Family Entrees

Step By Step Guide To the Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey (Plus Homemade Cranberry Sauce Recipe)

Ok guys so I really can’t believe we are a few weeks away from Thanksgiving. I mean where did this year go? It feels like just yesterday we were planning Emma’s first birthday party and now we’re a couple of months away from her tuning two. Time sure does fly and it seems to fly at a much faster speed once you become a parent. Anyways, since Thanksgiving is right around the corner it is time to start preparing for our Thanksgiving dinners. I wanted to share my step by step guide to a perfectly cooked and juicy turkey. I also make my homemade cranberry sauce which is super easy to make and a much healthier option to store bought ones. It is delicious and pairs right up with my Thanksgiving turkey.

First of all let me start by saying that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I love the fact that there is a day that we get to get together with our closest family and friends and enjoy a delicious homemade meal. At the same time, being thankful for everything we have. I do a lot of cooking on this day which is another reason why this is my favorite holiday. I start cooking the night before, wake up at 6 am the next day and cook until dinner is done. I typically make my cranberry sauce Wednesday night, pre-season the turkey and make whatever dessert I’m featuring for dinner.

I started being in charge of making the turkey about 4-5 years ago when my grandmother retired and moved back to Colombia with my grandfather. She used to make a pretty tasty turkey every year and once she moved no one else was really interested in taking on the task. I was very excited to take over this important job but at the same time I was pretty nervous. I mean, if I ruined the turkey I pretty much would be ruining the whole Thanksgiving. Nevertheless I was ready for the task and I was determined to make the best Thanksgiving turkey there had ever being. Well not really I just wanted it to taste good and not get burned or something like that.

I did however start doing some research. I went online and looked up different recipes and different methods on how to cook a turkey. Of course I consulted my grandmother and adapted some of her flavors and process on how to cook a good turkey. What I was really afraid of the most was that it would be way too dry. If you know anything about cooking turkey is that it can be very easily overcooked and very easily get very dry. But, with my research and grandma’s consultation I have developed a great system to making a great turkey that everyone enjoys during Thanksgiving dinner. I have received great feedback over the years from everyone who has had my Thanksgiving turkey. Even from those who typically don’t eat much of it. So let’s get started with this step by step guide to a good turkey.

Pre-seasoning the Turkey Overnight:

My first step to a perfectly cooked Thanksgiving turkey is to pre-season it Wednesday night so that it can marinade. This way all the flavors set in making a flavorful,  juicy, and tender turkey. To season my turkey I use all fresh herbs and spices. I also like to use onions, garlic, lemon juice, and apple cider vinegar. Apple cider vinegar is great for minimizing that potent turkey smell. All of the seasonings are added to my turkey the night before except for the salt. Salt dries out foods and you want to avoid your turkey drying at all cost. Below is a list of herbs and spices I use to season my turkey along with the measurements.

*(Note I usually make a 12-15 lb turkey).

Outside rub:

  • 1/3 cup vegetable butter
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp fresh thyme (about 7-8 strings)
  • 2 tbsp fresh rosemary (about 3 strings)
  • 2 tbsp fresh sage (about 4 leaves)
  • 3 garlic cloves minced
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1 tsp salt (don’t add until the next day right before cooking)

Fresh herbs to stuff:

  • 1 white onion rough chopped
  • 5-6 garlic cloves rough chopped
  • handful fresh parsley
  • 2 sage leaves
  • 1-2 rosemary strings
  • 2-3 thyme strings
  • 1 squeezed lemon halved

Step 1. In a small-medium bowl combine herbs, melted butter, extra virgin olive oil, and spices for outside rub.

Step 2. Pour lemon juice and vinegar on turkey including the inside.

Step 3. Rub butter, olive oil,  herbs and spices marinade on turkey including under wings and some inside turkey.

Step 4. Stuff inside of turkey with onion, garlic, herbs, and squeezed lemons.

Step 5. Cover turkey with aluminum foil and refrigerate overnight.

Cooking the Turkey:

Thursday remove turkey from fridge about 30 minutes before cooking. Rub salt over the outside and inside of turkey. Preheat oven at 325 degrees and follow roasting instructions on turkey package as to how long to roast turkey for. It depends on how big your turkey is. Times also may vary depending on Turkey brand and weather it is organic or not. This is what I have noticed from personal experience. Once you have your bird in the oven and know how long you need to cook it for follow the next steps to achieve a juicy and tender turkey.

Step 1. After the first 45 minutes to an hour take the turkey out of the oven and flip it over. You can use thick silicone oven mittens to do this. If you don’t have these kind of oven mittens you can use two very thick stacks of paper towels.

Step 2. Before you return your turkey back in the oven, baste it. You can use either a turkey baster for this or a cooking brush. Get a lot of juice on that bird.

Step 3. Continue doing step 1 and 2 every 45 minutes to an hour. Flip the bird over and continue basting it.

Step 4. For the last 30 minutes left before the turkey finishes cooking, take it out of the oven and make sure that the top of it is on facing up. Cover it with aluminum foil and place back in the oven for the last 30 minutes. This will give the top of your turkey a nice gold shade.

Step 5. Remove turkey from oven and place on serving platter.

Decorating the Turkey Platter:

Decorating your turkey platter when serving your turkey is just as important as seasoning it and carefully cooking it. Presentation is a huge part of preparing a successful Thanksgiving turkey. We eat with our eyes and a beautifully decorated platter will immediately draw all of your guests attention to your deliciously cooked turkey.

When you pick out a platter for your turkey make sure that it is big enough for the size of your bird and to fit some other decorations around it. Personally, I prefer to use white platters, plates, and serving plates and bowls. It makes the colors and foods stick out more. However, you can use any color you would like.

For garnish, my go to is always kale. I make a bed of kale on my platter and place my cooked turkey on it. I then decorate around the platter with a variety of fruits like pomegranates, oranges, lemons, and cranberries. I like to use very fall/thanksgiving colors. These make your platter look beautiful and inviting. Everyone will love it and will be very excited to try that turkey you worked so hard on all day. You can also keep it more simple and just use some herbs like thyme and rosemary and a few cranberries to decorate your platter.

Homemade Cranberry Sauce:

What’s a greatly cooked Thanksgiving turkey without a delicious, sweet and tangy cranberry sauce? I make my homemade cranberry sauce every year and everyone seems to love it. It is the perfect combination of tangy and sweet. Pairs up lovely with my turkey. It doesn’t feel like Thanksgiving until I take a bite out of that turkey covered in my cranberry sauce. Can’t wait for this year’s bite!

It is also a better option to store bought cranberry sauce. Much healthier and much fresher option. It doesn’t end there though, it is also extremely easy to make. It only takes about 15 minutes and your done. I always make it the night before so that it has plenty of time to cool off and gets refrigerated overnight. Just take it out the next day and serve it next to your awesomely decorated turkey. The full recipe for the sauce is below.

Now you’re ready to cook an amazing, delicious and beautiful Thanksgiving turkey and a homemade cranberry sauce. Everyone will be raving about your cooking this year. And if this is the first time you’re hosting or cooking the turkey don’t worry. You got this! Your turkey will be tasty and best of all juicy. Don’t forget to have fun with it and enjoy the whole cooking process. As long as you put some love into your meal it will come out great and everyone will be pleased. Hope you and your loved ones have a Happy Thanksgiving!

5 from 2 votes

Homemade Cranberry Sauce

Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
Angelica Arias The Peachee Pear


  • 12 oz fresh cranberries
  • 1 cup pineapple juice
  • 2 tbsp orange juice
  • 1/2 tsp lemon zest (optional)
  • 1 cup raw cane sugar


  1. In a small saucepan add cranberries and bring to a boil. 

  2. Add pineapple juice and sugar and let boil for another 5 minutes. 

  3. Turn heat down and bring to a simmer. Add orange juice and lemon zest. 

  4. Keep simmering until sauce thickens and most cranberries are dissolved. 

  5. Remove from stove top and let cool. 

  6. Store in a mason jar and refrigirate. 

Plus my recipe for my Homemade Cranberry Sauce. Start preparing for Thanksgiving dinner with this easy step by step guide for a flavorful, tender and juicy turkey plus a deliciously sweet and tangy cranberry sauce!


  1. OMG! That looks delish!!!! <3 If only I can cook something like that.

    1. Thank you Wendy! I’m sure you can. It’s not as hard as it may look. Just takes a lot of time to make tho.

  2. oh my goodness ill be using this when i host my first thanksgiving! you’re the best!

    1. I’m so happy to hear that Cait! I’m sure you’ll do a great job hosting your first Thanksgiving!

  3. That turkey looks amazing and I am such a fan of making our holiday cranberry sauce from scratch.

    1. Thank you Emily! Me too I love Homemade Cranberry Sauce!

  4. I’ll have to save this- just in time for Thanksgiving! Yours turned out so picture perfect!

    1. Thank you so much Mia!!

  5. Wow this turkey is perfect! Thanks for sharing this traditional spread! 🙂

  6. Meagan

    I have been looking for a homemade cranberry sauce like my grandmother’s sauce and this sounds just like hers. I can’t wait to make it!

    1. Aww thank you! That’s such a great compliment! Nothing like our momther’s and grandmother’s classic recipes!

  7. I’m gonna try to do my own turkey this year. This will be sooo helpful!! Thank you thank you.

    1. Thank you Amanda! hope you had a great Thanksgiving!! Glad this was helpful!

  8. Jamie

    Wow this looks amazing! Can’t wait to try it- especially the cranberry chutney!

    1. Thank you Jamie! the cranberry sauce is an all crowd favorite!

  9. Definitely using this for this years Thanksgiving! Everything looks amazing!

    1. Thank you so much Diana! hope it came handy!

  10. Oh my goodness this looks delicious!! I usually smoke turkey Ill have to try it this way

    1. Thank you Ashley! I’ve never had smoked turkey but it sounds delicious!!

  11. Oh yum! I’m using this this week!

    1. Thank you Claire! hope it was helpful and that you had a great Thanksgiving!!

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