infuse the bird with sweet and savory undertones.
  4. Liquids: Broth or stock (chicken or turkey) contributes moisture and richness. Wine (white or red), fruit juices (apple, orange), soy sauce, or Worcestershire sauce can offer complex flavors.
  5. Fats: Butter, olive oil, or vegetable oil can be rubbed onto the turkey’s skin or under it, ensuring a crispy and flavorful exterior.
  6. Sweeteners: Maple syrup, honey, or brown sugar combined with spices create sweet and savory glazes.

Step 9: Always use a Food Thermometer!

The only accurate approach to guarantee safety and determine the ideal level of “doneness” for meat, poultry, and egg products is to use a food thermometer. These meals must be thoroughly cooked to a safe internal temperature to get rid of any potentially dangerous germs. Find the right temperature of all your cooked meats with this blog.

How? Stick a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the turkey’s thigh, without touching the bone.

Temping the thickest part of the meat is a good indication the thinner parts are also done.


A quick guide for thawing a turkey and preheating your cooking equipment.

Whether you’re a home chef creating cherished family traditions or a commercial chef crafting exquisite dishes for the public, utilize these prep steps to ensure your turkey is delicious.

Remember the importance of patience when thawing.

Choose seasonings that align with your desired taste profile.

Preheating your equipment, whether an oven, smoker, turkey fryer, or grill, is a crucial precursor to the cooking process.

And finally, always prioritize safety and cleanliness in your turkey preparation.

Now you’re ready to embark on your turkey-cooking journey.

Be confident in your ability to create a delicious and satisfying meal that will leave everyone at the table eagerly anticipating seconds!

Shop kitchen cutlery and other essentials for your next holiday feast.

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